Alta: Dining Review

Alta_Inset - THR - H 2019
Damon Casarez
Soul food with an assured Californian POV.

A powerhouse restaurateur teams with a first-time head chef to bring Californian soul food to L.A.'s West Adams.

Alta Adams, the modern soul food spot that opened in October just east of Culver City in West Adams, carries a weight not experienced by any other big-league rookie restaurant in L.A. Like the acclaimed Red Rooster in Harlem, Alta must be sensitive to the gentrification anxieties of its immediate neighbors. Meanwhile, it has to entice the capricious crowd of destination diners from across the Westside. Foremost, though, it's got to secure the loyalty of the neighborhood and the deep-pocketed residents of nearby Baldwin Hills, aka the "black Beverly Hills."

So far, Alta is pulling it off, its pair of honeyed rooms welcoming a convivial, multiracial troop listening to '90s R&B (Mark Morrison, TLC) and debating the merits of If Beale Street Could Talk over black-eye pea fritters and corn bread. It's a scene seemingly awaiting a tender skewering by Issa Rae's Insecure.

Alta owner Daniel Patterson — the acclaimed chef and prolific restaurateur best known for San Francisco's three-Michelin-starred Coi — discovered chef Keith Corbin at Locol, Patterson's fast-casual healthy food experiment in Watts with Roy Choi that received the late Jonathan Gold's 2017 Restaurant of the Year Award but was shuttered in August. Corbin, who grew up in South L.A.'s housing projects and did a stint in state prison for armed robbery, started there as a line cook in 2015. (Several other members of Alta's staff are Locol alumni as well.) Now he's making the most of his first starring role.

Corbin's self-styled "California soul food" is a fully formed vision: decidedly light, notably bright and unyielding in its insistence on stellar produce. There's delicately refined crispy fried chicken. Shrimp arrives with impeccably seasoned grits. A small side of candied yams — sliced ultra-thin, reminiscent of an apple tart — is totally in tune with its spiced pecans. Jalapeno juice electrifies a pork chop. This overdue reformation of a cuisine that has for far too long been stultified by the weight of tradition — and, worse, the convenience of processed ingredients — makes Alta a conceptual cousin in heritage innovation to Freedman's, the nouveau-Jewish deli in Silver Lake, one of the city's other top restaurant arrivals of 2018.

To be sure, there still are several question marks: shaky moments of execution (too-salty rice accompanying oxtail), an anemic dessert roster (capped by dry coconut cake) and a couple of dishes that require a rethink (the spiced plantain chips). But these are hiccups, not deterrents. Corbin is a talent putting West Adams on L.A.'s competitive culinary map.

5359 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-571-4999.
Full bar; Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Recommended: Shrimp and grits ($18), fried chicken ($22), collard greens ($6)
Best table: Four-top in main dining room with view of the kitchen, bar and street.

This review is based on multiple visits. Reservations are made under another name. Meals are covered by THR.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.