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10 reasons saveur mag is wrong (about LA food scene)

Melanie Wong Feb 23, 2010 09:19 AM

http://www.jewishjournal.com/foodaism...

  1. Tom Armitage Feb 25, 2010 12:58 PM

    Even though I agree with the insightful points made above by Jase and my friend Dave Feldman, I couldn’t resist the temptation of sharing my own reactions to the “10 reasons” propounded by Rob Eshman. So, with apologies for length, here goes.

    I’ll start with a couple of caveats. First, I no longer live in Los Angeles, so I’m not up to date on the food scene there. I moved to Seattle a couple of years ago. Although I was a mainstay of Chowhound’s Los Angeles Board in the very early days of Chowhound, and although I lurk on that board from time to time, reading is not a substitute for eating. But I doubt that the L.A. food scene, in general, has changed so dramatically in the last couple of years to make my opinions passé. Second, I haven’t read the March issue of Saveur. But the points made by Mr. Eshman were sufficiently irritating and fallacious to provoke this lengthy rejoinder.

    Reasons #1 (Restaurants close too early) and #2 (Much of LA is a food desert). These are, in my opinion, connected. New York City is a sardine can – lots of people crowded together in a very small area. It is unique in this respect, and means that you have lots of options very close at hand. Los Angeles has fewer people spread out over a much larger area. Does this obvious fact make L.A., in general, a “food desert”? No, it just means that you have to travel over a greater area to get the good stuff, not that the good stuff doesn’t exist. Is there more good stuff in New York City than Los Angeles? Duh – of course, simply by virtue of the fact that there are roughly twice as many people in New York City (over 8 million) than in the City of Los Angeles (around 4 million), and therefore lots more restaurants to serve the population in New York City than in Los Angeles. But the population numbers get closer if you compare the population of Los Angeles County, and not just the City of Los Angeles. And at some point, the number of restaurants is meaningless. I could eat every day in just one food-rich area of Los Angeles – let’s say Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley -- and never be able to eat at all the restaurants there. Are there certain areas of Los Angeles where the pickings for good restaurants are slim? Of course. This is true for most metropolitan areas that cover a relatively broad geographic area. In the Seattle area, for example, the pickings on Mercer Island (a wealthy suburb of Seattle) are very slim, compared to the pickings in downtown Seattle and the Capitol Hill, Belltown, and Queen Anne neighborhoods. Similarly, there are neighborhoods in most metropolitan areas where they roll up the sidewalks early. All this means is that you have to drive a bit to get to a place serving food at 2:00 a.m., rather than walking there. It’s purely a function of population density.

    Reason # 3 (Angelinos eat to live. They don’t live to eat.) So, on the one hand you have the “grasping, sweating, ambitious Blackberry addicts” of Los Angeles, gulping fast food on the run, and, on the other hand, New Yorkers who enjoy long leisurely lunches with a bottle of wine. I think Mr. Eshman is confusing New York with Barcelona.

    Reason #4 (Supermarkets and cars ganged up to strangle LA’s food culture. It is still trying to breathe.) Well, yes, I’m reasonably sure that there are more big supermarkets in L.A., where space is not at such a premium, than in N.Y.C. Does this prove that Los Angelinos are, in general, less attuned to high quality groceries, and therefore high-quality food in general, than New Yorkers? Maybe. But the proximity to nearby farms and the prevalence of wonderful farmers’ markets in most Western Cities make the availability of fresh, local, high quality ingredients in places like Los Angeles and Seattle a dream come true not only for chefs, but serious home cooks like me. I confess that I don’t know much about the sources for local farm-fresh products in New York City, and I know that the locavore movement is alive and well there, but I do know that there lots of options to supermarkets in L.A.

    Reason #5 (The coffee culture is below average.) Well, I live in Seattle, where the coffee culture is probably more intensely passionate than any other city in the U.S., and is served by a large number of superb local roasters. So I guess this means that the food scene in Seattle is much better than the food scene in Los Angeles, right? So, so wrong. Not a persuasive causal connection, Mr. Eshman.

    Reason # 6 (Driving makes for a mediocre bar scene.) Well, I suppose if you really want to get slammed, doing so somewhere within walking distance of your residence is the way to go. But for those of us that don’t reside in place where there’s a bar down the street, the only alternative isn’t “staying home and watching Mad Men.” There are such things as designated drivers, taxis, etc., and even (perish the thought) just drinking in moderation and keeping your blood alcohol under .08%. More fundamentally, what is the causal connection between having lots of bars close at hand and a great food scene? In Medford, Wisconsin there are 11 bars serving a population of around 5,000 people, or one bar for every 455 people. So the food scene in Medford must be amazing, right?

