I was at one of my favorite restaurants in Downtown LA last night. It’s a lovely space. They make very good food–let’s call it “New American”–and hand-crafted cocktails inspired by the classics, not to mention an excellent, small, geeky global wine list. Great food, great drinks, well-trained friendly staff in a modern, contemporary space. What a concept!
It reminded me of the biggest reason Los Angeles will lag behind New York, San Francisco, Chicago–even Seattle and Portland–as a food city: far too many restaurants in LA open solely as a “concept.”
You read it in press releases and see it on food blogs like Eater all the time, new restaurants don’t open, new “concepts” open. But far too often the restaurant begins and ends with that concept. Without care taken to ensure effective execution you’re left with a hull, an empty shell that may look slick and beautiful but is utterly empty inside.
A restaurant must have good food made from good ingredients in a well thought-out space in order for any of the other pieces to work. Having a great location with a killer view or waitresses dressed as Belle Epoque prostitutes might help build buzz and garner some attention, but if that view isn’t paired with good food and those waitresses aren’t paired with even modest server abilities, that restaurant “concept” is left as yet another shitty LA restaurant with a great view and hot servers.
This “concept” problem sometimes extends to the menus themselves, where elegant-sounding entrees are produced using Sysco-sourced ingredients; Kobe beef burgers appended by dry “brioche” buns and frozen seasoned curly fries. I’d rather have In-N-Out for three bucks.
Restaurants need to be developed and run by restaurant people–chefs and managers–who are committed to the craft and that particular restaurant full time, not consultants, marketing executives, PR advisers and costumers. The latter can help embellish a solid product, but it’s ultimately impossible to polish shit.
Good food, good space, good staff. Those are steps 1, 1, and 1. Everything else is ancillary.