New Team of Chefs & a New Way To Dine at The Fields LA

Not too long ago, dining options near Exposition Park, USC and the California Science Center were a few fast food chains and mom and pop places. Then with the announcement of the 22,000 seat Los Angeles Football Club built by Gensler at L.A.’s Exposition Park, an exciting new food hall and full service restaurant was designed. Attached to the anchoring Figueroa corridor, The Fields LA offers dining opportunities to stadium-goers, locals, tourists, families, museum attendees, USC students and faculty. 

Home to the LA Galaxy and others, the Banc of California Stadium’s dining hall is open daily for lunch, a snack and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

While attending a preview earlier this month, I met with Victoria Frazier, Vice President of Event Sales for a tour of The Fields LA. Standing by the large bar area, she told me the exciting cocktail program is designed by Nick Meyer. There is also a beer garden outside of the stadium offering beer, wine, mixed drinks and boozy shakes. 

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Walking over to the elevated first floor food court, I discovered some of my favorite Los Angeles chefs in front of their counters at the spacious dining area. The first chef I recognized was Timothy Hollingsworth (Otium) at C.J. Boyd’s Fried Chicken. He offers sandwiches with names that include Malibu, East LA, K-Town, Buffalo and Otium. For children he offers Lil Biddie chicken strips, waffle fries and his signature banana pudding with a Nilla wafer.

Next door at Akko Port, the affable Executive chef Roy Ner offered a warm smile while handing me one of his Laffah rolls. He is a star chef in Sydney, Australia with two successful Middle eastern restaurants including ARIA. Taking a bit of his chicken laffah roll, I enjoyed the playfulness of the wrap filled with charcoal eggplant, golden beets, slaw and cultivated yogurt. Other items on his Middle eastern menu include falafel wraps, a smoked hummus bowl with a protein, old school pickles, organic grain and raw root vegetable salads. Staying near downtown Los Angeles, Chef Roy will be making the 14 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles every 10 weeks to introduce new seasonal delights to his menu. 

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Next to these two esteem chefs were two other favorites Jason Fullilove (Barbara Jean) and Shirley Chung (Ms. Chi). Fullilove prepares exciting American soul food that includes Jambalaya, slow cooked BBQ ribs, oyster Po Boy, crawfish mac n’ cheese, and a soul food bowl filled with braised greens, black-eyed peas, a sweet potato latke and bacon on steamed rice.

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Next door Shirley Chung excitedly told me that she will be opening her first restaurant in Culver City before the end of September. Known for her delicious dumplings, she fills them with chicken, shrimp, and pork. She also makes beef with sweet carrot potstickers, and a vegan potsticker filled with spicy tofu. Her noodles include vegetable chow mein, and a chilled glass noodle bowl. Chung offers three different rice plates and specialty tea beverages that include a Milk Tea, Jasmine green tea with fresh chopped peaches, and a signature cheese foam oolong tea.

Taking an elevator with Frazier to the second floor, she gave me a tour of the sit down restaurant and bar called Free Play. It’s Timothy Hollingsworth’s stand alone with a huge bar scheduled to open by October 2018.

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Above this restaurant on the third floor is a large and open rooftop for events. At sunset, the views of USC, Exposition Park, and Downtown were spectacular.

Taking me back down to the ground floor, I enjoyed small plates of shrimp ceviche and fresh shrimp and octopus tostaditas, chips with guacamole and salsa from Coni’Seafood. Connie Cossio of Coni’Seafood imports shrimp, whole fish and other fresh products from Sinaloa and Nayarit to prepare Nayarit-style seafood. She has one brick and mortar traditional Mexican restaurant on Imperial Highway in Inglewood and another on Centinela Ave.

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I met up with Alberto and Lauren Bañuelos at Burritos La Palma. Lauren told me they have a restaurant in El Monte and Santa Ana. Their house specialty Birria burrito with shredded beef was one of the late Jonathan Gold’s favorites. As they handed me one, it looked like a toasted tortilla tube. Taking one bite, I enjoyed the beef stew flavors and understood why Gold loved this beef burrito. They also handed me one of their griddled whole milk cheese quesadillas. “We were saddened to hear about Gold passing away,” said Lauren. “When he came into our restaurant and wrote his review, it brought so many people from all over the world.” She also told me that Alberto was so honored when he received a phone call from Jonathan Gold’s family inviting him to help cater Gold’s funeral. “We made a bean and cheese burrito, Jonathan’s favorite birria de res, and Gold’s son’s favorite burrito chicharrón prensado,” Lauren said.

