Mario Alberto is the executive chef of Laurel Hardware, the bustling West Hollywood restaurant and bar that offers a serious scene and serious dinner (and brunch and lunch too), and a restaurant that soon will open in the former Lola's space. Alberto, a Los Angeles native, is self-taught and has worked in kitchens such as Mo-Chica, Gjelina and Lazy Ox. He was the chef at the erstwhile, much-missed Peruvian spot Chimu before opening Laurel Hardware, where his menu runs the small-plates gamut: kale salad with grapefruit and French feta, gochujang-and-cider-sauced ribs, pork belly with quinoa and persimmons.
What’s coming up next on your menu?
We are working on a berbere-rubbed jerky that is going to be prepared like a Thai salad. The other is a pork apple pie. Maple bourbon bacon, pink lady apples, apple cider and pork jus. Our inspiration is a McDonald’s fried apple pie.
Latest ingredient obsession?
Lettuces are my biggest obsession. It lends itself for various applications. My favorite is the salanova from the Garden of ..... . It's the most well-constructed green. It’s great for texture, crunch and depth. You can really taste the minerals. It holds up well to dressing and handling. It's exceptional.
What restaurant do you go to over and over again?
Seongbukdong. It's right in my ‘hood. K-town is so rich in culture and food, but I find myself going weekly. The pork kimchi stir fry and sour kimchi hot pot are my favorite dishes. You find the chef, much like a mom, cooking all day. It brings me back home.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives?
Without a doubt the most important is the Cryovac machine. From a storage standpoint to a cooking approach, it's the most important tool. It's efficient and clean. It makes things easier to label, rotate and handle. We use it to bag our meats, poultry and vegetables for cooking. It's great for marinating steaks and vegetables. Great for holding pickles. I can't imagine being without it.
What’s the latest cookbook you’ve read, and what inspired you to pick it up?
I revisited all the Charlie Trotter cookbooks. I was handed a copy of “Kitchen Sessions” by a chef a long time ago. I remember being blown away by all the layers in his dishes. Especially all the oils. It's easier to see now how those books impacted my early years. But in reality I've absorbed a lot of those ideas. They really laid the groundwork to ask, what is “American cuisine”? It's constantly evolving, it's very regional, but, more importantly, it's very individual, from an American to immigrant perspective, what we take from the same environment. That's what makes Los Angeles exciting: It's very multicultural.
Laurel Hardware, 7984 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 656-6070, laurelhardware.com.
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