I truly do not understand this. Los Angeles, although it has been ignored by the "elite" of the culinary world for it's focus on casual dining (looking at Michelin here), still manages to produce some of the best restaurants in the country. Not only that, but I would say, some of the most interesting food in the country, heck, even the world. Maybe there isn't a huge collection of 3-Michelin star restaurants, but that is largely irrelevant to the point. I think Chowhound probably understands this.
But thinking of dining in the range of $40-60/per person (food only), there is an abundance of restaurants pushing the envelope in incredible ways. Places like Bäco Mercat, Animal, Ink... I am sure they are all known to Hounds.
It's more than that though. There is some innovation going on in OC, but the underlying QUALITY appears to be lacking.
Does Los Angeles simply get better produce, and meat than what is available in OC?
Look at somewhere like Salt's Cure. Are they doing revolutionary cuisine necessarily? Not entirely, except for the fact that the pork chop there tastes about a million times better than pork chops at much fancier places. Why? Because it's locally sourced, fresh meat, simply prepared.
You see this theme emerge even in the restaurants that are pushing the envelopes. The vegetable program at Bäco Mercat is stunning. A simple beet salad is elevated to new heights. Ricardo Diaz makes Huazontle sing at Bizarra Capital. Bucato elevates cauliflower to new heights.
In LA, you find places that elevate cuisines such as Mexican, and Italian by doing things by hand. Look at the flourishing Italian scene: Bestia, Angelini, Bucato, Sotto, Chi Spacca, etc... is there even a single equivalent in the OC?
Look at places like Corazon y Miel, Babita, Bizarra Capital, etc... is there anything with that kind of execution in OC?
Let's not get caught up with focus on these specific cuisines necessarily. What about places like Farmshop, Huckleberry, heck, even Joan's onThird, etc... ? These places offer simple market fare with slight twists, but mainly a kind of dedication to quality that is simply not seen in OC. Why?
One thing is for sure, there is no lack of money in OC. Diners are willing to spend fairly outrageous sums of money here.
Surely there is the chance to reap rewards in OC. And we have some burgeoning talent. But the talent seems somehow limited.
So what is wrong? Is there a real problem in sourcing of ingredients to work with in OC? I believe this to be somehow true, as the vegetables, and meats never taste quite as good at OC restaurants, no matter how high end they are.
Is there a solution here? Could we start a campaign to get better sourcing?
Or is the problem more fundamental?
I am very interested in this discussion, and hope others have some insights.
I also recognize that things are changing somewhat. Taco Maria for example, is an astounding accomplishment for OC. Perhaps that is a sign of things to come.
But in general, this ethos of "hand crafted", "locally sourced" high-quality ingredients is not coming out.
The statement of the problem is a bit hazy, so hopefully others can help to clarify it by adding insights as well. I am inspired by some of the game-changers in OC currently though to actually dedicate part of my life to improving the situation if I can identify the factors involved in the issues with dining in OC.
Edit: Is it possible that food criticism is to blame? LA has eater.la, the LAWeekly, a host of major food bloggers, and J Gold (arguably one of the best food critics in the world). I have noticed that OC has almost no bloggers by comparison, and very soft-reviews in the OC register. the OCWeekly is practically a joke compared to the LAWeekly, and proclaims dishes from chains like Del Taco to be among the best dishes in OC...which is utterly disparaging if true. The reviews often read like infomercials...
Are there simply no food critics pushing OC chefs to innovate, and tighten their execution? Or is this inconsequential?
Look forward to the discussion.
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