No longer just the domain of superstars of the screen, Los Angeles is adding some new leading lights to its food and wine scene.
As the second most populated city in America, Los Angeles is often the entry point for Australians wanting to explore the home of the brave. For food and wine lovers, the City of Angels is often a pit stop on the way to the urbane dining rooms of San Francisco with the perception being that fine
food and wine play second fiddle to the lure of Hollywood.
But things have recently changed, and LA’s food and drink scene now dazzles as much as any movie star. So it’s well worth spending a few days exploring the refreshed food culture; from the high end down, there’s plenty to taste.
But first some advice. If you want to check out the celebrity haunts or local favourites like Venice at sunset, you’ll need to hire a car. Because while getting your head around driving on the right after 15+ hours on a plane can be daunting, the public transport is even more so.
But once you’ve secured some wheels, avoid the 405 anywhere near the morning and afternoon peaks, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the granddaddy of all traffic jams and LA drivers take no prisoners.
For those really wanting to experience the LA bubble, look no further than Beverly Hills. Originally built as a farming ranch, the Hills became its own city at the beginning of the first World War. When compared to the rest of Los Angeles, it’s like Beverly Hills has its own atmosphere and it’s easy to see why the rich and famous choose 90210 as their postcode.
Low Key Luxury
For accommodation, it’s hard to beat the Montage Beverly Hills . Situated in the middle of the ‘golden triangle’ – the city blocks wedged between the borders of North Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard and North Rexford Drive – the Montage is classically elegant, but refreshingly understated, and while it promotes low key luxury, everyone gets treated like a millionaire.
If you want to shake off the jet-lag and unwind, the Montage has draped cabanas by the rooftop pool overlooking the city – a great way to get some peaceful perspective. Inside, the lavishly tiled Grecian atrium features a mineral ‘wellness’ pool and a swathe of spa choices.
As for food, the Montage’s main restaurant, Georgie , really helps sets this hotel apart. One of a chain of national restaurants, Georgie was built by New York chef, cookbook author, TV personality and American Iron Chef winner, Geoffrey Zakarian. The restaurant is Geoffrey’s ode to his son, and while the food reflects his classical French training, it also acknowledges America’s many cultural influences. Geoffrey blends and melds Italian, South American, French, German Asian and Middle Eastern touches with quality local ingredients and the result is a refreshing and balanced range of choices, executed with a light touch.
Wine-lovers have plenty to choose from too with over 800 drops from all around the world on offer, and at more affordable prices than we could access in Australia. Their ‘by the glass’ Coravin menu is a great place to start with Coravin being a gadget that allows wine to be extracted from the bottle without opening it. This means air can’t get in and spoil the remainder, giving restaurants an economic means to offer wines by the glass that are normally only available by the bottle.
Wine and Cheese
If you are thirsty for more wine, head north a couple of blocks up North Canon Drive to Wally’s Beverly Hills Vinoteca . Wally’s is part wine library, part wine bar, part bottle shop, offering an astounding range of wine from all over the world. It’s a wine lover’s paradise where you can browse thousands of wines, buy a bottle and take it home, or have someone open your choice to enjoy with the great range of food, cheese or charcuterie.
Speaking of cheese, a quick stroll will get you to The Cheese Store on North Beverly Drive . Norbert Wabnig has been behind the counter since the late 70s and his passion for cheese is displayed in every nook and cranny of this gourmet haven.
Shop Till You're Broke
If $10k handbags and Ferraris appeal, then a walk along Rodeo Drive will have you wide eyed. Considered one of the most exclusive shopping strips in the world, Rodeo Drive is where all the stars go. Giorgio, Valentino and Tiffany keep Versace company alongside a well-heeled Jimmy Choo.
But when you’re all shopped out and in need of more wine, a day trip to Santa Barbara is a must. Head north up the 101 past Oxnard and Ventura and you will soon find yourself in the downtown area of this relaxed Spanish-style town nestled underneath the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains. Regarded as the American Riviera, Santa Barbera has a Mediterranean climate that makes the production of a wide range of wine varieties possible.
Most of the vineyards, wineries and cellar doors are located up in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys to the north, however, there’s a cluster of great cellar doors in the heart of Santa Barbara.
The Urban Wine Train boasts 29 cellar doors where you can taste an impressive range of varieties and styles. From classic Euro-style Shiraz and Cabernet to new world Chardonnay and Pinot, rustic Tempranillos and Italian varietals of every shape and style. Santa Barbara’s wine offering is expansive and when you experience its warmth and hospitality, you’ll wish you had more time.
Aussies Doing Us Proud
Back south in LA, try to get a booking at Maude and see how Curtis Stone is getting on after winning LA Weekly’s Best Restaurant in LA in 2015 . With an intimate 24 seats, Maude offers a ten-course
chef’s tasting menu that features a different seasonal ingredient every month. From limes in January to truffles in December, it’s an innovative approach that’s seen the culinary team create over 1000 dishes so far. Read our recent interview with Curtis Stone.
Another Australian flying high is Louis Tikaram, the former chef at Sydney’s Longrain who’s doing great things with Thai flavours at EP Asian Eating House in West Hollywood.
With talent like this on offer, Los Angeles is now pumping with vibrant energy and flavour. The over stacked plates of classic Americana and tired European staples of the past have been replaced with exciting and accessible food styles and flavours that reflect the diversity of modern Los Angeles. So while the movie stars of Hollywood might be carefully watching their waists, a trip to modern LA will have you expanding yours.