Is Downtown L.A.'s New Culinary Center?

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Ludo's sushi rice ice cream Photo: Hadley Tomicki

Downtown has officially passed its long-touted transformation stage and is rightly being called a culinary mecca. L.A. Downtown News points to 2009 as the year the neighborhood's breakout chefs challenged the notions of normalcy in their cooking and pursued gastronomic passion over profit or expectation. Ilan Hall, who followed his Top Chef win to make unheard-of Jewish-Scottish amalgams, is a natural choice to point to, but Lazy Ox's Joseph Centeno and John Rivera Sedlar get due props as well for taking the "stuffiness out of the dining experience," according to critic Patrick Kuh. We wish Rivera's price tag looked less stuffy at times, but maybe things will change when Sedlar turns Rivera into three different restaurants, as he reveals. But does this recipe revolution stop in Downtown?

While Drago Centro and Wurstkuche are also acknowledged, the article localizes a thrilling phenomenon that really emerged citywide. Celebrations of our local food scene often center around the diversity of cheap, global eats, but rarely is the all-out experimentation and inventiveness of our fine-dining chefs noted as part of the exciting bigger picture. While Bazaar has garnered plenty of attention for its El Bulli-esque magic, Bistro LQ turns French finery into edible abstractions, Stefan Richter adds absinthe Jello to his oysters, Palate highlights organ meat menus, Animal continues to play with Southern cooking and Mozza with Italian, and Susan Feniger takes on the whole world.

In other words, chefs in L.A. are not really into playing safely. Like the aforementioned Downtowners, chefs as spread out as Quinn Hatfield, Michael Voltaggio, Mark Peel, Casey Lane, and Roy Choi dedicate themselves to their own vision and sense of place, which so far has lead to popular appeal as well. Even more, Ludo Lefebvre, Starry Kitchen, and underground caterers like Amy Jurist shake up the whole concept of what a restaurant even is. Only in L.A. could such loose strangeness exist and still attain such a sheen. We're stoked Downtown gets it due, but are more charged at how the culinary landscape looks for 2010 and beyond.

Cutting Edge Kitchens [L.A. Downtown News]