You worked for years in London before coming to the United States. Any lesser-known London spots you would recommend?
Hackney is a really great place. It’s probably almost there — I don’t think it’s up-and-coming anymore. My friend Claire Ptak has got a really cute tea and bakery shop there called Violet. I met Claire at Chez Panisse, and every time I go to say hi to her, I’ll grab a cup of tea and some cake and we’ll catch up.
And Shoreditch is really cool. There’s a restaurant there called Lyle’s that’s owned by a friend of mine called James Lowe. Very clean, simple food, but quite well thought-out and complex flavors. Those neighborhoods are a little bit of a schlep, but it’s nice to do at least one on a trip.
What about your adopted city of New York? Two of your restaurants — the Breslin and the John Dory — are in the Flatiron district, one of my favorite neighborhoods.
It’s definitely a fun neighborhood to be around. You can feel the buzz. You can walk there every week and see something new, always some fun shops to hop into — including a bunch of great furniture and pottery shops in the 20s and 30s. Even up to Koreatown — you can get some great Korean food in K-town. I love Kunjip — and it’s open late.
You opened Tosca Cafe in San Francisco a few years ago and now you’re about to open a new restaurant in Los Angeles.
I absolutely adore California. Actually Ken [Friedman, her business partner] and I made a pact that we’d only do restaurants in places we really like to visit. I love the markets and the produce. I love that L.A. is just a little bit more laid back. There’s nice little pockets you can go to. Lots of antique shops, fabulous restaurants. Just fun, exciting spots that don’t look like much during the day, but then at night they totally transform.
And in San Francisco, you can go to Marin. You can eat great food, and check out Marin Brewing Company and grab a beer at the bar.
What about eating while traveling, in general? Any specific approaches?
I love to walk, and I think it’s the best way to get to know a city. Looking in windows and observing. Maybe hitting a little coffee spot and just overhearing a conversation or reading a guidebook. Just stumbling across places.
When I was in Tokyo, I really didn’t plan any time or anywhere to eat. So it was really just looking in windows and pointing to the food and saying “I’ll have what they’re having.” The only thing I did plan on was going to Tsukiji fish market and having sushi in the morning. Apart from that, I spent four or five days completely lost — and we didn’t have a bad meal.
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