As a tourist visiting Los Angeles in summertime, it can be disquieting to see no one on the sidewalks surrounding the city’s hottest new restaurants, but it’s only because they’re hiding in plain sight.
Chef Michael Mina’s return to Los Angeles has been in the works since 2019, but the entrance to his rooftop dining room Mother Tongue, Mina’s only public-facing restaurant at the members-only athletic club Heimat, is hidden down a foreboding alleyway opposite a cement factory. But find the elevator doors that open onto the narrow street, and you’ll be rewarded with dishes like warm spelt flatbread served with cotton candy-colored dips like roasted beetroot hummus and toasted walnut muhammara, and bottles of natural orange and rosé wines as distinct as the skyline views at sunset.
Guests will encounter those same predicaments and pleasures when checking into the Conrad Los Angeles to experience José Andrés’ return to the city, which comes two years after he shuttered The Bazaar at the SLS Beverly Hills in 2020 due to the pandemic.
His Bazaar restaurants will make a comeback over the next year, with planned openings at the Ritz-Carlton Nomad in New York City, the Waldorf-Astoria in Washington, D.C., and here at The Grand L.A., a Frank Gehry-designed shopping mall, hotel, and residential complex meant to complement the superstar architect’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened across the street nearly 20 years ago, just a few months after Andrés picked up his first James Beard award.
It’s part of a rapid expansion that Andrés and his team, including longtime Bazaar chef Holly Jivin, have been anticipating for the past three years.
“We were smart and kept a big chunk of the core team, so now we can squeeze three years in,” Andrés told Food & Wine. “You can’t say, now that the 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 projects are all coming together, I don’t want to do any of that; it just makes it more exciting.”
Andrés’ expansion is aided by having found the right hotel partners, who let him touch all the culinary offerings from poolside dining to room service, calling it “the wave of the future.”
“I wanted to be part of the whole experience,” said Andrés, “… to say I have a home beyond a restaurant in L.A.”
The Conrad and its restaurant collection are among the first wave of tenants at The Grand L.A., which may be why it’s so difficult to spot any signs of life from the exterior. There are no streetside valet or bellmen; only intuition can guide you through hidden gaps in the building’s monumental facade, where unmarked elevators carry guests to the hotel’s tenth floor lobby.
From there, however, you will find the skyline-backed Beaudry Room, offering heftier, more classic tapas and avocado-centric sandwiches that also appear on the Conrad’s room service menu, including Andrés’ signature tomato-and-watermelon skewers, here dressed with caramelized pistachios, and a row of plump and creamy Dungeness crab croquetas, each one nearly as weighty as the Redemption, a strong sipper of blended sherries and Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal.
That’s one way to start an evening before dinner on the terrace, either at Agua Viva, an all-day option behind the hanging gardens on the terrace, perfect for picking on airy fare like ginger-chili trumpet mushroom skewers and eggplant hand rolls. Or, share a whole-fried sea bream that rivals the crispy snapper at the similarly scene-y and scenic ZZ’s Club in Miami; it’s as juicy as the pina borracha, an open-face husk of pineapple staggered with acid yellow wedges that have been compressed overnight into boozy bites saturated with rum, brown sugar, and mint.
The finest dining awaits at San Laurel. As at Mina’s Mother Tongue, Andrés’ cuisine here prioritizes local, seasonal produce over proteins, because, like Heimat, the Conrad was once meant to be a haven for gym bodies. Last September, Conrad was revealed as the replacement for an expected Equinox Hotel, a sister property to the Equinox at Hudson Yards in New York City.
While the deal fell through, Andrés’ inspiration carried over, which is why pescatarian and vegetarian dishes like grilled romaine and roasted celeriac outnumber meat and potatoes options like the $190 ribeye “Meat & Potatoes.” Even then, an oozy potato purée blended with anchovy oil — also available as a $12 à la carte side — steal the show, and better complement the kitchen’s most decadent offering, a bowl of wild mushrooms in a pool of laurel cream thickened with a fried egg.
“Obviously on paper, [the hotel] was going to be an Equinox, and at the end of the day we had to have this kind of menu, but we have the bounty of the seasons in the local markets, and if you didn’t make good use of these here, where would you?” Andrés told Food & Wine.
“Whatever was going to be, was going to be, but I believe in diversity — more vegetables with your meat than meat with your vegetables.”
There’s a supplemental truffle add-on for the mushrooms, but save that spending for dessert, a burnt basque cheesecake perfect for one, two, or four, depending on the table’s appetites. The center of the tarta de queso is liquid, and nearly caves under the weight of shaved Australian black winter truffles and honey (a $50 supplement). And while it speaks to the current trend of burnt cheesecakes, its savory liquidity is more reminiscent of the version served at Spanish chef Albert Adria’s Cake & Bubbles in London. As there, it’s best paired with a glass of champagne.
Andrés’ only incomplete operation at the Conrad is Sed, a lobby lounge opposite San Laurel’s host stand. Still, it’s the perfect spot for a nightcap at the crossroads of the restaurant and hotel elevator banks — even the cocktail names evoke comings and goings, like the Ciao Bella, a carbonated air kiss of yuzu espuma and Aperol, finished tableside, that perfectly channels everything ephemeral and pretentious about LA.
Like every newcomer to the city, Sed is also in flux, though it has big ambitions on the horizon. In the future, expect more progressive menu additions reminiscent of Barmini in Washington, D.C. It’s part of a trend in keeping with a new trend sweeping downtown Los Angeles, where hotspots like chef Max Boonthanakit’s Camphor, housed in the former Nightshade space, and chef Jon Yao’s Kato at The Row LA utilize their restaurant’s bars for research and development, testing out experimental dishes on their front room customers.
Unlike at the Conrad, the hardest part of getting into them isn’t finding a door, but scoring a reservation.