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Celebs, gossip! Sure, we’ll bite

Times Staff Writer

DO you feel the need to know exactly when Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza’s sibling, will open or where Daniel Craig eats when he’s with his agent? Is it hard to concentrate at work while you wonder who had dinner at Cut last night and which pastry chef just donned a new toque at the Water Grill?

Now you can log on and find out. The food-blogging world -- once a sanctum of fevered insomniacs up all night baking muffins and writing about it or amateur critics cataloging the best places for pho or fish tacos -- has expanded to include two new, polished Los Angeles-based food blogs, Eater LA and the Knife.

Both launched in November and both cater to a new breed of cyber-foodie: one drawn to the food-scene gossip instead of recipes or full-fledged reviews. Both state their missions: Eater’s is to give daily restaurant industry news, and the Knife’s is to “blog about restaurants favored by the entertainment industry.”

This shift in context from their online predecessors means one thing is often noticeably absent in the new blogs’ coverage: the food. You’ll learn which chef has just gotten canned but not what his or her panna cotta tastes like; which boite has just been renovated, but not how delicious its new tasting menu is. And you probably won’t be reading any recipes.

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Says Eater LA’s editor-blogger Lesley Balla: “Personally, I would like to write about the food, but that’s not what we are.” And according to Dana Harris, the blogger behind the Knife: “If I start waxing poetic about poached eggs, then we have a problem.”

Eater LA, the West Coast offshoot of the popular New York food blog Eater, founded by Ben Leventhal, is a joint venture between Leventhal’s company She Loves New York and Curbed, a new-media network or “blogomerate” covering aspects of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The network includes sites that report and comment on city real estate communities, the “architectural arts” and the Hamptons.

Variety film editor Harris launched her blog independently, but it was quickly embraced by the entertainment industry trade newspaper’s editors and was soon added to Variety.com’s lineup of blogs. “The link between entertainment and the food industry in L.A. and the sex appeal of them combined makes sense to us,” says Michael Speier, Variety’s executive editor of news.

Like so many products of the growing blogosphere, Eater LA and the Knife are venues for opinion, rumor, gossip and personal commentary as well as news. They have the gloss of professionally staffed media outlets but don’t necessarily hew to established journalistic conventions -- and seem to operate on the assumption that local restaurant-savvy readers will log on to find out about an electrical fire at Ca’Brea, David Lynch’s new line of coffee or what’s up with “suspicious postings” on the online forum Chowhound.

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Experts, amateurs tell all

IT’S not the quite the global-gossip stuff of New York Post’s venerable Page Six or the snarky Los Angeles-based PerezHilton.com, but L.A. foodies are biting. Variety.com editor Alex Romanelli says the Knife averages 250 page views a day and that though it was launched without fanfare, the website received 2,000 hits in its first 24 hours.

But “my traffic is dwarfed by Eater LA,” Harris says. Lockhart Steele, managing editor of Curbed, says, “Eater probably does 15% to 20% of all the traffic on the Curbed sites.” Though it’s just launched, he says, “out of the gate, Eater LA traffic has approached half of what Eater New York does.”

“We’ve known that L.A. was ripe for a site for many months,” Leventhal says. “The city has a vibrant restaurant scene, lots of openings and closings, exciting chefs blazing new trails. L.A. is a city that supports that.” (Maybe more so than San Francisco; if the order in which Steele and Leventhal are rolling out their Eater blogs are any indication, that city is up next.)

“Food has an obvious connection to Hollywood,” Harris says. “It’s the way business gets done.”

Although Leventhal and Steele are listed on Eater LA’s home page as editors, Balla, former editor of LA.com and the only contributor to the blog, says her posts aren’t edited by them or anyone else and admits that it’s “a little scary not having the boundaries, to play the role of reader, writer and editor all at the same time.”

The Knife’s Harris, who is edited when writing film reviews for Variety, also acts as her own editor for the blog.

The Knife is a personal blog, with Harris’ takes on restaurants, trends and hot spots, and includes “ShortCuts,” a synthesis of current reviews in local publications (its name is an allusion to the Robert Altman film, an industry self-reference that is emblematic of the blog).

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Eater LA is a breathless site, with Balla posting several times a day to fulfill a “quota” from her New York bosses of four to six posts daily. It targets goings-on in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. “It’s more about the scene and the industry,” Balla says. She doesn’t review restaurants, but she does review reviewers, who aren’t often awarded any more stars than they dole out.

Eater LA is plugged in at both ends. Balla relies on connections, press releases and pavement pounding to post breaking news and gossip hourly, but there’s a prominently displayed e-mail link for readers to pass along hot tips, providing the opportunity for ordinary pizza-loving, ramen-chasing folks to jump into the fray of the news-gathering process. The tipster network helps generate interest, hits, traffic -- and thus ad revenue.

