It's a sign of the times: Anisette's Alain Giraud will be handing out free samples from a food truck on the Third Street Promenade. "I've never worked inside a truck so I don't want to get too ambitious," he says of the French delicacies he will prepare.
That's not a permanent change of venue, of course. Giraud is one of five well-known Southern California chefs who will be participating in a promotion in advance of dineLA's first fall Restaurant Week, which will begin Oct. 4.
But while Giraud may not be ambitious, that's certainly not the case with dineLA, which hit on the canny idea of tapping into the food truck fad that has taken the city's popular imagination by storm.
Giraud will spend one day on the dineLA truck, which was donated by RoadStoves, the same mobile food truck company that helped the Kogi Korean barbecue taco truck redefine road rage. The other chefs who will cook on wheels and hand out free tastes are Eric Greenspan from the Foundry on Melrose, Jason Johnston from Dakota at the Roosevelt, Walter Eckstein from Lawry's the Prime Rib and John England from downtown's new Rosa Mexicano.
Since its January 2008 inception, dineLA Restaurant Week has taken a circuitous route to success. The first year saw the participation of 143 restaurants, with high-end restaurants noticeably missing. But then came the fall when, as Greenspan puts it, "the bottom fell out of the Earth economically" and restaurants took a mighty body blow. When dineLA rolled back around in January 2009, 175 restaurants signed on. This October there will be 250, and there's another week planned for January 2010.
In a recession, Greenspan says, dining out is the first luxury to be eliminated and the last to be reinstated.
Perhaps that's why next month's edition of the event is no longer lacking in marquee names. Besides Giraud, other newcomers include Josiah Citrin with Cache, John Sedlar with Rivera, Michael McCarty with Michael's and Josie Le Balch with Josie.
"Fine-dining restaurants are getting that it's not a black eye and it's not a coupon ploy," says Carrie Kommers, director of dineLA, which is a division of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's not about giving away the farm, it's about showcasing what you can do."
It's also about promoting bricks-and-mortar restaurants, which is why RoadStoves partner Josh Hiller is quick to point out that the truck is simply a tool to get out the message about Restaurant Week, not a bid to upstage it. And since many conventional restaurants are still trying to figure out what to make of the city's many nouveau food trucks, developing a mutually beneficial synergy between the two makes sense.
"There is some tension between restaurants and food trucks," Kommers says. "But I don't think it's a huge thing; they're really different industries. And in this case, the truck is the equivalent of hiring a billboard, only it's better because the billboard is giving you food."
"Yeah," Hiller says, laughing. "A tasty billboard."
And if reservation numbers are any indication, Angelenos are hungry for the tasty, especially when they can try a new restaurant without breaking the bank. Restaurant Week offers three price tiers for three-course lunches and dinners: Deluxe ($16 lunch and $26 dinner), Premiere ($22 and $34) and Fine Dining ($28 and $44).
The first Restaurant Week reeled in close to 100,000 diners, the next brought in 150,000, and this year even more diners are expected to flood tables across the city.
With those kind of numbers it's easy to wonder what kind of lines will show up at the trucks -- especially when the chefs involved are committed to putting forth a caliber of food not generally found in motion. Giraud is considering serving his popular onion soup and maybe some beef bourguignon "to say thank you to Julia Child." He might also buy produce from the Santa Monica farmers market and "show people what we can do with it."
For his part, Greenspan is planning on cooking up onion risotto, apple and endive salad and beef ribs with parsnips. "For me, what makes the truck fun is bringing the restaurant to you," he says. And then, he hopes, you'll bring yourself back to the restaurant.
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Where to find the dineLA truck --
The dineLA Restaurant Week truck will feature a different chef every day. Running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., it will follow a somewhat whimsical route, so check the website, discoverlosangeles.com/play/dining, the Twitter account, twitter.com/dine_LA, or the Facebook fan page. It will be in the following areas on the following days:
Monday: Dakota at the Hollywood Roosevelt's chef Jason Johnston will be in Hollywood, including a stop in front of the ArcLight Hollywood Cinema, 6360 W.Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
Tuesday: Mid-City: The Foundry on Melrose's chef Eric Greenspan will be in Mid-City, including a stop at 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
Sept. 30: Anisette Brasserie chef Alain Giraud will be in Santa Monica, including a stop at the Santa Monica farmers market, and Third Street Promenade at Arizona Avenue.
Oct. 1: Beverly Hills: Lawry's the Prime Rib chef Walter Eckstein will be in Beverly Hills, including a stop on Canon Drive, between Brighton Way and Dayton Way.
Oct. 2: Rosa Mexicano chef John England will be in downtown Los Angeles.
Times staff writers