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'They Like Us, They Really Like Us' : Now New York Also Looks West for Inspiration in Food and Fashion

January 15, 1989| Nina Easton | Nina Easton is a Times staff writer.

ANNIE Flanders is breathless, positively breathless , over L.A. "It's the most exciting city," she gushes. "I look forward to eating there. The clubs are great. The shopping is great. There's an energy we don't have.

"I love the hotels. We went out there with Cyndi Lauper, and we stayed at the Sunset Marquis. It was wonderful. We shopped until we dropped. We went to Melrose, we bought out half the store at Repeat Performance. It's great, the shopping, the weather. Everyone I talk to now, even people determined to despise it, can't anymore. The energetic, creative people--they're there, doing wonderful things. There's so much happening. And it's so easy to live there."

You won't hear many New Yorkers going gaga over La-La like that. But the very fact that this kind of talk is coming from one of Manhattan's leading arbiters of hip--Flanders edits "Details," a magazine for the nightclub set--is a sign that New Yorkers are taking new stock of the city they once wrote off as Disneyland for adults. "People here are very attuned to what L.A. can offer them," says Tom Julian, associate fashion director of the Men's Fashion Assn. in New York.

This new respect--and fascination with--Los Angeles is reflected in the pages of New York-based publications such as GQ and New York Woman, which have started offering regular L.A.-watch columns. Flanders' Details is readying its second full issue about the city (the first one included an extensive guide to Melrose Avenue), as is Avenue, a New York magazine for the staid upscale set. The October issue of HG devoted a 33-page section to "Living in L.A.," and Metropolitan Home plans to publish its first special L.A. issue in August. Spy magazine, the nemesis of Manhattan institutions, has decided that L.A.'s sacred cows are nearly as entertaining to milk--it has published a special issue and runs a regular column.

While it is true that New Yorkers have taken notice of L.A.'s new museums and burgeoning theater movement, overall, Manhattan appears to be quite content with its own arts culture. What seems to interest New Yorkers most about L.A. is the city's ambiance: Its food and fashion and life style.

"I find it visually invigorating to drive around L.A.," says Joan Kron, editor of Avenue magazine. Adds Dorothy Kalins, editor of Metropolitan Home magazine: "There are so many cultural signals coming from L.A. that are changing ways of socializing, of living at home."

Architecture is a case in point. Increasingly, L.A. architects--such as Frank Gehry and his disciples--are building national reputations, not in skyscrapers but in homes and restaurants. "I would say that of the top 10 young architects, a disproportionate number are in Los Angeles," Kalins says. She adds that these architects are characterized by their "individual conceptualization of every project. They have no rigid framework or formula. . . . They are terribly inventive."

California cuisine, which also threw out the traditional rule book, has an even stronger influence in New York. "Ten years ago, New Yorkers, tired of heavy French food, were being told they should eat more healthfully," says restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. "Suddenly here were these people from L.A. with baskets of fresh vegetables and boxes of mesquite."

And strange concoctions like lobster and potato chip salad and roasted red pepper pancakes with sweet corn sauce and caviar. "It was pretty controversial," recalls chef Jonathan Waxman, who moved his California cuisine to New York five years ago. But it was also popular: In short order, Waxman's restaurant, Jam's, became the place to go, and Waxman himself became the city's newest superchef. Waxman closed the restaurant after a partnership split and opened up his own, less pricey, restaurant--called simply Jonathan Waxman's--last spring.

L.A.'s Wolfgang Puck gained such prominence with New Yorkers that when Manhattan restaurants couldn't lure him East, they started hiring away his chefs and opening Spago clones.

It may be old hat by now to visit California-style restaurants such as Waxman's or Melrose, the West Hollywood-style cafe run by former Spago chef Richard Krause, or Big Kahuna, with its surfer decor. But the influence of California cuisine goes beyond these specialty restaurants.

Mesquite grills, fresh herbs and vegetables and ingredients such as cilantro are now common fare at New York restaurants. "California cuisine is now part of the fabric of New York eating," says Wolf.

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