Wednesday, February 10, 2010

*The Local Report - Forage

3.0 miles, about 9 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

Foraging? There seems to be a new movement afoot in the food and restaurant worlds. Or is it simply an expansion upon sustainable and local eating? Gather what is closest to you versus buying ingredients that come from thousands of miles away. Eat fresh, seasonal, locally produced goods rather than the stuff that sits in ships and trucks for weeks on end. And when possible forage what you can yourself. Go to your local outdoor spaces: fields, mountains, streams and pick the edibles you find there. Harvest your backyard fruit and vegetables, and donate them. There is a mini-movement happening, or at the very least foraging is gaining a more public face. There are more and more Chefs that forage themselves, or rely on foragers to bring them ingredients; organizations that encourage picking public fruit are appearing. Among restaurants Chez Panisse is the most famous for foraging. They have long had a policy of accepting goods at the restaurant's back door from people who forage in the surrounding area, or grow produce in their backyards. The local person who brings them mushrooms, or backyard strawberries, or edible greens from local mountains that all end up on that day's menu. On a recent trip to San Francisco we ate at S.P.Q.R. and we had raviolis with locally foraged nettles in them. The chef, Matthew Accarrino, forages his own edibles across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin headlands. When he was at Craft in Los Angeles, he worked with forager, Kerry Clasby, to learn the art of foraging. Fallen Fruit is an amazing group that promotes gathering public fruit. Fruit from trees that are in public areas or that hang over sidewalks. The group says this about themselves: "Using fruit as our lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community." They sponsor Public Fruit Jams, bring your homegrown fruit and participate in communal jam making; Community Fruit Tree Plantings; and most recently they've started EAT LACMA in conjunction with LACMA -- "a year-long investigation into food, art, culture and politics." Food as a protest movement? I'll join up.

Now Los Angeles has a new restaurant that combines foraging and urban harvests: 'Forage.' The restaurant actively encourages backyard farmers and gardeners to bring in their bounty to be used in the food they prepare. Since its recent opening it has been very active on Twitter and Facebook; I've seen a lot of posts about what has been brought in by customers and how it will be used. They even post who brought what in on the specials chalk board that hangs near the cash register. They see this as a collaboration between the restaurant and the customer. To further this interaction they hold 'harvest calls' every Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. Bring in items from your personal harvest; they will taste them and decide with you how they might be used in an upcoming menu. The Forage website also has a running list of produce they are looking for: garlic, onions, shallots, limes and avocados are on the current list. If you have them, bring them in, they will probably use them.

I have eaten at the restaurant several times and it has been very good each time: fresh, clean, bold. No fancy foams or exotic preparations here; honest food, simply prepared. On my first visit I ordered the Combo Plate -- One Small Protein with Two Sides. I chose Chimichurri Rubbed Flank Steak (grilled natural Angus served with nopales tomatillo salsa), Honey Mustard Chickpeas and Greens (sweetly spiced chickpeas with raw mustard greens), and Citrus Beets (citrus marinated beets with goat milk feta and arugula). At lunch today I discovered my current favorite Los Angeles sandwich: P Belly Sandwich (Niman Ranch pork belly on a crusty baguette with cabbage, tomato, fennel pickles and green garlic aioli). The flavors all combined together almost made me swoon. And it was very popular; every other person seemed to order it. For dinner tonight I grabbed one of their roast chickens, Jidori Chicken from Our Rotisserie (here's the description on the menu: "Jidori, translated from Japanese means 'chicken of the earth.' They're raised locally on a family farm, and we gently roast them with herbs and garlic.") I added a side of Maryanne's Broccoli (baby broccoli with chile, shallot, and garlic) and a slice of Chamomile Honey Vanilla Cake. I'll let you know how it all is tomorrow. Owner and chef Jason Kim, most recently sous-chef at Lucques before venturing out on his own, has the necessary cooking experience to pull this off. It has only been open a short while but so far it has really taken off. There are frequently lines out the door. I like it because it's local, sustainable, seasonal and most importantly involves the customer in the harvesting and menu planning of the food they will eat. How cool is that to see your backyard fruit or produce become a delicious dish on Chef Kim's menu? Pretty damned exciting I'd say.

And it's only three miles from home!

3823 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1529

*The Local Report(s): are occasional blog posts on restaurants, and/or businesses that either support the idea of one-hundred miles, and 'living life locally'; or are small, localized businesses in my neighborhood, and/or within one-hundered miles of my residence, that I prefer to support over the larger, national, corporate chains. For other The Local Report(s) please go the Archives section of this blog. Also, I'd love to hear from my readers about businesses that they support in their neighborhoods: write to me at charlesgthompson AT 100miles DOT com, or leave a comment here.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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  1. What a fun concept! I love the marriage of customers and purveyors into a restaurant.

  2. If Jo gets word of a pork belly sandwich, it's curtains. What a great restaurant (along with an apt name), and a very stand up thing they're doing -- sourcing as locally as they can. I love this, and it's good to see the whole 100 Miles tie-in.

    I struggle with something internally. Since moving from Fullerton to Irvine, we continue to get our produce from the same Farmer's Market in Buena Park that we used to visit every Saturday when we lived down there, instead of patronizing the one closer to home here in Irvine. We do this because we've established a 2-plus year relationship with these Farmers. We know them by name - they know us by name, and if one of us fails to accompany the other, we get the same response: "Where's your wife?" or "Where's your husband?"

    Since a lot of these farmers are already driving a long way to bring us these fruits and vegetables (some come from as far as Fresno), and we're tacking on an additional 18 miles to get to them, I wonder if I'm being a bit hypocritical by not watching my own carbon footprint on the food I bring to my table. I like to preach about eating local too, and it could be that I'm not doing my part. I'm just comfortable with our situation right now.

  3. Pork belly sandwich? Yum!

  4. I read your post with great interest! I used to live in Los Angeles in the late seventies and could not understand why people would let olives and loquats in the street rot by the thousands; it was shocking to me. All this bounty going to waste. So, now finally, people are paying attention!

  5. Thanks Phoo-D, Phil, Natasha and Taste of Beirut.

    @Phil: I totally get it - I too have frequent pangs about trying to stay local but I feel strongly that it is 'trying' to live life locally that is most important. Our modern lives probably make it very difficult to live a 'local life' 100% of the time. But I do my best to try to live it a portion of the time.

    @Taste of Beirut: yes, finally, in a place that has an overabundance of public produce there are people trying to use it!

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. I love your passionate and informative articles. That P Belly Sand sounds divine, but I agree with Phil, you might want to warn them about Jo ;-) (that could be me if I lived closer!)

  7. Thanks Kristen! Still have to get Jo to go with me but when we do I'll call ahead and warn them! Next time you're in town I'll take you.