Chef Casey Lane talks about why his new DTLA restaurant is in a hotel
If you’ve spent much time dining in Venice, you’ve likely enjoyed many plates of cavatelli and pig’s ears at the Tasting Kitchen, the restaurant that chef Casey Lane opened on Abbott Kinney Boulevard in 2009. Lane, Texas-born, a veteran of the Portland, Ore., restaurant scene and a 2011 James Beard Award nominee, has lately been working on a new project: a restaurant called Breva in the restored Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A. that’s slated to open in December.
Lane has been downtown before: His gastropub the Parish had an 18-month run that ended in 2013. He’s also been busy on the other end of the country, having recently opened an Italian restaurant called Casa Apicii in a 19th century Greenwich Village townhouse. Breva is actually one of two restaurants that Lane is opening in the Hotel Figueroa. There are also plans for a poolside restaurant called Veranda, showcasing wood-roasted meats, vegetables and pizzas.
The Hotel Figueroa, which is across from L.A. Live and was originally built in 1926 by the Young Women’s Christian Assn. as a women’s hostelry, might seem an unlikely setting for a chef known for making his own pasta and pickles, and for having a penchant for whole animal cookery. But Lane, it seems, is a hotelier at heart.
We sat down with him recently at Soho House in West Hollywood — a neighborhood where Lane is also working on a five-story, 105-room hotel project — where the chef talked about what to expect from him next.
So, you’re going to be cooking in a hotel?
The Hotel Figueroa is an amazing, historic downtown hotel, with a great location. We’re operating the food for the entirety of the location, from in-room dining, to banquet to the restaurants. Breva is a small dining room; Josh [Herlihy, Lane’s longtime chef de cuisine at Tasting Kitchen] will be the executive chef for the restaurant. We’ll be doing Southern French and Spanish cooking. With the history of the hotel, they’re doing more of a restoration than a redesign. The hotel will have a pool, with a small restaurant, Veranda: we’ll do three meals there, with simpler, comfort food.
You’ve been downtown before, when you had the Parish. What’s changed since then?
Downtown L.A. is three or four years older — the landscape has continued to grow. Also, this project is so close to Staples Center. And the hotel has a big following already; I don’t know that I would have gone and opened a small restaurant in a leased space in downtown.
One thinks of what Roy Choi has done with his restaurants at the Line hotel, and Ari Taymor moving Alma into the Standard.
All trends are cyclical. The great hotel restaurants were a big thing in Europe; that was where a lot of the great chefs worked. I love the hospitality as well as the cooking.
So what are you looking forward to?
The Tasting Kitchen has always had a kind of French refinement to some of the food there — I’m not afraid of butter. I think that getting to really push Spanish flavors and a bit more of the Basque tradition is really the difference. I don’t know if tapas is the best word, but that’s probably what most people understand — very flavorful, very fun small plates of food. And not having to do a lot of cured meats and pastas.
So no whole animals trucked into your hotel?
Oh, no, we’ll definitely be doing that. It’s the way I believe in cooking and the way we find inspiration. Having pork loin and pork leg and pork shoulder and lamb leg and lamb shoulder — it’s what really drives us. Curing is important in Spanish and French cooking, and I’d love to get into that; we’re not going to launch out of the gate with that, but eventually I’m sure it’ll find its way into our cycle of production.
So let’s talk about context. How is the food scene here in L.A. now different than that in Portland or New York?
This place is just different, in both good and possibly bad ways. People go out to restaurants to have dinner in Portland and New York. In L.A., people go to restaurants as excitement, as theater. In both Portland and in New York, a lot of restaurants are serving the same thing. In L.A., people are really expressing themselves and their views and what they want people to understand about the way they see food. It’s more individualistic from the chef’s point of view. And I think diners are very receptive to that here. I have a lot of meals in L.A. where the flavor profiles are much more dynamic. I have meals in Portland and New York that are much more dining room, restaurant and craft-oriented. The L.A. scene right now is amazing; there’s immense talent. There’s also a huge difference in the size of restaurants. L.A. restaurants get smaller and smaller. It’s harder to find funding; that’s a big reality.
L.A. gets bigger and the restaurants get smaller.
In L.A., we’re very spread out, we’re very neighborhood-centric. You see a lot of 3,000-square-foot, 55-seat restaurants here that do extremely well. That size makes a lot of sense for a neighborhood-centric city. You’re much more mobile: Turning a small ship is easier than turning a large one.
Where do you think food in L.A. is going?
I don’t know: That’s my answer to that. We’ve seen a lot of dynamic new thinking in product usage and fusions of different styles of cooking — and I think we’ve seen a little pull-back from that. And I can’t tell you what’s going to take hold. Hotels offer such a great venue; you have a built-in clientele; you have other venues to bring in income. So you can really take some more chances.
You have a captive audience, in a sense.
You have the people coming downstairs. My ambition was never to change the dining scene; I wanted to open a neighborhood restaurant. I want you to enjoy everything about the experience — including how quickly you get home.
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