A Feast for the 99%: Why Now is One of the Best Times for Good Food

As 2014 draws to a close, pundits in every industry category are assembling lists recounting memorable happenings from the past year and predictions for the coming year. (A full commentary on past and future food & beverage trends from me and my colleagues at PadillaCRT is slated for January – stay tuned.) I’ll avoid a listicle here but focus instead on one aspect of the food landscape that has been slowly changing for a while and continues to do so in notable ways as we approach the quinceañera of the new millennium:

Casual food is becoming more sophisticated and fine dining is loosening its tie.

pic 1Where I live in Los Angeles, we’ve been both lauded and blamed for these related happenings. I always feel compelled to dress a notch nicer when I go out for dinner when visiting Manhattan, but here on the Left Coast it’s perfectly acceptable and expected to show up at trendy restaurants in jeans. Traditionalists might scoff at the dearth (or death?) of decorum. On the flip side, it wasn’t that long ago that Chef Roy Choi left behind the trappings of the Beverly Hilton, started a gourmet food truck renaissance with his Kogi BBQ Tacos and brought amazing but approachable food to the curbside. More about this culinary papi chulo in a few paragraphs.

This week, two acclaimed high-end Los Angeles restaurants announced their impending closures. Chef John Sedlar from Rivera is returning to his roots in Santa Fe, and power couple Quinn and Karen Hatfield are shuttering their eponymous restaurant to focus on several more causal concepts. Neither of these operations were from newbies. They were both extremely well thought-out eateries from industry veterans, but in the current environment where street/comfort foods in tablecloth-free settings are continuing to proliferate, maybe their time had come.

One of the best examples of this trend locally is Chef Ludovic Lefebvre’s more democratic version of his hot-ticket restaurant Trois Mec. The recently-opened sister diner called Petit Trois occupies a nondescript storefront in a strip mall that hasn’t even bothered to remove the previous tenant’s sign. Seating is entirely at a bar or a counter, no tables. The menu is basic French bistro, but presented as the ne plus ultra of its kind. And affordable.

pic 2My colleagues and I have recently spent more time at The Original Farmers Market, a Los Angeles landmark and perfect embodiment of “nowtro” in the middle of a city known for its flash-in-the-pan pop culture. The spectrum of flavors available at its foodservice merchants – many of them for decades – is a testament to the authenticity craved by Angeleno diners. Yeah, we Instagrammed the foie gras cotton candy at The Bazaar in West Hollywood, but we secretly craved the simple boysenberry pie from Du-Par’s at the Farmers Market.

Looking ahead, I can’t wait to see what Chef Roy Choi will do with his next project: a healthy, seasonal fast food chain called Loco’l. Maybe by this time next year, the sophisticated casual and the downscaling gourmet movements will have met somewhere in the middle and we’ll all be reveling in astounding $8 lunches from Michelin quality chefs.

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