Los Angeles has a reputation for fantastic weather and epic sprawl, but rarely do you get to experience the two unadulterated while nursing a cocktail. At the Yamashiro Farmers Market, however, held every Thursday atop a windblown peak in the Hollywood Hills, visitors can take in the bluster of Los Angeles on a hot night with sweeping views of the sparkling grid, along with a few other California specialties: fresh produce and artisanal prepared foods, plus our greatest export alongside Hollywood — wine.
Set in the parking lot outside Yamashiro, the majestic CalAsian restaurant, patrons can stroll from booth to booth, sampling Nicholas Family Farms' fresh juices such as mandarin and grapefruit, or buying ripe roses from Eufloria, a sixth-generation flower-farming business. There is also organic chicken and pimenton, Spanish paprika, from the foodie truck Gourmet on Wheels. You can bring your own wine (in moderation, please) or purchase California varietals (along with some French and Italian pours) at the market.
But maybe most popular of all is the Yamashiro Grill stand, which hawks street tacos spilling over with braised short ribs, hoisin duck confit or miso-sake-marinated black cod, with sides such as wasabi guacamole.
Started in March, the Yamashiro Farmers Market was a twin opportunity to boost the reputation of a restaurant often admired for its beauty more than its cuisine and to offer urbanites a unique nightlife option.
Nick Spano, the manager of the market, wanted to foster an unusual yet fitting combination for Los Angeles. "I wanted to integrate the farmers market feeling with a night-life atmosphere — it's not pretentious, it's not even really upscale. You just hang out and relax here; get your glass of wine and wander around."
The owner of a Hollywood tanning salon, Spano started his first farmers market in the plaza of his business, but it was short-lived. Soon thereafter, he connected with the heads of Yamashiro, who were interested in starting a market but weren't sure how to go about it. Spano, 34, created what he wishes he saw more of in L.A. — a way to meet people without participating in the velvet rope scene.
For Yamashiro, the market has sparked new life for the restaurant and its nightclub, Pagoda Lounge, which gets the spillover once the market closes around 9 p.m. For years, the restaurant has fought a reputation as a stately reservoir of mediocre food, but with the hiring of new staff, including chef Brock Kleweno (formerly of Boa Steakhouse), and the start of the farmers market, it's been reversing common perception.
Yamashiro general manager David Comfort, who lives up the road, said he's seen a change in the restaurant's patrons since March. "It's gone from being a heavy tourist destination to one for the neighborhood. It's very local now; I see the same faces every week at the market, and they're coming to try the restaurant too."
The neighborhood, however, was almost the very thing that held the market back. When they first opened, they quickly learned that valet parking in the Hollywood Hills' limited back roads wasn't a viable option, so they started a free shuttle service that takes off from the parking lot at the Fifth Christian Science Church.
Driving down the steep hills into the twinkling lights of Hollywood, nestled with packages and fellow market lovers at the close of the evening, feels true to the spirit of the event. "There's something romantic about it," Spano said. "We try to give it that European feel."