The dinner, unsurprisingly, was phenomenal, a nine-course smorgasbord that started with a squid-ink sauce-covered ribeye cap and shimmied into seafood dishes like an ocean trout with potato gallette. The format began with the heaviest dishes and transitioned to lighter, rather than the traditional start-light end-heavy routine -- an inventive twist that in the hand of a lesser chef would seem gimmicky, but here was clearly a choice defined by confidence and not contrarianism. Each dish was prepared right there in the kitchen in front of us, which guests were invited into both to observe and, if they were available, to wash dishes; that communal experience only added to the casualness of what, in most other circumstances, would be considered fine dining (case-in-point: when was the last time you were at a dinner party where the host just whipped up a rabbit-lobster raviolo with fresh bechamel, then enhanced it with broccoli and... apricot?)
The whole thing was effortless: the music was blasting, people who had never met were talking. In short: it felt so LA.
And it’s far from an outlier: while we were at the table, I started throwing around have-you-been-there-yet recommendations with the couple next to me and a common theme about LA dining became obvious -- the barrier to entry at LA's best restaurants isn't reservations, as it is in almost every other major city in the country, but knowledge.
It’s not just knowing which chefs throw secret pop-ups in their house, though. It’s knowing which strip mall the bizarre, yet amazing James Beard-nominated fermented grain bowl restaurant Baroo -- which has no sign -- is in; or what Melrose address to walk through to get to Maré, Eric Greenspan's all-outdoor seafood-and-noodle date spot. Neither of those spots could ever exist as they are in another city -- with no reservations, with menus that won't break the bank (you could conceivably get out of either for less than $20 per person) and with full access to anyone, so long as you know where to go. And even a place like Wolvesmouth, despite its reputation, isn't exactly breaking news at this point: Thornton's been one of LA's most revered chefs for almost five years, and the "secret" aspect of his restaurant, if you're someone who follows these things, is actually far from secret at all -- despite how difficult it sometimes may be to actually get in.