When it comes to fair food, there are a few things you can always bank on. Deep-fried everything, funnel cake, elephant ears, stuff on sticks, and giant portions of delicious-yet-artery-clogging snacks being chowed down on the go.
Over the past few years, Los Angeles has become a more exciting and important food city than ever before, from high quality local meats and produce to the multifaceted population of ethnic communities that make some of L.A.’s most delicious food. But, the latest trend is like nothing we’ve ever seen — and strangely reminiscent of our favorite fashion trend.
Let us explain. Besides a city-wide obsession with uni and a growing food court madness, there’s one trend that’s catching on with L.A.’s best spots: they’re coming in pairs. Some of our favorite restos are now opening up faster and more affordable counterparts to their acclaimed (and more expensive) spots, creating mini restaurant empires that provide every style of dining experience you could possibly want want.
Just like the high-low trend in fashion (a $500 Mansur Gavriel bag never looks better than when it’s paired with a $59 H&M dress), similar restaurant concepts have popped up all over our fair city. Chef Ludo Lefebvre has a casual French bistro named Petit Trois right next door to his ticketed Trois Mec. Connie and Ted’s casual seafood is the chill counterpart to Michael Cimarusti’s two Michelin starred Providence. And, most recently, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s newly opened Jon & Vinny’s casual red sauce Italian joint is in the same ‘hood as their more experimental and very elegant Animal.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF PETIT TROIS.
So, What’s The Deal?
“As a chef, you always want to come up with new and different concepts,” Lefebvre tells us, taking a break from his busy evening prep schedule.“Trois Mec is very unique and special. I wanted to provide a different kind of dining experience altogether to set them apart, not compete.” For him, opening up a French bistro was always a dream: “When the space right next to Trois Mec opened up, I knew it was meant to be.”
According to Lefebvre, accessibility wasn’t the only reason he had for opening up a faster, more affordable counterpart to Trois Mec. Instead, Petit Trois was a happy byproduct. Adding that while the close proximity (read: they share a wall) wasn’t his sole intention behind the restaurant, it is a defining concept of the bistro. “I have always dreamed of a little tiny French bistro in Los Angeles and, really, it was the space that dictated the concept,” he says.
Come One, Come All
“A great restaurant owner once told me, ‘Your restaurant is always a testament of where you’re at in your life.’ And, right now, we’re both in the stage of our lives where we’re parents who have young kids and wanted to create an environment for them to grow up in,” Jon Shook tells us of his newly opened, casual American-Italian spot with partner Vinny Dotolo, Jon & Vinny’s. “And, what better food than pizza and pasta, you know what I mean?”
Wanting to tap into something that’s comforting and reminiscent of the childhood experiences with food that first sparked their interest in cooking is definitely part of what’s driving this trend. Take Michael Cimarusti: With two Michelin stars under his belt for fine dining seafood restaurant Providence, he surprised everyone and opened Connie and Ted’s, the low-key New England style seafood restaurant modeled after east coast crab shacks. Naming the restaurant after his grandparents, who fostered a love and respect for fishing and family, Connie and Ted’s acts as a culinary homage to a much simpler time. Translation: It’s insanely delicious and the average diner is in jeans.
Foodie On A Budget
But, the most exciting part about this trend is that we now have the ability to experience the talent of these amazing chefs without breaking the bank.
Lefebvre describes the contrasting styles of spots as a complete version of his style of cooking:“The complementary aspect is like the ying to its yang — very different, but together make up the whole. At Trois Mec, you never know what you will find, our menu is constantly changing and I am always trying new things, learning new techniques, and finding new combinations,” he says. “At Petit Trois, the menu is much more simple and straightforward, like comfort food should be. Together, you get the full range of my cooking.”
Of course, opening up restaurants in high and low pairs isn’t exactly revolutionary. Shook reflects, “More chefs are doing casual projects…but it wasn’t necessarily public knowledge. I remember when I was in culinary school, back in Florida, there were guys that were great chefs doing taco places and hamburger joints.” So, if it’s not exactly new, why is this model trending and proving so successful for L.A.’s restaurant scene?
A lot of it comes down to cost, care, and mindset. “I think a lot of the reason why chefs are into opening up places that are a bit more casual is because of cost operations,” Shook says, pointing out that much of the cost of a fine dining restaurant goes towards things like service, glassware, tables, design, and other non-food related things. Essentially, a more casual place frees up money for high quality ingredients.“In fine dining, you’re essentially paying for the service and not necessarily the ingredients,” says Shook, “But, in all of our restaurants we buy the nicest stuff you can buy, bar none. Even the canned tomatoes that we’re using for the pizza, we’re buying the highest quality tomatoes you can buy. Picked in California, canned in California. As good, as if not better, than some of the ones fine dining restaurants are using.”
The Next Wave
Ready your appetite, because thankfully, this trend isn’t going anywhere. “I think the trend will continue for a long time,” Lefebvre says, “Chefs want to reach a broad spectrum of guests. And, they want different dining opportunities, whether it be from a food style standpoint or a different price point. I believe chefs will continue to push the restaurant styles and concepts they create. It’s exciting.”
It is exciting, and with Cimarusti’s forthcoming Cape Seafood and Provisions slated to open this summer, Mark Peel’s new Bombo stall (brand spanking new fish market stand) at Grand Central Market, Helen’s wine shop attached to Jon & Vinny’s, and Belcampo’s new restaurant to match their burgeoning Santa Monica butcher shop, it’s safe to say the trend is on the up and up.
When it comes to food and wine pairings, there’s no shortage of classic combos that always work: oysters and Champagne, Cabernet and steak, Zinfandel and BBQ. But, what about the nights when you’re craving a glass of vino with something that you can pick up and devour at home? Perhaps even something you can score from, dare we say, a drive-thru?!
As you’ve probably already guessed, we’re talking about the ultimate in high/low food pairings: the perfect glass of wine to punctuate your favorite takeout. (Admit it: Doesn’t an In-N-Out burger and a glass of light red sound simply divine for dinner tonight?)
Of course, Southern California’s original fast food haunts all seem to be lacking a skilled sommelier for a reco, so we called upon Matthew Kaner for help. Kaner is the wine director and co-owner of some of L.A.’s coolest wine bars, like Bar Covell and the just-opened Augustine Wine Bar — i.e. the perfect person to help us pair some delicious eats with a perfectly-selected libation.
From SoCal favorites like Winchell’s Donuts and In-N-Out Burger to Taco Bell and Panda Express, we’ve got all the best new wine pairings that you could possibly need. Cheers!
When you think of the Coachella music festival, the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of fair-weather bohemians wearing flower crowns and getting fucked up in a dustbowl, while somewhere Drake is making out with Madonna. But the festival’s newest push is to expand its culinary offerings by bringing in top chefs and restaurants. We decided to see what really happens when you take people that care about food and people that care about glow-stick dancing to Pete Tong and put them together in the same place. To get a firsthand look, we hit up our man Alvin Cailin, chef and owner of LA’s Eggslut and Ramen Champ, to talk about what it’s like to serve a bunch of drunk kids.