If the American Culinary Landscape could be expressed as a music scene, New York would be Opera, with the all grand stages, high stakes, high$$$, and divas-dive-bombing-one-another associated with it.
Chicago would have to be jazz, featuring lots of improvisation on common themes; those that love it, love it, and those that don’t…. well… they don’t ‘get’ it. San Francisco would be Folk and the neo-folk resurgence (organic, sustainable, usually featuring a mandolin…).
And Los Angeles…?
Los Angeles would probably be an accumulation of One-Hit-wonders; Like a NOW! Music compilation; the biggest identifying feature of the LA scene being the constant pursuit of that most ephemeral quality… coolness.
One of the latest competitors in the LA arena is Public School 612, the new bar concept for the Daily Grill Downtown. Walking in, it feels as though this place has always been there– the floors are worn, the table tops just weathered enough, the light fixtures are wrought iron and rustic. When I was there a few days ago, there was not only a mix of neighborhood residents and office-dwellers with ties just loosened, but a few downtown restaurant people, too (chef Meehan from Cafe Pinot was at the bar, and a handful of event directors from the surrounding restos held court at a corner table).
From the t-shirt clad bar staff to the composition notebook menus, it looks cool. Almost too cool.
It would be devil-may-care chic to write your menu on a composition book, but
the PS composition book menu is not an actual composition book, it’s a cleverly designed facsimile. Dishes are presented on tissue paper printed to look like newspaper. There’s a basket of apples on the bar that never gets used for anything; they’re not muddled into a drink or used as a garnish. They just make the theme work. Which made me wonder if my wobbily table was in need of repair, or if it was intentional.
And so the restaurant ends up with a faux patina of grungy Bohemia that lacks the seasoning and substance that would make it authentic.
But there is nothing wrong with Public School.
And that’s the funny part. There is nothing wrong with Public School; every imperfection seems to have been focus grouped, cross referenced, and studied. It doesn’t feel like anything just… happened. The definition of cool involves some level of not caring. Being earnest is not cool. Wanting to be cool, is never cool.
The Grill Concepts Group has co-opted a vibe that organically occurs in Los Feliz and Silverlake, and made it a theme. Which is soLA. But even in their theme they fall slightly short. The daiquiri listed on their cocktail menu screams to be a Hemingway daiquiri. And why have a school theme and not offer ‘american history’ and ‘european history’ beer flights?
On to the brass tacks stuff, though:
A la Father’s Office and sundry museum cafes, at Public School you order everything from the bar. So your food can find you, they hand you a number to place on your table (in photo above). I asked if they had a number 13, but the bartender thought I was joking.
Biggest hits are the fried chicken and the stout float. The cheese plate is dependable, and the sriracha ketchup & honey mustard sauces with the bag o’ fries are delicious. The draft beers are eclectic, the staff is warm and engaging, and the food is good. It won’t knock your socks off, but that’s not really what they’re trying to do here. They are trying to be a go-to neighborhood spot that fits in with the climate of this recessionary time.
And in that, they are succeeding…. at least until that fickle mistress, Los Angeles, decides that she’s in the mood for caviar and sparkly wine again…