The L.A icons will open two concepts downtown at the forthcoming Proper hotel: the Portuguese-inspired Caldo Verde and Cara Cara, a rooftop hangout with focaccia, tacos, and lots more.
Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, the prolific James Beard Award-winning duo behind Lucques, A.O.C., Tavern, The Larder, and the food-and-beverage program at the Hollywood Bowl, are planning to open two restaurants at downtown L.A.’s forthcoming Proper hotel in the late summer.
The ground-floor Caldo Verde will have Portuguese-inspired dishes including a big caldo verde designed for communal dining. This soul-warming soup is often made with potatoes, greens, and pork. Goin, a chef who’s long been known for merging European and Mediterranean flavors with California ingredients, is envisioning a version of caldo verde that does indeed have potatoes, kale, and sausages.
“But it will also have Santa Barbara spot prawns and all kinds of local seafood like rockfish, mussels, and clams,” she says. “It’s a dish to share for two or more.”
Like at A.O.C., a pioneering restaurant that was at the forefront of small-plates dining in L.A., “the format of the menu is going to be sharing,” Styne says.
Goin and Styne will also run Cara Cara, a rooftop restaurant and lounge with salads, focaccias, tacos, burgers, and more.
“We’ve been approached by, like, 20 hotels over the years,” Goin says. “We’ve also looked at 20 restaurants downtown. It’s definitely something that’s been kind of swirling.”
Over the years, they’ve turned down deals in Las Vegas and Hawaii. They’ve felt some regret about not taking an opportunity in Bora Bora. Every four years or so, they get an itch to do something new in L.A. (They opened Lucques in 1998 and A.O.C. in 2002.) They’re about to start their fourth season at the Hollywood Bowl, so they feel this is the right time and situation for them to get into the hotel business.
Here’s a preview of Goin and Styne’s two restaurants at a hotel where they will also be in charge of room service, events, and catering. Despite the fact that the restaurants are several months away from opening, Goin surprised us last week by showing us tentative menus for both.
“There’s a lot of Portuguese influences, kind of like old-vibe European,” says Goin, whose first job as a head chef was at Boston’s Alloro, which had a Portuguese-born owner. ”It’s a little bit Moorish, Spanish, Portuguese, kind of ocean, seaside, but definitely kind of an old-world feeling.”
Caldo Verde’s tentative dinner menu has dishes like octopus braised in squid ink with olive purée. Goin’s planning to pound boneless chicken thighs and sauté the cutlets in a sherry glaze with jamon, migas, and greens. Vegetable dishes she’s working on include carrots braised in blood orange and pomegranate. As always, she’ll put a multicultural California spin on things with dishes that might include a kale-and-farro salad that has scallion kimchi, cashews, and fried shallots. Other potential dishes include clams with sherry, chickpeas, and onion blossoms, as well as duck breast with duck dirty rice and kumquats.
Goin’s ability to seamlessly combine different ideas and flavors is something she honed at Alloro. She was a young chef with a French-cooking background, and there she was making Italian food for a Portuguese owner who told her about the Portuguese food his grandmother and mom cooked.
“That’s actually when I first made pork and clams,” Goin says. “It’s one of my favorite dishes, a dish we’ve done on and off at Lucques over the years. I love taking traditional food and kind of reworking it. That restaurant was the first place I ever had caldo verde too.”
Downtown’s Kelly Wearstler-designed Proper hotel is in a red-brick building at 1100 S. Broadway that dates back to 1926 and was a private club in the 1930s, a hotel in the 1940s, and later a YWCA until 2004.
“I think the building itself was definitely a big inspiration on the cuisine and the look and the vibe,” Goin says. “And Carol and I are both from L.A. and sort of grew up always hearing that downtown L.A. was going to happen. My dad worked downtown, and I remember going down and always loving all the old buildings and that kind of vibe that feels a little more old-world than what we get in the rest of L.A. [Caldo Verde] is very much inspired by that. I began by researching old menus and the food that was happening in that place at that time.”
It turns out, though, that this research didn’t result in many ideas. Goin and Styne both laugh about this.
“The reality wasn’t as cool,” Styne says.
“The reality was a lot of, like, Continental cuisine,” Goin says. “I’m sure there was probably a lot of cool immigrant food happening that was very hard to find any trace of. I say [Caldo Verde] is inspired by the history of downtown L.A., the building, and the architecture, both real and imagined. So it’s kind of like what I wanted to find.”
