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Heavy Reading for Healthy Eating: "Clean Plates" Guide to L.A.

The "Clean Plates" guide to L.A. (Lindsay William-Ross/LAist)
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The Clean Plates guide to Los Angeles was released last week, and the timing is probably no coincidence; though they missed the "stocking stuffer" season, the book is poised to be prime fodder for any Angeleno embarking on a "new year, new you" kind of mission. The slim tome sets out to be your guide "to the healthiest tastiest and most sustainable restaurants" in town. (They're so light, they left out those fattening commas, too!)The concept of eating clean, meaning to eat whole, fresh, and locally sourced food, is as old fashioned as eating itself, however in our post-industrial era (may I say that? please?) the concept has been deemed a movement and been given renaissance status. Yet its principles elude most of us who are slaves to the grind, who opt for convenience over quality, who eat from boxes and plastic wrap in bags in our cars. Sigh. And we eat at restaurants...all the time! We need help!

The government saw to it we got help if we dine at chain restaurants, thanks to the calorie counts on those shiny big menu boards. So what about the rest of us, who happen to think eating clean also means not eating at big chains, who use commercial distributors to get you your microwaved plate of whathaveyou? This is where the Clean Plates guide should help.

The L.A. guide has managed to whittle down the dining out playing field to just about 100 restaurants (most of them on the pricier side) that fulfill their criteria (a nearly 2-page list) of being the whole package, from atmosphere to the kind of salt they use, with a focus on health and sustainability. Author Jared Koch admits they did not get every L.A. eatery on their master list, nor on their final cut, but Koch promises their website offers room for more listings.

The listings are intense, with in-depth criticism a page long for each restaurant. Symbols in the margin indicate what key criteria the eatery meets--for a whopping 55 locations, curiously, it's merely that it's a meat-centric menu (here's to our health!) which suggests maybe their icon system isn't all that helpful. The descriptions are detailed and insightful, if just a touch in the food blogger vein, i.e. highly personalized, use the "we" voice, and conclude with sweeping, summarizing thoughts ("We can't wait to go back!" or "Count me in!" or "There's no better place on the Westside for a fine Italian meal.") by food writers you've never heard of. It's heavy reading for a restaurant guide.

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Additionally, prior to the listings is a hefty sixty-ish page section on how to use the book, and a "Design Your Own Diet" section that covers five precepts about eating. It's intense, guys. But it's also really helpful, especially if you are just dipping your toes into the rough waters of clean eating and are looking to cut out processed crap from your life. In that sense, the book provides a great service--but likely a service that is "preaching to the choir." If you are looking for a guide to the healthiest restaurants in L.A. you may already know that information. And if you already know that information, you may (sorry!) already know how to discern if a restaurant-or better, a menu--fits your requirements. Koch jokingly suggests you buy two copies, one for home and one for work, but there's really no need for that, yikes.

Still, there is much merit to the guide, as a at-your-desk or in-your-glovebox or in-your-backpack reference to help you get better acquainted with a small selection local restaurateurs and chefs who are serving good, clean food. (LA Weekly's Squid Ink takes a quick look at a few of the places the guide left out.)

Like a healthy meal that packs a lot of nutrients into a small portion, the Clean Plates guide to L.A. deceptively disguises excellent information about healthy and sustainable eating practices with insight into popular chefs and restaurants in Los Angeles, as a compact guide to where to eat here. If you've got some time to make sense of it and are ready to make some changes, this could be your new passport to dining out in Los Angeles.

Read an interview with Jared Koch about the launch of "Clean Plates" in Gothamist.