Q&A: Gail Simmons Deciphers LA Dining

February 20, 2013 | by —Alexandra Calamari
Photography by Melanie Dunea | Homepage

Gail Simmons, Top Chef criticBetween judging stints on the Top Chef series, her editorial work for Food & Wine, and promoting her book Talking with my Mouth Full, Gail Simmons certainly has a lot on her plate. Fortunately—although she has her days where all she wants is a bowl of steamed broccoli—she still gets excited about great food, and thinks Los Angeles has no shortage of it. Just before heading off to shoot the season 10 finale of Top Chef (which airs tonight on Bravo), Simmons swung through Los Angeles to give us the inside scoop on her favorite spots in the city.

Have you visited the restaurants of former Top Chef contestants here in LA?
GAIL SIMMONS: When Ilan Hall, our season two winner, opened The Gorbals (501 S. Spring St., Downtown LA, 213-488-3408) I went to visit him. Just the other day, [I had lunch from] a restaurant called Sweetsalt (10218 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, 818-509-7790)—the chef is from season five, his name is Alex. I lost track of him a few years ago, and he’s opened this beautiful, very delicious little catering company and take-out restaurant. I haven’t been to INK (8360 Melrose Ave., Ste. 107, West Hollywood, 323-651-5866) yet sadly, but I plan on it soon.

What do you crave when you come to LA?
GS: It sounds so cliché, but when I come to LA, I know I’m going to get a great salad. I’m not talking about birdseed and silly items, I’m talking about substantial, delicious ingredients [from the] farmer’s market. I don’t eat burgers much in New York, but when I come to LA I instinctively crave a burger. I get very excited for an In-N-Out burger, but I also love Father’s Office (3229 Helms Ave., 310-736-2224).

What places do you hit to get your fresh veggie fix? 
GS: I love eating at Café Gratitude (639 N. Larchmont Blvd., 323-580-6383). I’m not vegan or vegetarian but it’s a place that New York doesn’t necessarily have, so I love eating lots of great veggies and salads there. Superba Snack Bar (533 Rose Ave., 310-399-6400) is a new restaurant I’m excited about in Venice—they serve great veggies.

What other new spots are you excited about?
GS: I just went for breakfast at Sqirl (720 N Virgil Ave., Ste. 4, 213-394-6526). I had this beautiful brown rice with poached eggs, kale, radish and Meyer lemon, and this sweet porridge with rhubarb and blueberry jam, and toasted hazelnuts that was so great and refined. It was this tiny little fun place with delicious coffee; I thought it was very unique to LA. I just had lunch at Sycamore Kitchen (143 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City West, 323-939-0151)—their salads, their fresh vegetables, and their pastries [were amazing]! I feel like this trip I’ve discovered that Los Angeles is obsessed with patisserie and pastry.

Funny considering Los Angeles is supposed to be so health conscious….
GS: Of course it’s health conscious in regards to hiking and fresh-pressed organic juice shops everywhere, but it’s also the home of the burger and the home of the milkshake, and one of the best places to eat ethnic food in the country. I just went to this place Night + Market (9041 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-275-9724), it blew me away—one because it was super spicy, but also how authentic it is coming from this young kid who learned to cook from his grandmother.

When you want to indulge you go to…
GS: I like going to Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, 323-297-0100) and having the butterscotch budino, just because butterscotch pudding is one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts.

Finally, what’s your go-to Los Angeles spot?
GS: I’m a big fan and have been for years of Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook at Animal (435 N. Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood, 323-782-9225) and Son of a Gun (8370 W. 3rd St., 323-782-9033), and I’m really excited that they’re opening a new restaurant in the next couple of months with Ludo Lefebvre. I cannot wait to see what it will be.

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