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Let's Do Lunch: LA Market

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There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

Downtown's lunchtime scene is thriving, and when LA Market opened up earlier this year in the JW Marriott at L.A. Live, the stakes went up in the midday meal game. Though LA Market is housed on the main floor of the bustling, shimmery hotel, it attracts a broad clientele, prime for people watching, culled from the conference rooms, area offices, nearby tourist spots, and the neighborhood in general.

Though LA Market is credited to celebrated Chef Kerry Simon, the kitchen on our visit was under the command of Chef de Cuisine Jacob Ramos, who is responsible for sending out the beautifully composed plates of California cuisine that reflect Simon's "rock 'n' roll" approach to cooking. The ingredients aren't brought to the restaurant with the focus on local in the manner that is growing increasingly popular with high-end and high-profile eateries, however the menu is seasonal, and showcases the regional flavors and fusions that have come to be Cali's calling card.

Recently we accepted an invitation to check out lunch at LA Market, where we were able to try selections from all sections of the menu. While some dishes boldly went where no one has gone before--not necessarily with success--others proved to be notable elevations of comfort classics that could easily go on the crave-worthy list of area eaters.

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What really works at LA Market is the burger, which--thanks to its juicy, intensely meaty patty, buttery brioche bun, the sharp-sweet caramelized onions, the coolly mild butter lettuce, and the smoky bacon--can easily catapult itself onto the upper echelon of any burger enthusiast's "best burger" list. The burger is reportedly Simon's favorite plate on the menu, and burgers are poised to become the centerpiece of a new special menu at the restaurant that will take full advantage of what they are doing so well.

On the bolder, braver side was the "Sushi Pizza," a curiosity we couldn't refuse sampling. Creamy wasabi-flavored sushi rice blankets the pizza crust, which is topped with raw tuna, chilled crab, avocado chunks, and cucumber strands, much like a couple of rolls at a fancy sushi joint ran amok in a pizza parlor. The rice is almost pudding-like, or cottage cheese-y, in texture, and has a fun taste, but doesn't marry perfectly with the dough, and the seafood becomes less focal point and more adornment, so that the purity of the crab and the richness of the tuna cubes was lost in the melee. It is, however, a fun conversation piece, so if you are with a group of friends and don't mind splitting the tab to share the dish just to get a taste, it is a quirky dish you aren't likely to spot on another menu.

Speaking of conversations about LA Market, if you watch the Gordon Ramsay shout-fest Hell's Kitchen, this might be where you've heard the name "LA Market" bandied about non-stop. That's because the winner of this current season gets "a job" at LA Market; the scope of the position, to perhaps dash the hopes of the finalists still slogging it out on our television sets, is somewhat limited. They won't be running the show, to be certain--a relief to those who watch the show and understand that it is more about food prep entertainment for semi-skilled kitchen workers than refined chefs moving towards stewardship and a high-profile career. Nary an f-bomb could be heard from the kitchen during lunch, and the pleasant hum of the early afternoon filling the sparkling, expansive space was a welcome companion for the meal.

Other lunch time options from across the menu include a Cali-centric Chop Chop Salad, which is sort of like a Cobb-meets-Mexican-inspired moment. For the purists, a catch of the day-styled option is the "Simply Grilled Fish," which on our visit meant a restrained, elegant portion of Black Cod served with market veggies. Mac 'n Cheese enthusiasts will appreciate their side-dish portion, which is cranked up with the addition of bright spices like paprika and chili powder.

If you managed to save room for dessert, their lunch time options are a little limited; we checked out a nice, but boring pumpkin cheesecake and a double-decker red velvet cake, which made for a sweet finish, but didn't inspire plate-cleaning. The dessert we're heading back to check out at dinnertime, though: The Junk Food Platter. Awww, yeah. Sounds just about perfect after that kick-ass burger.

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