    Reason #7 (There are far too few outdoor dining options.) Again, I’m not sure there is a causal connection between the number of restaurants with outdoor seating and overall food quality. But, yeah, it’s kind of weird that in a city with as much sunshine and warm weather as L.A. that there aren’t more places more sidewalk options. No one would mistake Los Angeles for Paris.

    Reason #8 (We have the best beaches and the best weather, and some of the worst beachside dining in the world.) I agree with the narrow point about beachside dining, which brings back fond memories of beachside dining in Portugal and other places, but also like the point made by Dave Feldman that having restaurants strewn along a waterfront, changes the nature and character of that waterfront. But what does a lack of waterfront dining have to do with the quality and vibrancy of the overall food scene in Los Angeles? Lack of good beachside dining = lack of good dining in general? Mr. Eshman doesn’t seem able to restrain himself from stretching a point to make a completely different and unrelated point.

    Reason #9 (No one comes to LA for the food.) As one who misses the L.A. food scene terribly, I just can’t relate to this. I sort of understand the point, but think it misses the mark. It’s hard for me to think of any city where I go just for the food alone. I go to New York for the food, but also for the museums, the theater, and the general vibe. I go to Paris for the food, but also to walk and visit galleries and shops. I go to Los Angeles for the food, but also to visit friends and family, to lay on the beach, and shop. Do I go to L.A. for the food? You bet. See my Chowhound post, “I miss Los Angeles,” at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647976. In fact, I’m going to L.A. in March for five days, and am having a terrible time trying to allocate my available time between a very long list of places where I want to eat. So much good food, so little time!

    Reason #10 (The fresh, local food scene has not permeated beyond the precious.) “In great food cities, even a mom and pop café will have market fresh food.” Such as? New York City seems to qualify as “a great food city.” So, if I go into a “mom-and- pop” café for breakfast in the Big Apple, I’m going to get farm-fresh eggs from pastured chickens, artisanal bacon, and hash-browns from locally grown organic potatoes, right?

    I do agree with Mr. Eshman about one thing. Langer’s. And, to qualify a statement I made earlier, there is one place I can think of where I’d go just for the food, and that is Mealhada, Portugal for the spit-roasted suckling pig.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Tom Armitage
      BobB Feb 25, 2010 01:02 PM

      Mealhada, mmm! Been there, done that. And I was hungry again a week later!

      1. re: Tom Armitage
        j
        Johnny L Feb 25, 2010 03:38 PM

        dam well said! Have fun coming back too!

        I know when I went to work in Colorado for almost half a year I was seriously missing the food scene here. Considering it was a small town and all they had were Americanized Asian food, sorry excuse for Mexican, and some decent American I was starved for some decent Pho and Korean BBQ.

        1. re: Johnny L
          d
          david t. Feb 25, 2010 03:59 PM

          About reason #5, surprising to some people, but even Paris has a horrible coffee culture. Still a great food city.

          1. re: david t.
            j
            Johnny L Feb 25, 2010 05:23 PM

            wait what? From my French courses I always learned that French people like to take their 2-3 hour lunch breaks and all. I would assume there would be some good coffee culture.

            1. re: Johnny L
              Tom Armitage Feb 25, 2010 05:47 PM

              Ya'll come on up to Seattle, and we'll teach you what coffee culture is all about. Great oysters too. And there are some Washington wines that aren't too shabby. But, hey, we're just a bunch of loggers and deckhands up here, so whadda' we know.

        2. re: Tom Armitage
          Das Ubergeek Feb 26, 2010 05:02 PM

          Really, really well written, Tom.

          I'll add that I can think of great food cities with terrible deserts. Sure, Mr Eshman may be able to drive long stretches of Olympic without finding compelling food; I can drive Tenth Avenue in New York and not be tempted to stop; I can drive the Champs-Elysées from the Arc to Clemenceau and only be tempted by Ladurée; I can drive Avinguda Diagonal from Glòries to El Maresme and not want to stop. Just because a city has roads that don't feature amazing food does not mean the city is a bad place for food. The only city I can think of that has amazing food even in the tourist traps is Hong Kong.

