“The 14 Most Interesting Chefs in Downtown” is a misleading headline. When accompanied by a photo of pudgy Micah Wexler stuffing his face (but who am I to talk?) with a bagel-and-schmear, I’m left to assume that the article will be a series of off-kilter, amusing interviews with some up-and-coming visionaries of the DTLA food world. You know, quirky quips and quotes! The reality was very revealing, and actually says a lot about the changing expectations in today’s highly sophisticated culinary community.
All 14 chefs were profiled as if they were in a 14-piece boy band, “He’s the cute one, he’s the funny one, and he’s the bad boy…” The most disconcerting aspect of the article is how the food is so sexualized, almost pervy. For example, The Factory Kitchen’s Angelo Auriana gets a glowing mention, thanks to his dish “Mandilli Di Seta”, which is “transcendent, evoking a crumpled nightgown… The Ligurian pesto that coats it sparkles with the heady flavor…” Mandilli di seta translates roughly to “I wanna sex you up”. After a brief, cold shower, I read the closing statement: Auriana’s “cooking may be more refined than the slam-bang rusticity found at Bestia”. Bestia, you slut.
Aside from objectifying plates of food, Kim dabbles with graphic descriptions of dishes that become creepy very quickly. Josef Centeno is made to seem like a serial killer-in-training with the following description of a signature dish: “One dish presents abalone snuggled up with burnt-milk panna cotta, an onion jus, and the tiny individual sacs of a pomelo citrus fruit for a burst of acid.” Centeno should be ashamed of himself.
Kim poses a question for the ages to Badmaash’s Pawan Mahendro: “Can Indian food be fun and witty?” I would say, unequivocally, “No”. But Badmaash is across the street from my local dog park, and there are times – as I’m waiting for Reggie to do his business – when I think, “That place smells funny”. However, Kim says “There are tongue-in-cheek Indian references all around”. Kim cites the names of dishes on the menu as being quite clever. So, I looked at the menu and I found “Good ‘Ol Saag Paneer” and “Holy Cow Keema Pow!” Listen, Eddie, the restaurant is not exactly revolutionary – just cute and silly (and really irritating: There are several calls for hashtags planted throughout the menu including #FUCKINGAWESOME and #FOODPORN).
So, overly sexualized food and funny food are regarded very highly around here. Bestia’s poor Ori Menashe gets hit with a sour intro, though, before Kim starts licking his meatballs: “Snagging a reservation at Menashe’s raucous Arts District restaurant is a chore.” Damn, Kim. Thanks for the heads-up, though.We already knew that Bestia was a slut, but with a weeks-long wait for a dinner reservation, it’s clear that she’s not above teasing. Forget Badmaash: If you want actual “funny” menu items, check out Bestia. I laughed out loud when I saw their “Granita Applebum” cocktail.
One of the biggest problems I have with this style of restaurant profile is that it definitely overestimates the tastes and sophistication of the average reader (hell, 99% of them) of your local free weekly paper. Michael Hung (Faith and Flower) has a write-up that is worded in a way that reminds me of being at a party where everyone is much, MUCH smarter than me (and I just nod like an idiot while every conversation is way over my head): “The steak tartare flavored with miso cream, kombu seaweed and black sesame sounds like an Asian-fusion cliche…” Yep, I was thinking the same thing. I’m sooo tired of the same old ho-hum kombu/miso/black sesame/steak tartare.
Wolvesmouth’s Craig Thornton also keeps it low-brow for the masses: “Savory dishes range from the more recognizable, such as rabbit meatballs with harissa and cider-glazed brussel sprouts…” I was so bummed that IHOP only serves this dish seasonally now.
Eddie Kim tries really hard to give each of the 14 chefs a unique image and a different set of strengths. In the process, Kim really overthinks the idea of… “food”. I mean, this is just food after all. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are just too many damn restaurants downtown.