When it comes to avant garde dining, L.A. doesn’t disappoint. The city is home to more than a few head-turning restaurants in which foams, wisps of smoke, art museum-worthy platings and unexpected tastes are around every turn of the menu. Given the bounty of fresh ingredients Los Angeles chefs have to work with, it makes sense that they’d be inspired to craft dishes that will take your breath away, all while dazzling your taste buds and expanding your idea of what food can be.Read More
Here’s Your Guide to Eating Avant Garde in L.A.
While celebrity chef and Top Chef alum Marcel Vigneron has tamed his wildest molecular gastronomy side at his seasonally focused restaurant on Melrose, there are still plenty of out-there touches. Perfectly plated dishes — you just know a tweezer was involved — have not a flower petal garnish out of place, and he lets the top-notch ingredients from small, local family farms take a bow too. It may have something to do with his pedigree, as Vigneron opened as sous chef for The Bazaar by José Andrés.
Niki Nakayama’s 26-seat kaiseki restaurant, a reference to a formal, multicourse style of seasonal Japanese cuisine, is consistently booked three months in advance, and for good reason. She grows many of the ingredients that show up in each of the 13 exquisite dishes on the menu, and the artful plating of dishes such as abalone pasta and blue crab zucchini blossoms looks more at home in an art gallery than on a plate.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
The cocktails smoke and foie gras comes on cotton candy-coated lollipops at José Andrés’ Beverly Hills restaurant inside the SLS Hotel. The Spanish-style tapas menu from the James Beard Award winner is anything but predictable, and the modern Philippe Starck-designed spaces within add to the intrigue.
A steakhouse with avant garde flair? That’s what you’ll find at Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant on Melrose. Another former Top Chef, Voltaggio recently shifted the menu focus to beef, but there are so many intriguing sides — like creamed corn with a housemade “foritos” (aka Doritos) and just about every dish has something crispy sticking out, a dusting of this or that, or an unexpectedly freeze-dried component — that you may end up treating it like an innovative small plates restaurant with steak on the side.
The prix fixe only, 24-seat restaurant from the dining powerhouse of chef Ludovic Lefebvre and partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Son of a Gun, Petit Trois and Jon & Vinny's) is as rule-breaking in its reservation system (you’ll pre-pay for tickets) as it is in its fare. For a true experience, snag a seat at the chef’s table to better take in the art and skill of dishes like an almost too beautiful to eat grilled lamb with Sichuan eggplant with petite side dishes of lamb broth and a brioche bun.
Chef Jordan Kahn made a name for himself with Wilshire Boulevard’s avant garde Red Medicine, now defunct, where he served food in terrariums and crafted plates that resembled miniature landscapes. This tiny breakfast and lunch-only restaurant in Culver City is slightly more restrained, but you’ll still see his unfettered creativity and knack for unusual visual and ingredient presentation in a beef tartar obscured by paper-thin radishes or a dish of English peas, Job's tears, gooseberries and frozen cream.
Foodies flock to this tiny, otherwise unremarkable Hollywood strip mall for a taste of chef and owner Kwang Uh’s fermented grain bowls. Uh calls his kitchen “free-style” and “experimental,” and in that regard you might chow down on the bright-hued Noorook, made with a laundry list of unusual-together ingredients: Job's tears, Kamut, farro grains, roasted koji beet cream, concentrated kombu dashi, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, finger lime and rose onion pickle. Check out the jars lining the walls -- what’s fermenting might show up in your next order.
Ari Taymor’s original Alma beat very much to its own multicourse forage-heavy drum, and at its newest incarnation at the Standard, it’s less high-brow given its all day service and hotel location, but still definitely experimental. The frozen foie gras with smoked maple, coffee granola, and carrots certainly fits the avant garde bill, as does English muffins topped with uni.