Nearby another Gold favorite, Al Pastor by the Aqui es Texcoco team had street tacos and mesquite street corn made with cotija cheese, shaved off the cob grilled corn and mayonnaise.

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For sweets, I met Katie Hagan-Whelchel a finalist in the PBS Cooking Under Fire show. She and pastry chef Leah Chin-Katz have Sweet and Savory inside The Fields LA. They sell salads and snacks to go, along with baked item including cupcakes, teacakes, cookies, bars, and eclairs. “Go try our soft serve outside at the beer garden. We have vanilla and salted caramel,” Katie said. Kids can enjoy this cool treat in a cup, while adults can order this soft serve as the key ingredients for the boozy milkshakes for adults.

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Next to Katie’s space was chef Chad Colby offering a casual Piccolo Antico Pizzeria Focacceria. His team was making light, yet thick focaccia crust pizzas and sandwiches reminiscent of the style in Rome, Italy. There was a margarita, pepperoni, tomato pie, white sausage with sage and three meat pie topped with bacon, sausage and salami. His sandwiches on the menu include mortadella, salami, porchetta, sweet poppa and vegetarian ricotta. 

img_93312Before leaving I asked Frazier how these wonderful chefs and owners of restaurants were selected for The Fields LA. She told me “These are the restaurants a lot of chefs dine in when they finish the night in their own kitchen.” She also told me they wanted to provide game day fans, University students, and the broader community with new dining options from a newer generation of popular local chefs. Executive chef Michael Teich will supervise the operation of The Fields LA daily.  $-$$ 3939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News –

Clifton’s Cafeteria Quickly Losing It’s Luster

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

I almost dropped my tray at Clifton’s Cafeteria when I learned that the esteemed chef Jason Fullilove left Clifton’s last Monday!

After a three-year renovation, the new Clifton’s Cafeteria opened with a media blitz a little over one month ago. NPR had a great piece about the beloved spot that originally opened in 1932. When I heard that they acquired Executive Chef was Jason Fullilove, it piqued my interest even more. Fullilove graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, worked with Mark Peel at Campanile and The Tar Pit Restaurant on La Brea. Later, he joined the Patina Group and had a stint at LACMA cooking for special events, large parties, the Pop-up restaurant RED and a creative tasting menu inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film exhibit. Before Clifton’s, Fullilove was the darling of Malibu preparing innovative dishes at The Malibu Pier.

What a great idea! Foodies in LA know about Fullilove, so it will bring a younger generation into the cafeteria. I heard he had to keep many of the beloved food items to attract the locals and regulars who have been dining here for years, yet could add a little magic touch.

The last time my father, born in 1932, visited Clifton’s Cafeteria was 50 years ago. Recently, after attending a Hollywood High School reunion, he was invited to join a group of 80+ year-old men to their once-a-month lunch club. Each month they organize a lunch at one of their old Hollywood or Los Angeles haunts. Clifton’s was scheduled for the November lunch.

Since he isn’t as confident in his driving, as he used to be, I asked him if he would like to do a test-drive with me. I’d sit in the passenger seat and help navigate the 2 Freeway to the 5, then to the 110, and to exit at 6th, and find Broadway. Then we searched the most convenient parking.

I told him that I’ve heard that lines of people went around the block to get into Clifton’s, so I suggested we arrive after the lunch crowd.

Parking is tough downtown during the day. The closest lot was on 6th, just after Broadway for $9.50. We left the keys with the valet, walked up a flight of stairs into an exquisite marble lobby, inside a historic office building. Then we walked outside onto Broadway and down the block to get to Clifton’s. Where were the lines?

