Field Trip: LA Foodshop
Posted on May 27, 2014
Everything comes and goes with time. Trends rise, appearing from seemingly nowhere with no explanation for their popularity, climb to significance only to disintegrate as they fall from grace, perhaps lost in a fog of neglect: the ultimate void into which hipness disintegrates. In chronicling the ever-changing “cool”, we see this quite a bit. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s for the best, and sometimes it simply is what it is. There are very few things in life that do not succumb to these delightful and tragic pitfalls but two that will forever be a part of our lives are food and fellowship. These two things alone can drive communities to be built from the ground up, serve as the foundation for neighborhood economies, and solidify one’s self-perception within a group.
In 2012, I packed up and moved to Los Angeles with my girlfriend. I had moved most recently from Philadelphia where the burgeoning food industry provided many of my friends with gainful employment and gave me the opportunity to sample a variety of high end offerings in the area. The food in Philly is unusually good; that is to say that due to the compact spread of the city, the ratio of exemplary food offerings to neighborhoods is second to none in the US today. I had extraordinarily high standards set by the time I rolled into LA and without a doubt they were blown out of the water, though in ways I hadn’t expected. We found the most diverse selection of ethnic foods I’ve ever seen anywhere. The Mexican food is obviously fantastic but the offering across the board, representing nearly every culture in the world, is paralleled by none. While you might try to go to a bar or restaurant in Philly that’s too crowded and be in luck with a host of 10 other offerings within walking distance, LA’s a different animal but as long as you’re willing to jump in your car for 10-20 minutes the options are limitless.
One of our best finds, discovered by my girlfriend, was LA Foodshop. When Amy stumbled across it, we were living in a temporary Airbnb sublet in Silverlake with limited cash flow and no permanent home, looking very surely like we were heading back home after a few weeks of failing to settle properly. At the time, and as it currently stands, you have to put your name on a list to be invited to come to one of their fantastic dinners. Just because you’re invited, however, does not mean that you’ll be able to go. Their list is enormous and growing every week. Honestly, this sounds more daunting than it is. They release a heap of dates, typically three per week for three weeks of the month, so if you’re able to be flexible in your scheduling you shouldn’t have a problem. It took us about 2 months to get our first invite and we’ve made it a point to try and make it every other month since.
I reached out to Itay and Hyejin after we had attended several iterations of Foodshop asking if they’d have me for a “ride along” of sorts. Having worked in a commercial kitchen at one point in my life, I like to think I have an appreciation for the behind the scenes stuff that most folks would rather avoid. They agreed and I joined them for their Soul Food night. First was a peach/mint tea moonshine cocktail. Next was fresh corn hushpuppies with mint, and bourbon honey butter sauce. This was followed up by black kale and pear salad with walnuts, onion, agave vinaigrette and cheese. My favorite dish of the night was the mac and cheese served in the pan with aged cheddar and gruyere with Granny Smith apples and white truffle oil. The main dish was slow cooked grass-fed beef ribs with coriander bourbon BBQ sauce along with caraway-encrusted yams, creamed spinach, and braised okra with tomatoes. The final dish of the evening was a strawberry rhubarb “crumble” (it was mostly a tart) served with house-made (really, I watched it happen) vanilla bourbon ice cream.
The experience of Foodshop is as follows: you’re greeted at the front door, a sliding metal panel off of an alleyway in a nondescript warehouse in Venice, by a member of the staff (typically Itay or Heyjin), shown to your seats, and given the cocktail of the evening. You sip this, settle into your seat, and introduce yourself to your new neighbors as they arrive. Everyone’s served family style at a large table so you’ll get to know the approximately 8 people that surround you. The service is BYOB past the initial beverage so pack a wine or beer (pairings are suggested in the initial invitation email) and pour yourself another drink. By the time you’re moving onto your first beverage, most of the guests should have filed in and the first course will be arriving shortly.
You’ll notice that the place settings are quirky and mismatched. This isn’t some ploy to your Venice hipster sensibilities, it’s honestly because it’s the cheapest way to do service for 50. Head on down to your local Goodwill and you’ll see what I mean. Speaking with Itay, one thought they had about the dinner originally was that everything could be for sale. If you liked the chair you were sitting on, settle on a price and you could walk out with it at the end of the night. This sort of went by the wayside for a number of reasons but I came across a particularly interesting whiskey glass printed with a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1958-1968 in correspondence with critical political events at the time. There’s a beautiful gold ticker tape that surrounds the lip of the glass with the top performing stocks of that decade. I had to have this. I settled on “put a little extra in the donation box” with Itay and walked out with a super rad new whiskey glass (pictured at the bottom).
When I arrived around 2pm, they handed me a large jar of peach/mint tea moonshine and I went to work shooting around the team members as they prepped. The first course was the hushpuppies which were assembled and battered before being dipped in the fryer. As someone mentioned while they were handing me one to try, the honey bourbon sauce absolutely makes the dish. Obviously the hushpuppies are delicious; dip anything corn based in boiling oil and the result will likely be fantastic but this honey bourbon sauce added a special sweetly tangy glaze that really sealed the deal. The kale pear salad was not unlike a fancy dark greens/sweet fruit salad with a nice crunchy texture and not-terribly bitter bite from the kale. Served on long boards, the presentation of this was beautiful.
Next up was the mac and cheese, by far the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. This stuff was gooey and just ever so crunchy with a nice brown top. The cheddar/gruyere combo was deliciously cheesy and the addition of Granny Smith apples made this, despite the fact that my mother doesn’t cook, taste like home. Served straight in the cast iron pan it was baked in, these landed on the table and seriously lit up some faces. Nobody doesn’t like mac and cheese. If you meet someone who doesn’t, you probably shouldn’t trust them.
After this came the main course: beef ribs seasoned with orange and coriander, caramelized yams, creamed spinach, and seared okra. The ribs were fantastically tender, smooth and smoky in flavor. BBQ is one of my favorite foods given my midwestern upbringing and these ribs did the BBQ name a fine service. The yams were delicious; sweet and salty, soft on the inside and ever-so-slightly crispy on the out. The creamed spinach was excellent and okra, if you haven’t had it before, is a fascinating and delicious dish primarily grown in the humid and hot South where it runs wild as a weed in the woods. Okra is not only great for you but tastes great prepared almost any way you can imagine. This, too, was delicious.
There’s a distinct difference between having a meal prepared for you by a friend vs. having one made in a large scale restaurant. Assuming your friend has any cooking chops, the same dish from a restaurant won’t taste nearly as good. LA Foodshop has nailed this through their presentation, overall experience, and of course the food. You may come a stranger but you’ll leave feeling like a part of the family and having met some new friends over great food. Their invite list is expanding all the time so I recommend adding yourself if you are interested. This is one of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles so if you know someone who attends or find yourself on the list, figure out a way to go. You’ll be happy you did.