Metro Renaissance

Ever watch the “local” news in Los Angeles and feel a bit lost? From West Hills to Westwood, from Palmdale to Lawndale — LA is a series of isolated villages ruthlessly contained and constrained by traffic as surely as it is a major metropolis.

Ever watch the “local” news in Los Angeles and feel a bit lost? From West Hills to Westwood, from Palmdale to Lawndale — LA is a series of isolated villages ruthlessly contained and constrained by traffic as surely as it is a major metropolis.

My husband, a native, still has no real idea where to find the non-Shakespearean Arcadia, and I confess that while Larchmont Village and Toluca Lake sound lovely in theory, I would be hard-pressed to find them without my trusty friend the Thomas Guide. Angelenos don’t travel outside their comfortable commuter zones often enough, and Downtown Los Angeles has particularly suffered from this isolationism.

All that is changing. Much has been made of Downtown’s recent renaissance, and with Patina taking up residence at the Disney Concert Hall in 2003, fine dining has followed suit. With the final installation of the mammoth L.A. Live complex opening earlier this year, Downtown now boasts glamorous restaurants like SBE’s Katsuya and Wolfgang Puck’s WP-24, amongst casual favorites like the Yard House and Rock’nFish. While these brand-spankin’ new places will rightfully increase the quality of life for residents and tourists alike, there’s a lot of history to be preserved Downtown too. What I have found fascinating is the story of several smart Downtown restaurateurs who are renovating where others are razing. Determined to get out of my own comfort zone, I boldly trekked east on the 10 to discover if everything old really is new again, even in a youth-obsessed town like Los Angeles. 

My first stop was Bottega Louie, housed in a sprawling 10,000-square-foot space of soaring ceilings that famously housed Brooks Brothers’ flagship shop for a whopping 71 years. That’s a lot of neckties. Bottega Louie still feels a bit like a department store, what with a gourmet take-out business, a bustling bar and an eye-popping patisserie, in addition to the cavernous restaurant itself. I knew that my good friend Tim Smith had designed their debut wine list, so I was confident that there would be authentic Italian wines to match the casual Mediterranean bistro fare. My college pal the Curator was in town too, so a bottle of the superb 2006 Vespa Bianco blend from Bastianich, a steal at $60, disappeared all too quickly.

From crispy calamari to the pitch-perfect crust on the pepperoni pizza to a straightforward NY strip done to a real medium rare, the hard-working kitchen staff is doing simple food that is way better than it needs to be. You feel for them as you watch an army of line cooks sweltering away in a desperate attempt to simply keep up with a ticker-tape parade of orders. All I could think, as the enormous restaurant swelled to capacity by 6 P.M. and a line developed at the host stand, was “Thank God, the women are all wearing heels and lipstick. Hurray for Downtown!” Bottega Louie is a party, and you’re invited, so leave those Havaianas at home (guilty as charged, Topanga Mommy) and get fancied up. And I dare you to walk past the Wonka-esque pastry cases and resist; this from someone who doesn’t even like desserts.

Next on the Downtown agenda was Cicada, which relocated to the historic Oviatt Building on South Olive Street from its original West Hollywood location. In stark contrast to the riotousness of Bottega Louie, Cicada on a Friday night was a hushed temple to Art Deco, with widely-spaced tables and a serenity that made us feel as if they’d opened the National Museum of American History, curated to 1929, just for us. The dining room is a gilded, glittering paean to Lalique art glass and the elaborate oak trim is festooned with carved angels. If you feel like a movie star while dining there, it’s because you should. 

While the food at Cicada is good, it’s not particularly inventive. You go there for the décor, that’s for sure, but I was excited to learn that it’s not always quite so serene. Apparently, Sunday night is THE night for action when Cicada throws open its doors for swing-dancing done Cotton Club style with live music, a fantastic prix fixe menu for only $49 and retro cocktails like the “Moskow Mule” and Sazeracs and Sidecars a-plenty. We’ll go back without the kids on a Sunday sometime soon, just so I can wear something fringed and beaded and fun. 

My last stop on my Downtown tour was the Edison, which is the most ambitious and perhaps unlikely story of repurposed real estate. Where else on earth could you possibly “enjoy artisanal cocktails … in an industrial cathedral crafted from the architectural artifacts of LA’s first private power plant,” per their website? I was intrigued.

Owner and design maestro Andrew Meieran has a penchant for extreme makeovers and the vision to match; the Edison is housed in the sub-basement of the old Higgins building, and quirky industrial artifacts from the original power plant mark the structure’s 100-year anniversary this year. Meieran’s enthusiastic tale of navigating the water-filled space in an inflatable boat with a flashlight reminded me of the Hardy Boys, albeit with a budget and design chops. His waterlogged discovery is now easily one of the nation’s coolest bars, and it has the velvet rope to match. I was bemused that they refused admission to us at 5:15 P.M. for a quick peek at the space because we had our two tiny kids with us. My daughter may dig Tinker Bell, but she’s hardly chasing the Green Fairy of absinthe, and the zealousness of the door staff and strict dress code struck me as a bit aspirational for a renovated basement space, as cool as that space may be. But no matter. The Edison is hip — hipper than you, reader — so dress the part and take a date for some serious cocktailing. This summer they’re running a retro Happy Hour from 5 to 7 P.M. on Wednesday through Friday nights with martinis time-warped to 35 cents each. Now that’s so hip it hurts, so pack your Advil, too, for your next adventure Downtown.

Bottega Louie
700 Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
213-802-1470, bottegalouie.com

Cicada
617 South Olive Street, Los Angeles
213-488-9488, cicadarestaurant.com

The Edison
108 2nd Street, Los Angeles
213-613-0000, edisondowntown.com


In our May/June issue, we published incorrect information on The Landau, a London restaurant at the Langham Hotel. Here is the correct editorial:

The Landau
Located in the Langham Hotel, the Landau is an epicurean standout. Guests enter through a spectacular vaulted corridor, showcasing the 1,400+ wine selection, and emerge into a dining room designed by David Collins. A mix of contemporary Chinoiserie and British grandeur, the room complements the sumptuous menu of modern Continental and British seasonal fare. The sommelier menu created by Chef Elisha Carter and Sommelier Zach Saghir will forever alter your perception of London gastronomy.  thelandau.com
 

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