The new Downtown L.A. Proper hotel is hitting the ground running with food-and-beverage partners that have helped define the city’s dining scene.
For this latest lodging launch, Proper Hospitality tapped the talents of The Lucques Group’s James Beard Foundation award-winning food-and-beverage partners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne (A.O.C., Hollywood Bowl Food + Wine, Larder Baking Company). The pair’s first foray into hotel dining opened this month in a reimagined landmark building adjacent to the Fashion District and includes two distinct dining experiences — within settings by designer Kelly Wearstler that blend vintage elements from the property’s historic roots with modern influences.
At the lobby level of Downtown L.A. Proper, signature restaurant Caldo Verde serves Portuguese and Spanish-inspired dishes that Goin and Styne have imbued with Southern California nuances. Aiming to attract both hotel guests and locals, the 2,329-square-foot restaurant features table and banquette seating, as well as an expansive bar and a patio.
At the property’s rooftop restaurant and lounge Cara Cara, which features sweeping and unobstructed views of the city, Goin’s all-day menu is designed to complement the hotel’s rooftop and poolside experience.
The right food and beverage fit
“We had been approached by other hotel groups in the past, but this particular company felt very simpatico with us and our philosophy,” Styne said. “The Proper group approached us a few years back, and we knew that we liked them the minute we met them. This is our first hotel endeavor, and we love being part of the whole experience.”
Some innovative restaurant operators and chefs new to a hotel setting discover challenges in duty as the hotel’s onsite three-meal restaurant for guests. But that is not the case for Goin and Styne.
“We have operated other restaurants in the three-meal format in the past,” Styne noted, “so that part isn’t foreign to us. Though the two restaurants operate as separate venues, the management and staff work like a team together, sharing employees and other resources as necessary.”
But beyond depending on the two restaurants for seated dining, Downtown L.A. Proper supplies its in-room dining menu with items from Caldo Verde’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
“We’ve chosen dishes that not only provide guests a culinary view into the restaurant but also satisfy the cravings of our hotel guests who want to stay in,” Styne said.
And food and beverage for events and catering at the hotel comes from the two restaurants.
Service models drive a ‘constant flow’
The menus in both Cara Cara and Caldo Verde are centered on a small-plates format, as in Goin and Styne’s A.O.C. restaurants, Styne said.
“We love this format of dining, because it gives our guests the opportunity to experience the restaurant in such a broad and exciting way,” she said. “The constant flow of food and wine to the table creates a dynamic rhythm throughout the dining room and gives the whole space a wonderful energy. Our goal for these restaurants is for them to feel like they are free-standing restaurants and not ‘hotel restaurants.’ They just happen to be located in this amazing building.”
Worldly plates grounded with California accents
For the culinary vision for the two new concepts, the restaurant’s creators took a look at the property and let inspiration take its course.
“When Caroline and I first visited the building, I was immediately taken by its Old World vibe and imagined the food from that part of the world,” Goin said. “I had visited Portugal as a teen with my parents, and when I lived on the East Coast, I worked with Portuguese Americans and fell in love with their foods, which are so full of flavor, yet simple in so many ways. We both knew the cuisine, created with ingredients from our California farmers, would be a perfect fit for this historic building and beautiful environment.”
The ties to the area give hotel guests an offer of local flavor onsite. Goin and Styne try to source locally as much as possible.
“Suzanne has always supported local farmers and really focuses her menus around what is seasonally available and served as close as possible to when it was harvested,” Styne explained. “That said, we are bringing in quite a few special Portuguese products, such as spices, cured meats and beautiful cheeses that bring their particular flavor to the menu and allow us to highlight these special items.”
Styne said they estimate an average guest check for dinner at Caldo Verde to be around $60 and at Cara Cara to be $45 to $50. Wines by the bottle start at $40 and go up from there.
Breakfast offerings include specialties such as carnitas and sweet potato hash with green chile and poached eggs, huevos divorciados with black beans and tortillas, and pastries that include strawberry oat scones and monkey bread. The lunch daypart highlights Portuguese chopped salad; market fish with chickpeas, peppers, tomato, green olives and saffron aioli; and tosta mista on bolillo with spigarello, black olives and Fresno chiles.
Weekend brunch features unique takes on favorites such as piri piri avocado toast on grilled pumpernickel, and heirloom potato cakes with smoked salmon and lemon crème fraiche.
Dinner brings shareable dishes such as prawns with heirloom garlic and chile de arbol; stuffed rabbit with morcilla and cavolo nero; braised beef cheeks with avocado crema and green chile; and fried sunchokes with aioli and toasted sunflower seeds. Large plates include the namesake Caldo Verde, the restaurant’s rendition of the traditional Portuguese soup, with local rock cod, mussels, potato and grilled linguiça.
Cara Cara’s dishes include piri piri fried chicken; vegan antipasto with smoked eggplant, beet purée, autumn vegetables and pine nut pistou; seasonal focaccias from the wood-fired oven; tacos; and rustic dishes such as arroz de mariscos.
Styne culls boutique, esoteric wines from small producers in Spain, Portugal and California, and crafts libations for both venues’ extensive cocktail program.
With the launch of the hotel and its restaurants still as fresh as the ingredients they use, Proper and its food and beverage partners still have more on their plates. Later this winter, Proper Hospitality and Goin and Styne will introduce Dalia, an intimate ground-level classic cocktail lounge and bar showcasing small-batch spirits in refined presentations.
Tad Wilkes is former editor of Hotel F&B Magazine, Nightclub & Bar Magazine and other hospitality industry publications.