          As for Palms, I can list, without even stopping to think, at least a dozen delicious things to eat, from sushi (Zo) to mole (Guelaguetza) to home-cooking, Rio-style (Rio Brasil Cafe). Palms isn't a destination for high-end, date-night dinners; it's a destination for cheap, filling, great ethnic food... just like most of Los Angeles.

          Nobody comes to LA just for the food? Explain, then, why I keep seeing requests on this very forum to vet lists of restaurants from visiting tourists.

          Chaver Eshman needs to stop kvetching and either bloom where he's planted or move someplace he likes better.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek
            j
            Johnny L Feb 27, 2010 03:15 AM

            I agree about Hong Kong having great food everywhere! When I studied abroad at the CUHK which was up the forest and mountains I was still able to get a great meal only a few metro stops away.

          2. re: Tom Armitage
            Jim Leff Feb 26, 2010 08:44 PM

            ---------
            Reason #9 (No one comes to LA for the food.
            ---------

            I do. Every chance I get. And not too many people have sampled a wider and more varied range of the deliciousness NYC has to offer than I have.

            This is just a dumb article. Flame bait comes to glossy food mags. Ugh. But at least it's inspired a great thread, and smoked out a wonderful Tom Armitage opus. We all missed you, Tom!

          3. a
            Agent 99 Feb 25, 2010 02:12 AM

            Saveur should have done LA proud as most people in other parts of the country think it is a vacuous place with movie stars and palm trees..the issue portrays the city as an ethnically diverse cultural food city. Congrat's to Saveur for at the very least giving you the props you deserve...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Agent 99
              j
              Johnny L Feb 25, 2010 12:29 PM

              although I don't think they went as in depth as I would have hoped how can you expect to one just one issue of a magazine? For starters its a good starting point for those who don't know the city and can expand on it.

            2. j
              Johnny L Feb 24, 2010 10:46 AM

              Sounds like hes just pissed off it isn't New York which LA isn't. It's a different kind of city and the food scene is different as well. It may not be as easily accessible as say NYC but if you are willing to go out and look for it you can be rewarded too.

              Sure we dont have public transportation and all the perks of the NYC food scene but the point is we have one! Much better than the biggest town in Montana probably has (I dunno I'm just grasping here).

              As much as there are faults to LA I still love it here and having been to NYC I love it there too but I'd say LA is a harder city to get to know due to its massiveness and I, having lived here most of my life, still barely know it.

              1. f
                ferret Feb 24, 2010 07:23 AM

                It's truly idiotic to say that LA isn't like New York so it can't be considered a food town. First off, in terms of land mass alone, LA is something like 15 times the size of New York. New York grew slowly over 400 years and with land at a premium everyone was packed in tightly. Also, as the entry port for the majority of immigrants they have a long history of food culture.

                LA, a relatively new meaglopolis, is not an evolutionary construct. It has a slapdash feel to it because that's now it was built. I've had lots of great food experiences there over the years but it's obviously not New York, nor Chicago nor San Francisco for that matter. But I'd hardly call those criticisms well-founded or fair.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ferret
                  f
                  ferret Feb 24, 2010 10:48 AM

                  That should be "megalopolis".

                2. d
                  Dave Feldman Feb 23, 2010 11:00 PM

                  I truly hate the contents of this link, which equates the Los Angeles food scene with industry types and trendoids. Blech.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Dave Feldman
                    BobB Feb 24, 2010 06:18 AM

                    I don't know what list you're reading. By any stretch of the imagination, only their points #3 and #9 can be construed in that way.

                    To my mind, the more telling comments are these:

                    #2: "There are few food neighborhoods or food blocks or food streets, where you can walk from a great grocery to a great bar to a nice cafe to a butcher shop to a bakery—you get it." Most great food cities (NY, Boston, SF, Chicago, etc etc) have plenty of such areas. LA - apparently not.

                    #6: "Driving makes for a mediocre bar scene. Don’t drink and drive + poor public transportation = let’s just have a glass of wine and stay home and watch Mad Men." 'Nuff said.

                    #7 & 8, which are really two aspects of the same phenomenon 7: "There are far too few outdoor dining options." 8. "We have the best beaches and the best weather, and some of the worst beachside dining in the world." You got it, why not flaunt it?

                    All those points have zero to do with "industry types and trendoids" and everything to do with a vital local food scene.

