Clean Plates Los Angeles 2012: A Guide to the Healthiest Tastiest and Most Sustainable Restaurants for Vegetarians and Carnivores, released last week by New York City-based “health coach” Jared Koch, is more than another list of restaurant recommendations. First, the book's 52-page “Design Your Own Diet” section is intended as education for those who want to change lifestyle and eating habits. Then come the reviews, a selection of 106 dining spots including choices in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood and Pasadena plus the Westside, South Bay, and San Fernando Valley.
It is admirable that Koch winnowed it down to so few. (Even with the assistance of eight “talented food critics.”) LA Weekly's Voiceplaces.com lists more than 20,000 in greater L.A. Koch began with a couple of hundred possibilities, according to the book. He chose restaurants serving produce from small, local farms and organic, grass-fed, free-range meat not injected with hormones or antibiotics. As well, Koch valued menus with filtered water, high-quality salts, natural sweeteners, wheat- and gluten-free options, plus plenty of vegetables.
Michael's, the more than three decades-old Santa Monica icon made the cut; owner and namesake Michael McCarty is pleased. He appreciates the recognition that fine dining establishments can be compatible with a “green, sustainable life” — a trend that he thinks is “going mainstream.”
Italian restaurant Sotto was listed too. For chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack, “the sustainability of the ingredients you use is just as important as flavor and technique.”
Many eateries are inexplicably excluded. Chef Mark Gold at Eva, a Fairfax district bistro, doesn't know why. “Did this author do his homework?” he asks. Gold says Eva is a sustainable restaurant that relies on produce from local farmers' markets or sources generally within 250 miles.
Jason Michaud's Local, a casual Silver Lake eatery, was also left out. “Local is very much about sustainability,” Michaud says. Its website says the restaurant is “committed to using locally sourced, organic ingredients whenever possible” and features a salad bar.
Meanwhile, a number of the selected restaurants are not known for their healthy options. How about bruschetta topped with lard puréed with pigskin at Sotto? Or the steaks grilled up by Wolfgang Puck at Cut?
Clean Plates says it “boasts an incredibly diverse array of over 100 establishments …representing all manners of cuisines, budgets and geographic locations.” Yet, the book is far more selective than comprehensive. Entire cuisines and geographic locations are excluded. The majority of the restaurants serve American fare and several feature Italian and French items. There are a few choices for Japanese and Vietnamese. But what about Chinese, Thai, Filipino, Cambodian, Indonesian or Indian? Where are the Korean restaurants? Armenian and Persian dishes? Israeli or Kosher? And how about the multitude of L.A.'s South American and Central American offerings?
Most of the restaurants reside on L.A.'s Westside. And many are upscale, with about half in the “$$$” category where meals range from $31 to $60 per person. For $10 to $30, Clean Plates offers 33 options. Twenty-three occupy the “$$$$” slot, with meals $60 and up.
Koch bills himself as a “nutritional consultant” who's studied with “experts in the fields of Raw Foods, Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Macrobiotics, Vegetarianism and High-Protein Diets.” His opinions about a healthy diet seem mostly reasonable despite his failure to offer any scientific references. Along with Clean Plates Los Angeles,” he self-published New York City, Manhattan and Brooklyn versions.
As for food, the criteria to pronounce restaurants “delicious” are not explained. The reviews appear to be based on single rather than multiple meals.
The selection of “sustainable” restaurants also raises questions, as Koch doesn't define the term. Instead, he offers five tips to help readers “positively affect the planet.” But what qualifies restaurants as “sustainable,” and where's the proof?
Restaurant guidebooks have lost their popularity over the past decade or so. Online listings along with many nutritional resources are convenient, efficient and, well, free. Expect much of Clean Plates to be reproduced on its website, the book says. A Kindle version becomes available in March, according to Amazon.com. The choice to buy $14.95 worth of paper — doomed to go out of date in a year — is up to you.