Los Angeles may be known as the land of vegan baked goods and brown rice sushi, but plenty of local chefs also turn out damn fine charcuterie, the prepared meat products (proscuitto, pâtés, terrines, sausages, etc.) that are a celebration of all things animal. Most often made from pork, charcuterie was originally conceived as a way to keep meat from spoiling before the advent of refrigeration. Now, it only spoils our diets. Here, a side-by-side comparison of a few of the city's best.
If there's a creative matrix for charcuterie in Los Angeles at this moment, Waterloo & City is probably it. Executive chef Brendan Collins' kitchen turns out irresistibly rich, house-made pâtés that seem destined to be widely copied, like a salt-dusted chicken liver and foie gras mousse more buttery than butter, and an earthy rabbit and pistachio terrine topped with sweet, soused peaches. Even the smallest available size charcuterie board, the Commoner ($16), includes a refreshingly uncommon assortment of condiments and meats. Think: thumb-size cuts of center-rare duck prosciutto as tender as sushi, a bell jar of beef drippings, and the sharply spicy Italian salume called capicola, among others. 12517 West Washington Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-391-4222.
Describing the difference between a charcuterie spread like the one at Palate and that of the average wine bar is just the sort of thing that food nerds love to geek out over, invoking a thesaurus' worth of words like "woodsy," "nutty" and "artisanal." We can sum it up for you in just two: It's better. Much better, in fact, owing to an array of meats and accoutrements (including a tangy, tongue-wakening Moutarde Violette, a purple mustard made with grape must) that smack of the same thoughtfulness and effort to impress as a boy who holds the door on a first date. Laid out alongside tissue-thin Proscuitto San Daniele, there will likely also be speck, two varieties of salami, and the cured saucisson called Rosette de Lyon (roughly translated: "rosebud of Lyon") that indeed, looked like petals laid out on our plate. The small dish of rich, air-dried beef bresaola may be misplaced on a charcuterie plate the restaurant has cleverly dubbed a Porkfolio, but it tastes so bright under a squirt of lemon juice and a flurry of chopped parsley that we defy you to care. 933 South Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-662-9463.
The Tasting Kitchen's charcuterie is really more of a do-it-yourself undertaking, with a small number of a la carte offerings to choose from including prosciutto and mixed salamis. If there's a star among them, it's the pork rilettes, a rich, salty spread that seems to set off every sensory neuron in the tongue like invisible fireworks. Thankfully, the chef provides a side of intentionally burnt toast which serves not only as a delivery system, but as a bitter, crunchy counterbalance to all that richness. Rumor has it, the chef flatly turns down requests for a more lightly browned batch--if there's a toast equivalent of Sushi Nazi Kazunori Nozawa, we may have just found him. 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-392-6644.
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Mignon is the quintessential Williamsburg neighborhood wine bar. Especially impressive, considering the fact that it's in Downtown LA, a good 3,000 miles from Williamsburg. And yet, sitting around the small room's U-shaped counter at 9pm on a Wednesday night, the room softly buzzing with the sounds of slow indie rock and the conversation of a half dozen hipsters, it's hard to believe you're closer to Bel Air than Brooklyn. The $10 charcuterie plate at Mignon is a bare bones affair, an unadorned platter of meats that rotate according to availability. On a recent visit, there was salame Toscano, jamon serrano, and a proscuitto di Parma, all sliced to order and accompanied by a basket of cut French bread. This is food to go well with drinks, not vice versa. Meaning that your taste receptors are more likely to grunt out an ape-like, "Salt. Fat. Good." than anything extremely nuanced, but it will all still go down awfully well with a glass from Mignon's quirkily curated list of Reds. 128 East 6th St., Los Angeles; 213-489-0131.
We braved weekend night Old Town Pasadena crowds (and $10 lot parking) for the chance to sample the charcuterie on Intelligentsia's evening menu. The plate the bus boy slid onto our table came with triangles of sweet, just-grilled white bread, a nice touch. But the prosciutto we piled on top of them was edged with tough strings of rind, not nice at all. Could our disappointment have been fueled by the too-bright lighting which cast our dinner in a slightly green hue? Or by the panhandler who made the rounds inside the restaurant for a full five minutes before staff intervened? Probably all of the above. 55 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 626-578-1270.