View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "Forage: Silver Lake's Antirestaurant Neighborhood Canteen" slideshow.
Sunset Boulevard, as it swings east from Sunset Junction, may be the most evolved shopping area in Los Angeles, a magical few blocks of both vintage clothing and neovintage clothing, the best in both third-wave coffee beans and second-wave coffee beans, funky kicks and kids' shoes, absinthe accessories and fine wine, a conservatory of music, a well-stocked cheese shop and the best-curated comic book store in town. Many of the stores and cafés have gleaming water bowls set outside them on the sidewalk, a public service for dogs. The new spice store, hidden behind a fountain at the back of a courtyard, displays rare salts and custom curry blends as if they were exquisite jewels.
And at the core of this, in a light-washed dining room that until recently was home to the bakery-café Town and Country, Forage is the neighborhood canteen, a sort of antirestaurant that has become the most crowded restaurant in the area, a place where people line up for half an hour for a caramel cookie and a go-cup of Blue Bottle coffee, or a glass of gingered agua fresca made from Silver Lake Meyer lemons, or a ripe-avocado hoagie with pickled fennel and green-garlic aioli.
Every Sunday afternoon, there is a themed brunch — all flatbreads one week, topped with things like sausage and peppers, goat cheese and prosciutto, or smoked trout, and all named after John Hughes movies. The Pretty in Pink was a strawberry-ricotta pizza, and it could scarcely have been more delicious.
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Forage is an informal place, a few outdoor tables, a long dining room narrow enough that you can touch both walls at once, and a big, stainless-steel serving counter set up a bit like a cafeteria. You select from the salads, flatbreads and ready dishes displayed behind glass; order Coca-Cola–marinated flank steak or roasted Jidori chicken from the kitchen; grab a bottle of Bubble Up or a glass of freshly made agua fresca; then carry your tray out to your table. If you want, you can bring in your own wine. Chef Jason Kim is an alumnus of the highbrow kitchen at Lucques, among other places, but the vibe here reminds me of a first-class potluck, a motley, exquisitely seasonal collection of farro salads with peas and shaved-carrot salads with lemon zest and shallots, big potato gratins and multicolored beet salads with citrus, fingerling potatoes with pesto and steamed cauliflower with anchovy — vegetable preparations having little to do with one another save freshness and the mark of a conscious omnivore. The beans, stewed Rancho Gordo limas with toasted bread crumbs and garlic, were among the best I've ever tasted.
When meat or dairy appears at Forage, it tends to be in small, earth-friendly portions — perhaps a bit of roasted Niman pork belly or a smear of goat cheese on crostini, a few slices of braised pork belly in a sandwich, or slivers of Jidori chicken in a mayonnaise-y salad with apples and fennel, and the standard order is a $13.50 combination plate of a few ounces of animal with two vegetable dishes, $10.50 if you'd rather just combine the sides.
Until the city frowned on the practice, the soul of Forage was in its Sunday-afternoon produce sessions, where neighbors were encouraged to bring in their homegrown fruit and vegetables in exchange for a credit at the restaurant — a brick-and-mortar realization of the Fallen Fruit movement that began not far from here. Some customers turned armloads of tangelos or homegrown kale into slabs of fresh-baked flatbread or fat wedges of olive oil–thyme cake — like record collectors transforming old Guided by Voices albums into purple-vinyl Vampire Weekend EPs. Other customers fantasized about the possibility of comparing turnips grown in Silver Lake with lesser turnips from the barren soil of Echo Park. It was fun to imagine Forage as the hub of a great agricultural region, and almost as fun to imagine a forager leaping from backyard herb garden to backyard herb garden like the mesclun-gathering equivalent of the swimmer in the great Cheever story. Every café serves food; what Forage offers is a new way to look at the Los Angeles dream.
FORAGE: 3823 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 663-6885, foragela.com. Open Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. MC, V. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Dinner proteins $6.50-$12-$20 according to size; sides $3.75-$6.75-$9.75; combo plates $13.50. Recommended dishes: chickpeas and chorizo; Rancho Gordo lima beans; farro and three peas; Coca-Cola–marinated flank steak.