                    1. re: BobB
                      j
                      Jase Feb 24, 2010 11:28 AM

                      I think the criticism lies in the lack of knowledgeable criticism in the article. To take one point for example. I live in the Palms area. Within a two mile radius, there are several bars, one of them where you can get the infamous Kogi food without chasing down the truck.

                      In that same radius, there is a south american grocery store/butcher where you can get cuts of meat that are unavailble in most places. Also a concentration of Brazilian restaurants that serve fantastic traditional and authentic food. Several Mexican bakeries with a huge variety of options. A Rockenwager bakery is also in the radius.

                      There's also a highly regarded Sinoloan/Nayarit seafood restaurant which serves dishes that aren't available anywhere else.

                      That's just the Palms area. There's plenty of other areas in LA that satisfy that criteria. But and it's a big but, LA is a huge sprawl. It's just impossible to use a NYC/Manhattan mentality about how to approach the city. Does that mean LA isn't a great food city? I and many Angelenos would beg to differ. LA has a breadth and width of amazing food choices. But is different than traditional. It's hard to believe that the standards called out in the criticism are the only ones acceptable to defining a great food city.

                      I defy any city in the US to come up with a combination and quality of Korean, Thai, Mexican and Chinese offerings that would rival L.A's. Sure the city has it's weak spots but what great food city doesn't?

                      But ultimately I guess I just don't care that much about how the author sees the city. If they think it's not that great, it's their loss. Even energetic intrepid active hounds are constantly finding new discoveries after years of searching. To me that makes LA a great food city.

                      1. re: BobB
                        d
                        Dave Feldman Feb 24, 2010 08:19 PM

                        BobB,

                        The posters after me did a far better job than I did in articulating why I was upset.

                        I live in New York. There aren't any neighborhoods in Manhattan where you can drive from wonderful great taco stand to taco stand. Would I criticize New York because it doesn't have a car culture? Because parking is impossible even if you have a car?

                        Why is walking from bar to bar synonymous with great eating and drinking? And I daresay if there were great restaurants on the beaches, the beaches wouldn't be as great. There are dead zones foodwise in every city; it's only a rule of thumb, but usually there's an inverse correlation between restaurant quality and a view (and with exceptions, that applies to outdoor dining, too).

                        There are plusses and minuses in every city, but as Jase so eloquently points out, L.A.'s riches are so great that I don't blame Saveur for not focusing on the weak spots.

                        1. re: Dave Feldman
                          j
                          Johnny L Feb 24, 2010 08:32 PM

                          Definitely agree, also I don't see why we should even compare food cities.

                          What would be the point of travel for some of us if every city offered a similar social and cultural environment?

                          The great and bad thing about LA is that we aren't a melting pot and most ethnic groups stick together but it is because of that, that there are many authentic ethnic restaurants here!

                          IMO I love NYC and I think its a great food city and that is why making travel to it so worth it, for me food is everything because it is the driving force of the city. Because cities can become so different that is what causes different cultural trends and that difference is what makes traveling great because we can have a change of environment and discover something new in our journey to found great food that inspires or creates that great experience.

                          1. re: Dave Feldman
                            d
                            david t. Feb 25, 2010 03:56 PM

                            I didn't get the notion that beaches should have great restaurants. I mean, wouldn't you expect the beach to have the worst restaurants, even if you've never been to LA? I've only set foot in NYC's Times Square when passing through, but I don't expect that place to have NYC's best restaurants either. I don't really expect that of any popular public spaces.

                            1. re: david t.
                              BobB Feb 26, 2010 04:37 AM

                              I think the criticism that the article lays on LA here really applies to the US in general. In many parts of the world you can get all sorts of excellent food on beaches and in public squares. Not usually haute cuisine, but fresh local fish and other simple grilled items are common in beach cultures like Greece, Italy, Israel, the Caribbean (especially the French Caribbean), etc.

                              For some reason Americans generally expect (and get) nothing more than ice cream and hotdogs at the beach.

                      2. southernitalian Feb 23, 2010 09:27 AM

                        I'm not a fan of LA in general and certainly never thought of it as a food town. But I'm about halfway thru the issue and am finding it fascinating. I couldn't stop staring at the old photograph of the two gossip columnists, the princess and Sophia Loren. What a great shot.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: southernitalian
                          d
                          david t. Feb 23, 2010 06:56 PM

                          Yeah, the issue should be an eye-opener for people unacquainted with the LA food scene. The variety and quality of ethnic cuisines in LA is amazing.

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