The conclusion of every year is a time to catalog both beginnings and endings, to look back over what exactly happened in the twelve months now drawing to a close. Which means that we're getting a lot of lists — thank you, David Letterman — as we calibrate and recalibrate, and remember, or try to, what marked 2012.
Every year many restaurants close, but it seems as if this past year was more momentous than usual, even given the vicissitudes of an industry that is known for its revolving doors. Blame the recession, or whatever Tim Geitner is currently calling it. Blame the transitory nature of real estate in this town. Whatever you call it or however you explain it, this was a particularly poignant year to remember for ten remarkable restaurants that didn't make it to 2013. Turn the page.
10. Tar Pit:
Outfitted with Art Deco stylized palm trees, a Kold-Draft double-stacked ice machine and a pizza oven, Mark Peel's speakeasy was only open for a few years, a brief experiment in retro bar food and upscale mixology. Maybe its closing marked the turning point in Mad Men dining, maybe not, but it's a lot harder to find a well-made lobster Newberg these days. 609 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
Chef Micah Wexler's Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant closed in October, after less than two years, largely due to a massive construction project that's still ongoing next door. In the short time it was open, Wexler's restaurant got a lot of very positive attention, especially in these pages, for creative and flavorful dishes, including a lovely ode (when applicable) to foie gras. Just what will happen to the location, previously home to David Myers' much-lauded restaurant Sona, remains unclear. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.
Chef Paul Shoemaker's (Bastide, Providence) first restaurant was also an exercise in Los Angeles expansionism, located in a tiny Malibu strip mall just down the street from Point Dume's surfing beaches. In the two years it was open, Savory made it possible to eat terrifically executed cuisine instead of, well, beach food. The restaurant closed after a dispute with the landlord and part-owner, leaving Shoemaker without a kitchen and local winemaker Emilio Estevez with lots of extra wine. 29169 Heathercliff Rd, #206, Malibu.
7. Yujean Kang's:
For twenty-some years, Yujean Kang's Gourmet Chinese served classic banquet-style Chinese food in Pasadena, long before the dumpling and noodle shops of the San Gabriel Valley were popular, with either food bloggers or respected restaurant critics. Chef Kang was finally forced to close his beautiful doors in July, due to the combination of an expensive lease and the continuing bad economy. You can go to Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village for chandeliers and banquettes, but Kang's beautiful palace will be missed. 67 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.
Although it wasn't open for very long, chef-owner Jenee Kim's upscale Korean tapas place was a glorious addition to Koreatown dining, a place to dine on deconstructed gujeolpan and bulgogi ssam wraps in a swank setting — overhead fans, yes, but no table-top grills. Kim, who also owns the wildly popular Park's BBQ nearby, is reportedly working on another concept downtown: hopefully it will be as lovely as LaOn was. 1145 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles.
5. Palate Food + Wine:
Since 2008, chef and Patina alum Octavio Beccera's Glendale restaurant was maybe the best reason to go to Brand Blvd., unless you were looking to buy a car. Outfitted with a wine and cheese rooms and the sort of interior decoration a Roman emperor would have loved, Palate was an oasis, a place to dine on terrific farm-to-table dishes and beautifully executed small plates, long before such things were staples all over town. When Beccera closed Palate in March, he said that it was no longer “sustainable.” It was an apt adjective for a chef devoted to exactly what was sustainable on his plates. 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale.
For eight years, Lou Amdur ran his remarkable wine bar out of a strip mall on Vine in Hollywood, a place that was kind of like a wine lover's wonderland — with some pretty great farmers market-driven food to go with it — masquerading as a laundromat. At least it looked like a laundromat from the outside. When Amdur sold his place in March, you could hear a collective gasp from Los Angeles oenophiles, many of whom have still not really gotten over LOU's closing. 724 N. Vine Ave., Los Angeles.
3. Antojitos Carmen:
Antojitos Carmen opened in Boyle Heights in 2010, after authorities shut down the Breed Street vendors' parking lot Mecca north of Cesar Chavez. For two years, Michoacán native Carmen Castellanos and her family operated a terrific restaurant, serving fantastic lamb barbacoa, menudo, pambazos, gorditas and other Mexico City-style food to happy regulars. When the place closed a few months ago, it was to much lamentation. 2510 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles.
2. Angeli Caffe:
For 27 years, Evan Kleiman's Angeli Caffe was one of the best places to eat in this town, a cozy neighborhood restaurant for which all of L.A. was the neighborhood. When Kleiman closed her doors in January, lines stretched down Melrose as regulars queued up for a last taste of Kleiman's pizza and pasta and gnocchi. It was, perhaps, the moment when the recession came home for many foodists, a signal that nothing is immune in uncertain times. Sure, you can listen to Kleiman every Saturday on the radio, where she's the longtime host of KCRW's Good Food, but listening to her talk about food is hardly the same thing as being able to dine on her plates of eggplant fritters. 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.
Ever since 1989, when then-married chefs Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton opened it together, Campanile was L.A.'s signature restaurant, a locus of California cooking in a building that looked like Hitchcock might have filmed there. There was the stunning food, market-driven before most chefs went to farmers markets, and remarkable pastries. There was wine and Silverton's bread and regulars who gathered in the courtyard to eat by the tiled fountain. By the time Peel closed Campanile, just after Halloween, seemingly half of the best chefs in this town had trained in the restaurant's kitchens, either on the line with Peel or, longer ago, in the pastry kitchen with Silverton. The shutter marked the end of an era of Los Angeles cooking. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
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