(photo by Jill Weinlein)
(photo by Jill Weinlein)

A sweet hostess guided us to the cafeteria and handed us trays to get started. The first item I spotted was a row of Candy Corn colored jello for 35 cents. Wow, now that is a deal! However, that is the only deal. A bowl of pumpkin or chicken soup is $6. Sandwiches are just under $10.

There are multiple stations to wait for roasted meats, hot items, soup and salad, sandwiches and desserts. The people behind the counter looked tired. It looked like the honeymoon period was over for them. Why? It’s only been less than two months?

Gazing over each station I hoped I could spot Chef Jason. When I asked if Chef Jason was here today? One counter person said, “No, he no longer works here.” WHAT???? When I asked what happened and where did he go? With downcast eyes, I was told no one knows.

Another disappointment was trying to get my Dad a glass of water. It didn’t exist! The only ice and water found in the cafeteria is from two fancy Coca-Cola machines. Both were broken. Plastic tubs of ice sat nearby the machines with a huge metal scooper that was too big to scoop and place in a plastic or take-out Coca-Cola glass. It was a mess and people were frustrated. Management tried to help customers scoop ice into their glass, and seemed irked too.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Once we paid for the items on our tray, we searched for a table on the first floor. Upstairs on the second floor had an even more interesting dining room, but without an elevator for the public, we had to walk up a flight of stairs with our trays in hand. Since my Dad needed to hold onto the hand rails, I carried his tray to a really cool area near a massive tree and a glass diorama with a burly buffalo. We sat on Bovine horn and deer antler chairs.

It’s Disney-like with the National History Museum stuffed fox, bear, deer and raccoons nearby. Guests enjoy standing in the trunk of the floor to ceiling tree in the center of the room and surprisingly find a fireplace inside. The long bar with wood stools attracts a crowd seeking an adult Cocktails of California ranging from $12 to $14. Beers on Draft are $6 and $ 7 and wine by the glass range from $10 to $17.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

After eating our lunch (I will say the tuna salad did have a zip to it), we toured the multi-level cafeteria to learn why the “soul” is gone already. Sadly, trays of food weren’t being cleared up quick enough. I talked to some of the staff about Chef Jason’s departure. The responses I received were interesting – The staff could never keep up in the beginning. Instead of a soft opening, they were slammed with two big events. The next day they had to serve 3,000 to 4,000 people. Another employee told me, that some employees worked grave yard shifts to keep up with the demand of prepping, preparing and delivering the food from 10 am. to 10 p.m.

Next, I learned that some of the kitchen help stayed 24/7 and slept on a couch on the upper floors for a few hours, before getting back into the kitchen.

FullSizeRender-76When I asked if they still have long lines? I was told that the quality of the food slipped, because there was never enough time to prepare the food as they would have liked.

I hope management is dealing with these issues, otherwise they will be losing more of their core employees. We all know it costs money to hire, train and keep employees. It seems Clifton’s Cafeteria hired a great group of talented individuals, yet kept them on a treadmill cranked up so high, that a few are exhausted and ready to jump off.

An incurable defect in this multi-story building is there is only one Men’s and Women’s bathroom and it’s down in the basement. Guests have to walk down a flight of steep stairs from the first street-level floor. That’s two floors from the lively bar and whimsical dining room. For older and handicapped people, there are too many stairs at Clifton’s Cafeteria. ( After publication – a bartender from Clifton’s informed me – “I’m sorry your expectations at Cliftons were not met, but I can assure you that over the next few months we wil have lots more amenities, menu choices, and bars. Factually, you’re incorrect about the bathrooms. Two are open now and there will be four more all together when the rest of the bars are open. Thank you!”) Another bathroom is in the beautiful Peacock Lounge, however that was closed the day I dined at Clifton’s.

Without Chef Jason Fullilove at the helm of the kitchen, I’m not sure how this restaurant will fare. Don’t go for the food, it’s good, however through the years with all the restaurants opening downtown, it’s not epicurean.

FullSizeRender-78Families will enjoy the cafeteria experience with their young children. Youngsters under 12 get to pick a prize from a treasure chest. Go explore the artifacts and history of an establishment in Los Angeles that hopefully will solve its problems and rise up in popularity again.

648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014 (213)627-1673.

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