Food writer Aleksandra Crapanzano has crafted her latest book, Eat. Cook. LA., with LA on the mind. The collection of the city's best 100 restaurants include juice bars, coffee shops, cocktail lounges and hole-in-the-wall hot spots, as well as food Mecca Vespertine and Curtis Stone's crowd-pleasing Maude.
Los Angeles Confidential sat down with Crapanzano to hear more on her favorite restaurants in LA and her top cooking tricks and tips for readers at home.
Aleksandra, you recently published your new book, EAT. COOK. LA. Tell us about curating this expansive recipe book.
ALEKSANDRA CRAPANZANO: Well, the hardest part was paring down from over 200 great recipes to a highly-curated list of 100. I could easily write a second volume. But curating is key. For me, that means finding exceptional restaurants, talking to the chefs and finding out what recipes translate easily to a home kitchen. The recipes in this book were created by chefs but are not chef-y. Curating is also very personal. Everyone has their own favorite restaurants and dishes, and these are mine. I made a point not to include anything that would be too difficult to recreate at home. You won’t find, for example, elaborate dishes from Vespertine and Maude in this book. Nor will you find recipes for homemade ramen noodles. I wanted to write a cookbook that would have dog-eared pages and last. What I can tell you is that I use my books all the time because I know the recipes are accurate because I tested them all myself!
What were some of your favorite outposts explored in the book?
AC: I happen to love two places in Silverlake, Botanica and MhZh. The chef-proprietors at Botanica, Emily Fiffer and Heather Sperling are masters at making healthy food delicious and serve it with generous abundance. Conor Shemtov, the chef-proprietor of MhZh, has an outdoor café serving exceptional Israeli food. For something fancier, Lucques is my go-to. And, when in Venice, MTN is a must. For meat lovers, nothing beats Che Spacca.
In the first few pages, you showcase "Breakfast Anytime of Day." Which eating-house would you recommend for a meal eaten around the clock?
AC: The breakfast at Sqirl on the East Side and Gjelina on the West Side. But, if it is just a hot drink I want, I’ll head to Go Get Em Tiger on Larchmont for a turmeric almond macadamia latte.
You also investigate “night fare" cravings. Which recipe is your must have to make at home and how do the smells, tastes, and sights remind you of dining inside the coinciding restaurant?
AC: Chef Timothy Hollingsworth’s roast chicken, crispy potatoes, shishitos, aji verde and "Love Sauce" from Otium is classic roast chicken taken to another level. Served with his Saffron Lemonade cocktail, it’s a reminder, for me, of eating at Otium after a day at The Broad. Great art and great food make an unbeatable combination.
Which frozen treat do you suggest whipping up for summer?
AC: It’s very difficult to answer this question because the book is truly composed of my favorites. And my editor insisted I cut my ice-cream recipes down to 10 from about 25. This wasn’t easy, as they were all exceptional, but the Blackberry Mint Mojito is the most summery.
After regularly crafting these decadent worthy meals, what’s your top trick and tip for readers who are looking refine their cooking skills at home?
AC: The chefs at Botanica introduced me to cilantro flowers. And I discovered using carrot tops at Gjelina. But I would say that it is the use among Los Angeles chefs of citrus—Meyer lemons, pomelos, bergamot, key limes—that has most influenced the way I now cook. That last burst of fresh citrus packs a fabulous pucker.
And lastly, how do you hope to bring Los Angeles locals and tourists on a new culinary journey not yet explored?
AC: I think visitors to Los Angeles can be daunted by the size of the city, and many will stick to the tried-and-true places rather than venture out of their comfort zone—I understand this, as traffic can be just terrible. But neighborhoods such as Los Feliz, Silverlake and Echo Park have the most vibrant food in town. For locals, it’s about deciding to head somewhere new on a Saturday, when the traffic isn’t as bad as it is on weekdays. The beauty of Los Angeles is that there are so many very different, but very distinct neighborhoods. For an East Sider, digging one’s toes into the sand in Santa Monica can feel like a mini-vacation. And for a West Sider, a hike in Griffith Park provides an entirely different landscape.