It’s this kind of traffic that is bringing more and more bloggers into the fray -- be they individual insomniacs in their fuzzy slippers or media organizations interested in expanding their audiences and brands. Longtime L.A.-based blogs include general interest sites such as Variety editor Pat Saperstein’s posts of news and reviews at Eating LA or the lore- and history-rich Professor Salt, as well as highly focused chronicles such as the Great Taco Hunt and Eddie Lin’s Deep End Dining.

Those voices have been joined in the past year by not only another handful of amateur online restaurant reviewers but also a “teenage glutster” and an impassioned farmers market commentator. And on the national front (but based in L.A.), Bon Appetit magazine launched a blog in May written by staff editors.

“The appetite for this information seems to be endless,” says LA.com editor Lonny Pugh. “And the more the better. If you look at one, you look at them all. There doesn’t seem to be a saturation point.”

Too busy cooking to read

NOT everyone is convinced that the food world’s appetites are best served by the exponentially expanding blogosphere. In an informal poll of L.A. chefs, Water Grill’s David LeFevre said he thinks that food blogs are a “distraction” for himself and his staff, while Lucques’ and A.O.C.'s Suzanne Goin admits to being “totally clueless” about them. On the other hand, Dakota Weiss of the Tower Bar and the Terrace says in an e-mail, “I’m on the Internet often reading them. I use them to see what’s going on with other chefs and to keep up with trends.”

And for those of us who are as plugged into the Web as we are to our KitchenAids, all those blogging food lovers are difficult to ignore.

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amy.scattergood@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

News, reviews and gossip

acmeinstantfood.blogspot.com Since April, this blogger has been posting recipes strung together with humorous diatribes. Some of the recipes are hilarious too -- for example, the Aaron Spelling gingerbread house.

colleencuisine.blogspot.com A chatty, personal restaurant-review blog. Very fond of Pinkberry.

deependdining.blogspot.com From Eddie Lin, a well-written and frequently posted blog that focuses on extreme culinary experiences such as the much-talked-about live octopus dish.

eatingla.blogspot.com Written by Pat Saperstein, an editor at Variety, this is an opinionated 2-year-old review and news blog with a focus on points east of Beverly Hills.

epicurious-wanderer.blogspot.com This Orange County blogger, known as Chubbypanda, has been posting reviews and recipes since August.

erinskitchen.blogspot.com Enthusiastic cooking and review blog with postings about L.A., San Francisco and New York.

foodpornla.blogspot.com Launched in November, this is a photo-driven blog featuring commentary such as doughnut poetry and bacon-buying rants.

gastrologica.com By two guys, self-described as a gourmand and a chef. Strong though sometimes voluminous writing, with lots of pictures and a podcast.

gastronomy-101.blogspot.com Since May, an energetic attorney has been blogging here, sharing material from her reading, discussing such things as her problems with raw fish.

la.eater.com Since November, this L.A. spinoff of the New York blog Eater has been concentrating on local openings and closings, restaurant buzz and gossip; posts multiple times a day.

la.foodblogging.com The communal post is organized by one person but written by half a dozen occasionally changing writers. It’s frequently updated, with good reviews from a variety of perspectives.

omgfood.blogspot.com A 6-month-old restaurant review blog by a freelance writer (and frequent Chowhound and La.foodblogging poster) based in Hollywood.

oishiieats.blogspot.com This restaurant review blog from a writer whose day job seems to be teaching kindergarten has a great blog roll (linking to other blogs) and is well organized.

www.potatomato.com/mt A restaurant review blog run by two graphic designers (and it shows) with an emphasis on photos and quick panoramic entries.

www.professorsalt.com Formerly yougonnaeathat.com. The author offers long, informative posts with lots of lore and history.

www.rameniac.com Subtitled, “webwide noodling,” this site concentrates on Japanese noodle houses, with good pictures and expansive, often quite funny posts.

tableauvivante.livejournal.com Begun last summer, the content here focuses on local farmers markets. Terrific pictures, lots of commentary on produce.

tacohunt.blogspot.com A blog devoted to taco trucks and taquerias, which lists them according to neighborhood and has a taco-rating system; chatty, well-written.

teenageglutster.blogspot.com This is a really fun post by an Alhambra teenager with great pictures and excited accounts of such milestones as his first coq au vin.

thedeliciouslife.blogspot.com Anecdotes (a baby shower at La Terza), opinions, the author’s personal relationships and recipes.

tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com A site with photos and commentary, focusing on Japanese and Japanese American food and links.

triplecreme.blogspot.com This restaurant review blog from a private chef has a prompt to make a donation through PayPal to the author’s dining-out budget.

weblogs.variety.com/theknife Or go to Variety.com and click on blogs. Gossip, great links, insightful commentary and very good writing from film editor Dana Harris of Variety.

-- Amy Scattergood


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