By Justin Dolezal, Foodable Contributor
Silverlake, long an artistic and cultural hub in creative Los Angeles, has often lagged behind other neighborhoods in terms of quality dining options. It's not as if the neighborhood isn't fit for great dining; after all, this is a neighborhood that prides itself on contemporary relevance across the board. At the young end of the spectrum, Silverlake is a hip, trend-focused neighborhood, where indie bands and contemporary fashion dominate the scene. Mature Silverlake is composed of young families with expendable incomes, who frequent the neighborhood's farmers' markets and advocate for architectural preservation at community board meetings. It's certainly fertile ground, which has made the lack of exciting restaurants perplexing.
The tide may be turning, however, as a new slew of exciting food spots have opened recently, giving Silverlake's young, hip population more than a few fantastic places to eat. One of the more exciting spots to open in recent years has been Forage, a fast-casual eatery that feels particularly well suited to Silverlake's neighborhood personality. Located on the eastern stretch of Sunset Blvd that constitutes the the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Forage focuses on preparing a rotating daily selection of seasonally inspired dishes, made with ingredients sourced from local farms and urban gardens. The idea of supporting local farms and businesses through sustainably sourced, seasonal cuisine is hardly revolutionary; these concepts have been buzz terms in contemporary dining for some time. But Forage has succeeded by utilizing the popularity of the Locavore movement to attract millennial diners to what is, first and foremost, a fantastic place to get food, presenting cuisine that reflects the local community in a way that feels at the same time of the moment and timelessly welcoming.
At its core, Forage seeks to provide Silverlake with fresh, natural food that can satisfy the desire for localism and sustainability without feeling fussy or pretentious. While culinary localism and sustainability have long been hallmarks of the fine-dining world, Forage has taken the concepts in a slightly different direction. To call Forage a restaurant is somewhat misleading; the concept operates more like a deli, in which patrons arrive and are greeted with a display featuring the day's menu items, which can be ordered for both in house dining or to go. Think of a slightly more mature, less cartoon-inspired version of Lemonade, another LA casual dining staple, and you're on the right track.
The concept of a high-end cafeteria is also appropriate, though that comparison belies Forage's casual sophistication. Pre-made sandwiches and bowls are available, as well as sides, protein courses, desserts, and daily specials. Selecting a meal at Forage usually consists of ordering a protein course along with a few of the numerous daily side dishes. A recent evening's dinner menu included grilled salmon with tapenade, bulgar wheat with chickpeas, cauliflower, pomegranate and cumin herb sherry vinaigrette, and mac and cheese. The dishes sound simple, but the preparation is executed perfectly, making seemingly basic dishes taste exceptional.
Everything is prepared from scratch daily, using ingredients sourced from the several local farms and urban gardeners that Forage works with. While inspirations and recipes for dishes are drawn from across the global dining spectrum, everything maintains a comfortable, un-intimidating appeal. The dishes feel like the kind of comfort food you might make or be served at home, were you a talented chef with access to bountiful, high-quality local ingredients (catering options are available for those that wish to extend this fantasy to friends and guests). The food strikes that perfect balance between feeling approachable and friendly while remaining exciting and compelling.
Forage maintains a network of local farming partners, providing the restaurant with a wide array of ingredients that can be used in its daily array of recipes. In addition to sourcing the best ingredients from Los Angeles' numerous farmers' markets, Forage draws both food and inspiration from its Home Growers Circle, a group of urban farmers who provide a substantial amount of the restaurant's produce. This network of urban gardeners is made up of families and individual farmers and gardeners who provide Forage with a wide array of ingredients. Forage profiles each of these individuals and their operations on its website, including the individual farm's blogs, photos, and a list of ingredients that the operation is currently providing. This kind of engagement provides those interested in local cuisine with a unique perspective on the farming operations happening in their communities.
The relationships that Forage maintains with its urban farmers represents the kind of community symbiosis that constitutes localism at its best; producers are able to sell their wares and have their operations and practices exposed to a wider audience, while Forage is able to provide its customers with a stream of delicious, locally-produced meals. The relationship also ensures that Forage, and in turn Forage's customers, can eat confidently, knowing that their food has come from sustainable, natural operations and practices. In a neighborhood like Silverlake, this kind of consumer confidence is a big deal, and has helped turn Forage into a neighborhood staple.