Los Angeles is in the throes of charcuterie passion. It’s part of our evolution as a city of big eaters: As a city, we're proud of our culinary bravery. Charcuterie is the French word that encompasses sausage-making as well as curing and smoking meats. In Italian, "salumi" covers the same ground.
Charcuterie involves mostly pork, but not as a rule — that's circumstantial (there are a lot of wild pigs running around Western Europe). Dried, cured sausages are charcuterie, as are dried meats such as prosciutto and Iberico ham. Items in containers, such as pâté, terrine and mousse, fall under the umbrella. And bacon and pastrami count!
As you've probably guessed, charcuterie is just a collection of preservation methods. But it is difficult to master, and the animals used must be well-fed and gently taken care of in their lifetimes.
Los Angeles restaurants started touting their in-house salumi and charcuterie a few years ago. Now we're seeing it all over the city in high-end restaurants, and we're seeing it done well. Making charcuterie in-house requires a lot of space and energy, but these restaurants are dedicated to the craft.
Downtown's Bestia opened in 2012, and one could reasonably argue that this restaurant's salumi (not charcuterie, since Bestia is Italian-leaning) really kicked off the craze. The open kitchen gives diners a view of all the action, from pasta making to steak searing, but the focal point is the salumi station. The options here tend away from pork; there is beef bresaola and various duck preparations, from prosciutto to mousse.
2121 Seventh Place, downtown; (213) 514-5724, bestiala.com.
Opened in 2013, Chi Spacca lays claim to being the first in the city to do its own dry curing. The salumi is made in-house, as befits a temple of flesh, and the year it opened Jonathan Gold called it "by far the most ambitious" salumi in the city. That may or may not still be the case, but only because the competition has gotten so much better. Chi Spacca's is still excellent, featuring various salame among other delights. (Here's a little Italian lesson for you: "chi" is pronounced "key.")
6610 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 297-1133, chispacca.com
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Salt's Cure has always been known for its love of carnivorous eating. Remember when it first opened, how enthralled we all were with a breakfast plate that came standard with two kinds of meat? That doesn't seem as wild now, but circa 2011 it certainly was. Salt's Cure is still innovating, and its charcuterie — which started with the bacon from that breakfast platter — comes à la carte, each item with its own array of sauces and sides.
1155 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 465-7258, saltscure.com.
Miro is one of the newer restaurants on this list, a big downtown space that will host its share of business lunches but is aiming for more soaring culinary heights. The chef's main passion is charcuterie — he produces his own line — and Miro's charcuterie plate reflects that. It's a gorgeous, homemade work of art, dotted with colorful pickled vegetables.
888 Wilshire Blvd., downtown; (213) 988-8880, mirorestaurant.com.
The Cannibal makes an interesting distinction in its charcuterie offerings. The "fresh" charcuterie — the terrines, pâtés and mousse, aka processed meats in jars — is made in-house. The cured stuff is brought in from vendors across the United States. Except, as Cannibal says, "for once in a while when we get some crazy Iberico ham in from Spain or maybe some other suitcase salumi.” Which for food hobbyists is actually pretty exciting information.
8850 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 838-2783, thecanniballa.com.
We are not alone in extolling Cassia's virtues. The restaurant's charcuterie is all made in-house and is, in keeping with Cassia's entire menu, at its core French-Vietnamese. If you've become immune to the charms of the standard charcuterie plate, try this one. It includes salted pork, served with grilled bread; smoked red sausage; Yunnan pork; Singaporean candied pork (it's like bacon, but more); lamb ham (that's lamb done in the style of ham); and smoked curried duck.
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.