While the L.A. Live area has its fun share of watering holes (Rivera, Cana, Corkbar... maybe the Trader Vic's if I feel tiki-ish,) slightly trickier is finding a decent, moderately price place to eat (gotta have something to soak up all that alchy, right?) So I was pretty stoked to be invited to check out L.A. Market, the downtown outpost of Kerry Simon's restaurant empire. I had a few bites before at his other restaurant in town, Simon L.A. near the Beverly Center, and I could see how this type of cuisine ("modern American cooking with California flair") would work in L.A. Live complex. It appeals to both challenging and conservative palates by being a bit sassy contemporary while paying nostalgic homages to classic American dishes, plus a nod to Southern comfort cooking with Hell's Kitchen winner Nona Sivley taking charge.
For me, the updated classics menu worked pretty well . . . whether in the form of a braised short rib (pictured above), or brick-pressed and roasted chicken, the classic rib-eye steak or even a simple wedge salad (the last being an extra hard sell for me since I generally loathe salads I have to use a knife on,) my general impression is that it tasted like something prepped and cooked in a person's home kitchen with lots of meticulous TLC. The chicken was wonderfully moist with little smoky, crackly caramelized pieces where the bird meats the brick, the steak was juicy, beefy medium-rare, and the tender, flavorful short rib just falls apart with little fork effort.
At the same time, there were little culinary twists and spins reminding me that this is a slightly elevated meal with dabs and touches of creativity. For example, the ribeye above was accompanied by a gorgonzola polenta, with a bleu-y pungency just assertive enough to add a little zing to the overall equation without detracting from the steak. In a similar vein, the chicken was served atop a bed of farro, which soaked up all that delicious poultry & citrus jus while retaining a fun & firm & slightly-'poppity' texture. A definite upgrade overall the standard potato and rice starches, and I love how it inspires me to be a little bit more experimental in cooking too.
There are also a few dishes that harken to California's take on sushi, such as the tuna dynamite stack above with lump crab meat, tobiko plus dynamite & teriyaki sauces -- and the sushi pizza topped with wasabi cream, lump crab meat, raw tuna, avocado and fresh greens. Sushi purists will definitely scoff at dishes like these, but I found them enjoyable for what they are -- it's not oversauced and you can still taste the seafood, and perfectly fine fusion-y starters to split while waiting for the mains.
But my favorite appetizer of that night was gnocchi with lump crab meat in a truffle-parmesan cream sauce... despite the bland color, it tasted anything but. The crab was firm and sweet, the dumplings were impeccably fluffy, and that aromatic, velvety sauce struck that perfect balance of being rich and delicate; like the gorgonzola in the polenta, the truffle in the sauce was a nice subtle accent without dominating the whole dish.
While Kerry Simon restaurants' signature dessert (or desserts rather) is the junk food platter, a mega-sized plate of recreated and updated childhood cavity creaters, I actually preferred the more subtle and sophisticated "Taste of Georgia" with a sublime pecan ice cream and smooth, silky brulee'd banana custard pudding. Still, the junk food platter remains a "gotta try at least once" kind of things (esp. if you have a group of sugar-hankering friends with you, it's definitely made for 2 or more.)
Overall, the meal I had was solid, with a few standout superb dishes, and I would definitely return to nosh on some of fave items (the gnocchi, the chicken, the banana pudding) while checking out some of their other modern comfort fare, esp. when they start switching up the menu to reflect the fruits and veggies in season. Of course, they better not rotate the gnocchi out, or there might be a mutiny amongst the diners!
What Do Others Say?
- Darin Dines thinks Chef Sivley "brings a fresh perspective to the menu, and it’ll be interesting to see how her Southern roots blend with Chef Simon’s modern fare."
- TaraMetBlog also loved the short ribs & gnocchi as well as the tuna dynamite.
- LA Confidential thinks the restaurant is "ll about how Angelenos like to eat [with] . . . modern, quintessentially Californian fare."
- Hello Los Angeles says "the food here is anything but minimalist or straight-edged" and gave another must-try kudos to the junk food platter.
- Diana Takes A Bite agrees on the deliciousness of that chicken with its "taut, crisp skin . . . delicately scented with lemon and so tender it makes me wonder if Texas-native Nona is running a chicken massage parlor."
More photos from my flickr set here
LA Market by Kerry Simon
900 W. Olympic Blvd. 1st Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90015