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Tea-Infused Cocktails And Fresh Israeli Fare At Downtown's New Freehand Hotel

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It's clear by now that Los Angeles is having an Israeli moment. The Mediterranean/Middle Eastern country's cuisine overlaps perfectly with the produce, climate, and lifestyle of Southern California, and its timing as the "It" food during L.A.'s rise in the culinary world seems to suggest that, for esteemed chefs in Los Angeles, Israeli food has become their latest platform for experimentation and self-expression.

But the nation's cuisine has not been simply reproduced and pushed back onto the plates of Angelenos. Instead, L.A. has been doing what it does best: integrating the ingredients and flavor combinations into its larger melting pot. And no restaurant in Los Angeles is a better exemplifier of this ethos at the moment than The Exchange, which has landed downtown at the new Freehand hotel.

For starters, the chef behind The Exchange is Los Angeles-born Alex Chang, whose ancestry is part Chinese and part Mexican.

“When I say it’s Israeli-inspired food, but our chef is Mexican-Chinese, everybody responds, ‘That’s L.A. It’s perfect for L.A.,’” Gabe Orta, one of the partners behind The Exchange, told Food & Wine in May. “It kind of describes what downtown L.A. is. It’s a mix of different cultures and flavor profiles.”

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Orta, who is Colombian-born, and his longtime business partner, Elad Zvi, an Israeli, are the force behind Bar Lab, a national high-end bar and restaurant group. The company is responsible for Miami's perennial favorite, Broken Shaker (winner of two James Beard awards and named as one of the "World's 50 Best Bars" three years in a row). This August, Broken Shaker's new L.A. location will drop at the Freehand. Bar Lab (partnering with the Sydell Group, hotel's owner that will debut downtown's new NoMad Hotel later this year) is also responsible for bringing The Exchange and Rudolph's—a concept bar—to the same space (both The Exchange and Rudolph's are already open to the public).

That's a lot to wrap your head around. But it's obvious that The Exchange—named for the Commercial Exchange building, and the electric signage beautifully restored along the northwestern corner of the building—is the hotel's culinary anchor. As The Freehand notes, the "menu at The Exchange explores the multi-cultural flavors of urban LA through an Israeli lens—incorporating flavors and practices from Chang’s Asian and Mexican background, with a strong focus on local produce."

“The menu is split into two sections, so it will be salatim [sa-la-TEEM, Hebrew for 'salads' or 'appetizers'] and then plates,” Chang informed Food & Wine.

Could you build a meal out of just the salatim? Absolutely. Would you be happy ordering just an entree? Yes. Would you be wise to order a mix? Definitely. The Arabic salad is one of the more traditional salatim—the fresh slices of tomato and cucumber requiring little more than some olive oil and black pepper to burst with flavor. The beet salad, dressed with goat cheese, peppercorn, and mint, is another dish packed with items highlighting the supremacy of Los Angeles' local produce. For main plates, an order of pargiyot (grilled chicken cutlets) is served on a skewer over a carrot mole sauce and a side of yogurt. The sweet potatoes are served with a charred skin, complementing the interior sweetness, and an almond "cream" sauce to balance the two.

All of this is to be consumed in The Exchange's retro-chic dining room (the space looks like a cross between mid-century South American modernism and a 1970s living room) designed by Roman & Williams. Macrame'd wall-hangings and ceramic tchotchkes adorn the place, giving you a feeling that you're at once at Grandma's house and inside a Silver Lake Shaman's fever dream.

As for the libations, Rudolph's is a sophisticated and inventive compliment. Named for the man who developed the Commercial Exchange building in 1924—Rudolph Rosenberg—the bar centers on "a menu built around tea-infused cocktails, vintage spirits, and light bites," notes the Freehand.

The "Romance In Durango" infuses tequila, mezcal, and mole bitters, with ginger and hibiscus tea. The result—understated, yet delicious—is served in a traditional Mexican mug, topped with saffron strands and aloe leaves. Meanwhile, the "North African Old Fashion" combines bourbon and rum with black vanilla tea and North African spices.

Certainly, with all the options available, the Freehand is poised to be one of the major hubs of nightlife in downtown L.A. Not that we were facing a shortage of it in the first place.

Rudolph's is open daily from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m., with food served until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and until 11 p.m. otherwise. The Exchange is open for dinner Mondays through Thursdays, and on Sundays from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays until midnight. Breakfast and lunch hours vary. Both are located in the Freehand Hotel at 416 West 8th Street in downtown Los Angeles. (213) 612-0021

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