There is so much to celebrate about food in Los Angeles, but even this culinary capital makes the occasional misstep. This year has seen plenty of good things in the food world, but there was a lot that went wrong, too, from oversaturation to questionable environmental practices to borderline financial malfeasance. Read on to see what we could do with a lot less of in 2017. (It's not all doom and gloom. Here's what's been good about the year in food.)
Seems as though you can't walk a block in Los Angeles without spotting a poké bowl shop. Most are tiny strip-mall spots serving up bland, chopped ahi tuna (or whatever fish it might be) in a soy-and-chili-inflected marinade on sushi rice. True, poké is a relatively healthy lunch, but the majority of these poké opportunists are merely cashing in on a fad (similar to the towering height of Pinkberry's tart frozen yogurt craze in 2007) and don't bear much relation to the soul-satisfying versions found in Hawaii. Many of them have cutesy, catchy names, from Wild Poké to Sweetfin to WikiPoki to PokiNometry, but if you must get your poké fix, the humble, unfashionable Daichan in Studio City has been serving a superlative though pricey one for the better part of two decades. Plus, as we discussed, this is a trend that might also be horrible for the environment: Our oceans, they are overfished.
Credit card–only restaurants
This year we have seen a novel addition to restaurant accounting: the credit card–only restaurant. Yes, these restaurants no longer accept cash. They eschew good old-fashioned legal tender printed by the U.S. Treasury in favor of plastic. When numerous restaurants and cafes started incorporating more cost-effective credit card processing startups, such as Square or Clover, in favor of the bulky, cumbersome and expensive point-of-sale systems of years past, the writing was essentially on the wall. Some restaurants have defended the new practice by saying it protects against mismanagement of cash, employee theft and robberies. But many customers who may only have cash on hand for various personal or pecuniary reasons would be turned away from said restaurants. We may now require an increasingly despondent addendum to the ancient adage “Cash is king.” What's next? Gold-only restaurants?
The modest avocado once, crucially, played second fiddle on sandwiches and in omelettes, but now the green fruit has become the main event on many menu items. You will find the ubiquitous “avocado toast” at breakfast-only cafes and even as an appetizer at fine-dining establishments. Sometimes one can have too much of a good thing (and we thoroughly enjoy avocados), especially when many of the simple-sounding avocado and toast concoctions breech the $15 price barrier and seem to have become an entrenched fad, rather than an extension of the chef's innovative creativity. It was ironic when, for the recent span of a couple months, many restaurants selling “avocado toast” were bereft of their crucial ingredient due to an avocado shortage. The high demand for avocados may just, counterintuitively, crush the formidable trend.
Some chefs have embraced the idea of large-format dishes as the centerpiece on numerous restaurant menus a little too readily. The term refers to large dishes meant to be shared among a half-dozen or so diners. Though these dishes may be quite tasty, the problem resides in the fact that you would need a large group to try it, leaving single diners and couples out in the cold. And even if you are in a group, everyone at your table must be in agreement about sharing the gargantuan dish. Plus, prices are exorbitantly, and predictably, high for these items: Think $75 duck breast layered with foie gras, $90 whole pig's head, $320 96-ounce rib-eye steak or $220 New York strip. Above, a pizza. It's large-format, but you can call it, you know, pizza.
There was a time when the only lobster roll to be had in Southern California was in Ventura County, where the now-defunct Tuck's Point in Channel Islands Harbor doled them out in the late 1990s. This was followed shortly thereafter by the original Hungry Cat in Hollywood. In the last couple of years or so, Lobsta Truck and Cousins Lobster Truck both opened brick-and-mortar locations as adjunct to their roving locations, and lobster rolls have been popping up on the menus of more traditional restaurants around town, too. from Knuckle & Claw to Blue Plate Oysterette. What was once a novel (by way of New England or Long Island, depending on your loyalties) and highly prized rarity in Los Angeles has now become a mass-market foodstuff. When done well, it has its endearing charms: chopped, tender lobster knuckle napped in drawn butter served on a grilled, top-loading hot dog bun (Long Island style) or the same lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise and lemon juice (New England style). (Or perhaps you believe it to be a Maine versus Connecticut battle. We don't want to fight.) These days the lobster roll has achieved full carrying capacity, where one can even find them in run-of-the-mill shopping mall food courts. But given that Knuckle & Claw closed both its locations just this week, the trend may be dying an organic death already.