With L.A.'s latest restaurant openings, it's a battle for the hearts, minds, and stomachs of a divided city.
Salt-baked turnip at P.Y.T.
In the City of Angels, a person’s diet is as divisive as the Westsiders who won’t cross the 405. Yes, there are vegan-friendly eateries opening seemingly every day, but there are chefs catering to the die-hard meat eaters—and Paleo obsessives—too. Is the gap widening between the two camps? At Platform’s The Cannibal LA, a butchery and resto from NYC, the menu is as satisfyingly protein-centric as it sounds—think pâtés, cured salumi, pork bellies, dry-aged ribeyes, and even a whole-roasted pig or lamb feast. But seasonal veggies from Thorne Family Farm factor in, too, in the form of spaghetti squash panzanella, fried Brussels sprouts, and roasted cauliflower.
And while the dishes at Here’s Looking at You, the creative K-Town hit from two Animal expats, are far from heavy, most aren’t made with vegans in mind—Chinese sausage appears on a tomato salad, alongside frog legs and veal sweatbreads. Marcel Vigneron’s organic, primarily plant-based, fast-casual Beefsteak—next door to the protein-heavy modern California-style Wolf!—is a direct result of “the way I like to eat on a regular basis,” says the chef, who discovered more energy by eating veggie-centric. Chef Josef Centeno, whose DTLA hot spots include Baco Mercat, Ludlow, and Bar Ama, looks to greener pastures, as well, with P.Y.T., which features plants from the urban farm at Los Angeles Leadership Academy, among others.
Bitter-greens falafel with apricotginger mostarda, dried olive, and paprika at Erven.
“For me it’s been a natural progression to cook more and more with vegetables,” says Centeno. “There is such a wide variety of raw material when compared to meats, and they invite a lot of experimentation.” Creativity is also on tap at chef Nick Erven’s Santa Monica eatery Erven, which has been called “coincidentally vegan.” “[I’m] not necessarily always a fan of vegetarian food, but vegetables are dope, and I like to cook them,” he says. The chef’s spins on plants are aimed at “bridging that gap. We aren’t out to convert people to veganism, just cook a great meal for them!”
But, Erven counters, “I think meat is still king in LA,” a sentiment that rings with chef Curtis Stone: His high-end Hollywood butchery, Gwen, is the most unapologetically carnivorous of the bunch, with seasonal, “best-in-class” protein ranging from grouse, woodcock, and housemade charcuterie to wild venison, hare, and, of course, grass-fed wagyu beef: “Working with such brilliantly aged and precisely prepared protein is a dream come true.” Even so, adds Stone, “It’s a strange thing coming from a guy who owns a butcher shop, but I think we should eat less, better quality meat.” Centeno agrees: “I know [sustainably raised meat is] expensive, so cooking and eating it in small amounts makes the most sense from all standpoints.”
Chef Curtis Stone at protein haven Gwen.
At Delilah, The h.wood Group’s ’20s-inspired brasserie/ club, the provenance of meat is especially key. Says chef Rudy Lopez, “When [diners] see Aspen Ridge or American wagyu on a menu they always lean toward ordering those dishes because they know exactly where it’s coming from.” So whether it’s vegan or meaty, the real trend, according to chefs, is feeling good about the ingredients. Lopez sums it up: “Vegetarian restaurants may be on the rise, but for the most part I can’t see myself creating a meatless menu in this city.” And the war rages on…
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAY KACHATORIAN (STONE); DYLAN+JENI (HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, P.Y.T.);
JAKE ROSENBERG (VIGNERON); STAN LEE (THE CANNIBAL LA); COURTESY OF ERVEN (FALAFEL).
OPPOSITE PAGE: DYLAN + JENI (FIG TOAST); JENN EMERLING (WHITENER); SYDNEY YORKSHIRE
(CHIPS); WONHO FRANK LEE (THE CANNIBAL LA); COURTESY OF ERVEN (KOREAN GNOCCHI)