By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
With the emphasis on the foodie culture, dining out is no longer for special occasions — many of us eat out more often than we eat at home. City living offers a vast selection of restaurants to try, but with so many choices, how do we choose? Is it the favorite neighborhood place where you order the same thing every time you go? Or, is it the newest spot that opened up across the city that you will fight rush hour traffic to get to since you made your reservation a month ago? What motivates us to choose one place over another?
Chefs have been coming up with new ways to attract customers that visit not just once, but come back repeatedly. Los Angeles is an exciting culinary destination that is not afraid to experience with ideas and concepts. As diners, we love following chefs to their newest spots, trying seasonal menus and experiencing tasting menus. And, the new restaurant Fifty Seven in downtown Los Angeles may have created the next idea by mixing all of these things together.
The Evolution of Today’s Mobile Foodie Culture
When the economy tanked in 2008, dining out at restaurants started to slow down. Established restaurants began to offer off-hour discounts to attract customers. And restaurants that were traditionally known for large coursed-out menus started offering small plates in their lounges to fill seats. But as restaurants struggled and closed, chefs started thinking outside the box. They found more economical ways to open their concepts and share them with the public.
Gourmet food trucks started to fill the streets. These food trucks gave talented chefs an arena to share their creations with very little startup funding. Food trucks also offered diners high quality food for very low cost. People would travel across the city to find specific trucks. The only challenge was that many times you had to follow the trucks on social media, chasing them around the city, to find where they were on any given day, only to arrive to a long line.
Pop-Ups: Then and Now
Pop-ups became a popular trend in 2011. Pop-ups are not a new idea — they were previously known as supper clubs in the 1960s and ’70s. Pop-ups were a vehicle for chefs to showcase their talents for a few days or maybe a month. Transitory in nature, pop-ups are advertised by invitations or word of mouth. Unfortunately, for many pop-ups, unless you were in-the-know and pro-active, by the time you actually heard about a place, it no longer existed. Now, the newest concept in the pop-up has come with a twist. Think of it as a permanent pop-up.
Fifty Seven: From Seasonal Menus to Seasonal Chefs
Located in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles, Fifty Seven opened their doors in late March under the ownership of hospitality group Cardiff Giant and offers Los Angeles a fresh approach to dining. Not only does the restaurant shift its menu with seasonal ingredients, but they showcase a rotating roster of culinary talent each season.
This temporary permanence offers diners a level of familiarity while keeping it fresh. Surrounded by industrial warehouses, Fifty Seven is located on the former loading dock of the Heinz 57 factory. Each season, although the exact amount of time may vary from chef to chef, a new chef comes in and designs their restaurant of choice. The space is open and modern and somewhat of a white canvas. With an open kitchen that overlooks the bar, the décor is minimalist and can adjust to different styles.
Fifty Seven opened in late March with Chef David Nayfeld as the opening chef. Formerly of Eleven Madison, Nayfeld was moving to Los Angeles from New York and getting ready to open his own place. In the meantime, he slid into Fifty Seven and created a “progressive American” menu. After three months, Chef Nayfeld left and now Chef Josh Drew is the “chef in residence.” Chef Drew, formerly of Farmshop, Bouchon and Quince, has created a seasonal menu highlighting fish and shellfish.
The concepts from the two chefs thus far have been very different in terms of style and service. Chef Nayfeld’s concept was a more traditional, fine dining restaurant and the servers wore pressed button-up shirts. Chef Drew’s more casual style is reflected in the Henley shirts and denim aprons the staff now wears. This is one of the key advantages of Fifty Seven: As each chef comes in, they have complete freedom to play with the space and make it their own. During a chef’s residency, the menus will also evolve and change, dictated by what is fresh from the farm.
Creating a Baseline of Consistency
What stays the same are the space and the staff. While the staff learns the new menus and the new chef’s style, there is a consistency when it comes to customer service. Wine Director Michael Nemcik and Sommelier Wendy Shoemaker are building an ever-changing wine list that will pair with the “chef in residence” dishes. Proprietors LLC has designed the bar programs that incorporates ingredients used in the kitchen and pairs with the seasonal menus.
As Chef Drew draws in fans from his previous restaurants and engages new fans, Cardiff Giant is talking to chefs around the country as they look for the next “chef in residence.” Fifty Seven offers chefs from other cities the opportunity to come to Los Angeles, and to see what this city has to offer while introducing diners to new chefs.
Fifty Seven will be continually evolving and offering new concepts to diners. It is not meant to be an “occasional” restaurant, but rather somewhere you want to return to again and again. Perhaps it’s because you love the current “chef in residence” or perhaps it’s because you want to try the new culinary concept. Either way, Fifty Seven will keep diners coming back.