There’s this notion that there’s an objective answer to the question, “Where’s the best place to eat in (insert city name) right now?”
Let me be the first to say that I don’t think it’s possible to be objective about such a thing. In fact, I’m planning a trip to Paris right now and listening to all kinds of advice. Many people are telling me about their favorite restaurants and I’m entering them into Google and though the menus look excellent, sometimes I just look at pictures of the restaurants on Google images and don’t get a great vibe. That’s enough for me to set that place aside, even if the food’s spectacular. Atmosphere matters just as much to me as the food (Craig too). That’s not true for everyone, but that’s true for us.
Which brings us to Botanica.
Botanica’s my favorite place to eat in L.A. right now. I was there last week for dinner with my friends Harry and Cris; I’m going there again this weekend with my friends Jimmy and Raef. When Craig came back from New York recently, we went there for brunch.
Why do I like it so much? I love how it feels when you walk through the door. There’s a cute little shop in the foyer with natural wines and farmer’s market produce and beautiful loaves of bread. You’re greeted right away, and if your table isn’t ready, they’re really gracious about it. Last week, our table wasn’t ready and the hostess brought out a cocktail menu and when I asked if we could drink cocktails on the street, she said: “I’m not sure, but I don’t care… I’d go to jail for you!”
Another thing I love about Botanica is that it was created by two food writers: Heather Sperling, who was an editor at Tasting Table, and Emily Fiffer, who was an editor at Daily Candy before interning at Ottolenghi’s Nopi in London. Not only did they open this restaurant together, they also launched a magazine to coincide with and complement the restaurant. And despite taking so much on, I’ve met Heather and Emily several times now and they make the whole thing seem easy… feeding into my own fantasy of opening my own Amateur Gourmet restaurant someday. (Actually, I’d call it Fruma Sara and it would have a Fiddler on the Roof theme with a butcher shop called Laser Wolf next door… don’t steal that. The waiters would balance wine bottles on their heads.)
All of this wouldn’t matter, though, if the food at Botanica wasn’t great. But the food at Botanica is great; not only do I think it’s great, I think it’s the best example of what California cuisine means in 2017. Everything that Alice Waters was doing in Berkeley thirty years ago is happening here, only X100. If California cuisine meant sprinkling some local herbs on top of the fish, Botanica piles the herbs on. Literally, when I ordered the lamb once I had to dig through a garden to get to the meat. I loved it.
The flavors are bright and refreshing and bold. There’s lots of acid (especially in the extraordinary vegetarian cassoulet), lots of chiles, lots of fruit and vegetables. My friends Harry and Cris went nuts for this roasted squash with burrata.
It wasn’t even a little bit sweet. It was savory and earthy and such a surprising but inevitable flavor combination.
And this spice-braised chicken with chickpeas and fall fruit was everything.
I never leave Botanica feeling too full or sabotaged by undisclosed infusions of butter and cream. In fact, I always leave Botanica feeling better than I felt when I arrived. If that’s not the mark of a great restaurant, I don’t know what is.
So, to bring this post full circle, do I objectively think that Botanica is the best place to eat in L.A. right now? I have absolutely no idea. But if you want to know where I’ll be eating this weekend, now you know.