Goin and Styne have long known what and how L.A. wants to eat, perhaps even before L.A. realized what it wanted. (This is even more remarkable when you consider that they’ve never researched the demographics of any neighborhood before opening a restaurant.) The longtime business partners remember being worried before they opened A.O.C. with its menu of dishes meant for sharing.
“We were like, ‘What are we going to tell people when they come’?” Goin says. “We really did have to explain what was going to happen. We’ll course the food for you, but it’s not all going at the same time. It’ll kind of flow and kind of roll. And we had to teach our servers when to clear plates and put out new silverware.”
In 2019, of course, you’ll find popular restaurants all over L.A. that serve small plates influenced by food from a half-dozen countries. But back in 2002, it really was a gamble to tell customers that A.O.C. didn’t have a traditional appetizer/entree format. Goin laughs when she thinks about how Styne was concerned that guests might end up ordering just a piece of cheese and lingering at their tables.
It’s not an understatement to say A.O.C. changed the way L.A. dined. As Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold wrote in his 2013 review of A.O.C. after the restaurant moved to its current location, “If we've lived through a battle for L.A.'s restaurant soul, Goin and Styne have won.”
Plus, Goin, who was previously executive chef at Campanile and had worked at other esteemed restaurants like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Al Forno in Providence, and Arpège in Paris, had already started moving the needle at Lucques. You know how all these former fine-dining chefs now say they’re over fussy food and want to serve craveable dishes? Goin has been doing this for two decades at Lucques, where her comforting Sunday suppers led to early-aughts creations like her beloved green harissa.
“I was into harissa, red harissa,” Goin says. “And then I went on this little bender of just making a green version of everything.”
Lucques pre-dated other free-thinking, California-cool, seminal L.A. restaurants like Animal and Gjelina by 10 years. And with superb creations like that green harissa and A.O.C.’s Spanish fried chicken (something she had written down as a possible menu item before opening A.O.C. in 2002 but didn’t start selling until the restaurant relocated in 2013), Goin’s cooking has defined L.A. as much as anybody else’s.
It’s exciting that she now wants to put a Portuguese spin on her food. L.A. doesn’t have much Portuguese food, which is something Goin enjoyed a lot when she was in New England and around a lot of Portuguese immigrants.
“I loved that balance of rustic, super flavorful, a little bit rough-and-tumble,” says Goin, who also worked under half-Portuguese, half-French chef Jaime D’Oliveira at a Providence restaurant called Angels.
Caldo Verde’s wine list “is taking a cue” from the food, Styne says. “The list is predominantly Portuguese, Spanish, some South American wines, even a couple of Mexican wines, and some old-school California wines. ... The list will be really fun, a lot of things you don’t normally come across, tons of Albariños.”
Albariño, Styne adds, has the potential to become the new Chablis or the new Burgundy.
The name Cara Cara is a reference to Cara Cara oranges, of course.
“The name was especially inspired by a lot of old-school images of orange crates and postcards,” Styne says. “We’ve been digging way deep into old L.A., and I think we got really inspired by some of those images from the ’20s and ’30s.”
The moment of clarity, Goin adds, was seeing an old orange crate and marveling at how “ornate and decorative” the design of things like this used to be. Bright, warm, unpretentious. Goin and Styne want a similar feeling at Cara Cara, a two-level rooftop restaurant with an old brick structure, outdoor banquettes, a fire pit, and a bar.
The restaurant will serve one menu from noon to midnight. Goin is planning to have a market lettuce salad and a Spanish chopped salad, both of which can come with chicken, shrimp or salmon. There could be a focaccia topped with fontina, asiago, and white trumpet mushrooms. Another focaccia could have Portuguese chorizo and blistered cherry tomatoes. Goin wants to put local seafood into paella rice with aioli and Fresno chile oil. Burgers might include a cheeseburger with “sloppy sauce” and also a turkey quinoa burger. Tacos could be filled with roasted cauliflower, shrimp, or pork leg al pastor.
There won’t be a DJ booth. Goin stresses that this won’t be one those places that blasts EDM while a huge line of cheeseball people wait to enter. She makes the noise of a throbbing baseline to illustrate what she doesn’t want.
“What we’re going for is a little more sophisticated,” she says. “It’s kind of like how the reason Lucques is named Lucques is the Lucques olive. We always imagine this time where it’s 5:30 and the sun’s starting to go down. You’re drinking your rosé and eating those olives, and you’re looking out on something beautiful, and you’re hanging with people you love. It’s like that same sort of vibe. What do you want to eat on the rooftop? You want to eat big salads, some focaccias, albacore sandwiches, and little sorts of nibbly things.”