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Nancy Silverton on Three Up-and-Coming LA Chefs

Delta Sky Magazine February 2012, Dining

Photo by Ryan Tanaka

Making a margherita pizza at Sotto.

There is always buzz following chef Nancy Silverton, from her first La Brea Bakery, which opened in 1989, to her famed Thursday Night Sandwich Night at Campanile. In 2005, when word got out that Silverton was teaming with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich to launch Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, her fans lined up and reservations have been a hot ticket ever since. On any given night, you can find Silverton sporting her signature apron over a stylish dress, doing what she loves best—hand-preparing each plate she passes over Mozza’s mozzarella bar. Which isn’t to say she hasn’t had time to sample the fare of LA’s newer chefs.

Casey Lane of The Tasting Kitchen was on Silverton’s radar when he was at Clarklewis in Portland, Oregon. “I really admire his simplicity and his confidence,” Silverton says. “I think today young chefs are not always confident to cook simply. They feel like they need to make some kind of a mark.”

The talented duo of Zach Pollack and Steve Samson run the new Sotto, another Italian favorite. “It’s great to see two people who complement each other and work so closely together,” Silverton says of the owners/chefs. “They cook the food they would want to eat.”

Chef Josef Centeno.    

Finally, one of the first entries into the trendy Downtown dining scene was Lazy Ox Canteen. “It’s a very eclectic menu,” Silverton says. “[Josef Centeno] is creating food with a lot of flavor—food that people are loving to eat right now.”

Lazy Ox Canteen

Locale: 241 South San Pedro

Chef: James Beard-nominated chef Josef Centeno, 36, opened Lazy Ox Canteen two years ago in Downtown’s Little Tokyo after stints in New York and San Francisco and in such LA kitchens as Meson G and Opus. Though his background is in fine dining, he realized a low-key vibe would be more accessible in a tough economy. “I cook the way I was trained,” Centeno says, “but in a more comfortable, affordable way.” He also just opened Baco Mercat, which serves delicious sandwiches made with bäco bread.

Restaurant: When it opened, Lazy Ox bolstered Downtown LA’s growing dining scene. The neighborhood canteen boasts a revolving-door menu that changes daily. The dining area is small and loud with communal tables and Douglas-fir wood walls.

Food: Lazy Ox is known for its family-style meals: “The fried chicken on Tuesday is a big favorite,” Centeno says. He brings in the best products, especially when it comes to uncommon ingredients such as pigs’ ears and beef tongue, which he aims to make more accessible. Silverton says the key is going with lots of people and sampling the variety of dishes.


Chef Casey Lane. Photo by Niles R. Harrison.    

The Tasting Kitchen

Locale: 1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard

Chef: Texan Casey Lane, 28, moved to Portland, Oregon, after high school to attend Portland State University and culinary school. “It’s a smaller city and very close-knit,” Lane says of Portland. “It’s run efficiently and has farms and cattle ranchers, plus genuinely better climate and soil. It’s not a hassle to get food from farm to city.” After his stint at Clarklewis, he recruited a few fellow Portlanders to come south and work at The Tasting Kitchen.

Restaurant: Lane opened The Tasting Kitchen two and half years ago and has already earned two James Beard nominations. “It’s a different atmosphere for LA,” Lane says. “There are no uniforms for servers. You feel like you’re walking into an intimate dining experience, even though it is off the beaten path.”

Food: The food is Lane’s personal take on Italian, with a uniquely American accent. “Casey’s food is carefully sourced with strong flavors but very simple and natural presentation,” Silverton says. “My favorites have been Bucatini alla Amatriciana; the bigoli with tesa, chanterelles and brood; and the tagliarini with squid and serrano.” Silverton also credits Lane with being one of the first in LA to use whole- animal butchery, offering house-made charcuteries and pork loin and ribs with applesauce and chicories.


Chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Samson. Photo by Sean Murphy.    


Locale: 9575 West Pico Boulevard

Chefs: Zach Pollack, 27, and Steve Samson, 44, met six years ago at different points in their career. They worked together at Pizzeria Ortica in Orange County before opening Sotto in LA less than a year ago, having bonded over a shared appreciation for traditional, authentic regional Italian cooking. “In Los Angeles, all the serious restaurants are Northern Italian,” Pollack says, “so Southern Italian cuisine is very unique.”

Restaurant: The two chefs wanted to stay true to the Neapolitan tradition, so they purchased a wood-burning oven designed and hand-built by Stefano Ferrara, a third-generation oven-builder. The restaurant is 70 percent underground (sotto means “under” in Italian), so Samson and Pollack embraced that feeling with reclaimed dark wood, dim lighting, an industrial zinc bar and an open kitchen.

Food: “We are not reinventing the wheel,” Pollack says. “The dishes reflect our personality, but with an immense respect for tradition.” All the bread, pastas and salumi are house-made. They get whole pigs from the Devil’s Gulch ranch in Marin County, so the quality of the pork is incredible. Silverton’s favorite is the Sunday-night porcetto dinner as well as the braised meats and pizzas.

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