Jason Michaud doesn't do things by half-measures. Deep into the arduous and expensive process of securing a liquor license for Local, his two-and-a-half-year-old Silver Lake cafe, he's opening two new restaurants, far afield from Local in terms of cuisine but operating on the same ethos of local produce, environmental sustainability and fair business practices.
Chimú, adjacent to the Grand Central Market in downtown L.A., features rustic Peruvian fare and will likely soft-open next Thursday or Friday. Red Hill, going into the old Phoenix Bakery space across from Allston Yacht Club in Echo Park, will be a New American neighborhood restaurant. The man overseeing the menu at both is Mario Alberto Orellana, formerly a sous chef at Lazy Ox Canteen and Ricardo Zarate's cohort at Mo-Chica.
"I went to Peru last year and spent time in Lima, Iquitos and the Amazon," Orellana says. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things, like the produce that was available there. Cooking over there is very elevated right now. It's at a very a high standard, and they take their culinary roles very seriously. I was surprised how many people went out to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. We tried a lot of rustic cooking that was really delicious and very different than the stuff you see here. When we came back, we decided we wanted to do something more rustic and soulful."
For Chimú, that translates to a menu of anticuchos and pollo a la brasa as well as less common dishes like estofado de lengua, carapulcra (a stew of rehydrated potatoes cooked with peanuts, chocolate and other spices) tacu tacu (rice and refried beans made into kind of an omelet often with seafood or meat) and chancho (a pork stew with quinoa and tomatoes). "It's a very traditional Peruvian braise," Orellana says, "but it's out of the ordinary in terms of the acidity and flavor profile. It's a very Creole dish."
Located on the west side of Grand Central Market at the bottom of Angel's Flight, Chimú has only a kitchen, a counter and a roll up metal door. It shares a large patio and several outdoor tables with several other take-out eateries. Initially, Chimu will open only during market hours, from 8 a.m. until about 6 p.m. "But we're outside of the market, so when we get busier, we'll stay open later, hopefully until 2 a.m.," Michaud says.
Larger and more ambitious, Red Hill has required nothing short of blood, sweat and tears from Michaud. He spent three years doggedly pestering the owners to rent it to him. (Rumor has it they wanted to give it to the city for a police substation, turn it into a drive-through pharmacy or install a chain restaurant.) When he finally got inside, it turned out that the space needed a complete overhaul. "I had no idea how run-down the interior was. It looked like it was going to be a quick rebuild," Michaud says. "It was anything but quick."
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18 months and thousands of hours later, Red Hill is maybe two months away from opening. Hopefully. That's a tentative and, perhaps, optimistic target. Eventually, Michaud wants Red Hill to have a rooftop pocket garden that will grow all of the restaurant's jalapeños and bell peppers. The decor will pay homage to old Echo Park, with trolley imagery adorning the interior and 12-inch mini-cars racing around the top of the roof. It will seat about 40 people inside and 20 people outside, including communal tables on the patio where locals can sip beer on hot afternoons. In short, it's the kind of neighborhood hang where Michaud, an Echo Park resident, would want to spend time -- if he had any time to spend.
As for the menu, Orellana says, "We're kind of focusing on Angelino profile flavors. I think it should really be about defining what L.A. cuisine is all about. I'm an L.A. kid. I grew up here on the Eastside. I want to cook food that identifies with my upbringing. There will be a lot of Latin and Japanese flavors, not that far away from what we were doing at Lazy Ox. You can call it New American; I call it Urban American."
Chimú: 324 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Red Hill: 1325 Echo Park Ave. 1325, Los Angeles, CA 90026.