By now everyone’s heard of the Condé Nast cafeteria, soaring above 42nd Street with its jazzy Frank Gehry architecture, high-school-reminiscent seating patterns and utter embarrassment of custom-catered gourmet foods. But where does Condé Nast’s not-insignificant number of West Coast editors fill their ploughman’s lunch pails? It’s not all Graydon at Morton’s, you know.
The company occupies the 10th, 11th and 12th floors of 6300 Wilshire Boulevard, a large, Soviet-style building situated along Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile. Alas, the dining options within walking distance fall somewhat short of miraculous-or, as one staffer put it, “We’re kind of in a food low-fly zone here.”
Of course, there’s the famous Farmer’s Market on Fairfax Avenue and West Third Street “in the neighborhood” (a 15-minute walk, across treacherous intersections), not to mention Fred Segal (a sort of deconstructed, sprawling Barneys with a pleasant café) a mere 1.93 miles away on Melrose. The smarter desk set-mindful that one could return from a late lunch only to find the entire New York office has vamoosed for the day-ventures no further than the Garden of Eating, a.k.a. G.O.E. Cafe, a snack bar in the lobby of 6300 Wilshire, or across the street to Caffe Latte, a lace-curtained restaurant sandwiched between a liquor store and a Wireless Mart in a nondescript strip mall.
No one is going to confuse the Garden of Eating with the Ivy, O.K.? The lunch menu has an entire category called Inexpensive Stuff (bring your own plate and utensils)-here you’re plumbing the sticky, uncertain contours of the $2.95 quesadilla. A few dollars more and the full blast of SoCal plenitude gets churned onto your plate-all those nourishing clichés: the Thai chicken wraps with two different varieties of lettuce, the “healthwiches” with their little carrot sticks on the side like piles of twigs, the protein-powder-dusted smoothies (20 oz. of blended joy). “They have a tuna salad that I’m obsessed with,” said one editor, adding that she found the Gehry cafeteria back East “overstimulating … I can’t handle it.”
A recent late-afternoon Friday visit to G.O.E. unearthed some unfortunately gloppy-looking corn chowder and a décor just north of McDonald’s, including sticky red leatherette booths. “It’s no Condé Cafe, that’s for sure,” said Kelly Atterton, the West Coast editor of Allure . “Whenever I go to the New York one and hear the people complain, I’m always like, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to hear it.” Jessica de Ruiter, an assistant in Vogue ‘s West Coast offices and a vegetarian, said she finds herself wearily ferrying back a lot of avocado sandwiches. “No one really sits in there and eats,” she said. “You usually just get your food and take it up to your desk.” Socializers, smokers and sun-worshippers can haul their G.O.E. fare to a small patio behind the building overlooking the parking lot. On the way back, one might stop for a $18 mani-pedi at Hair Designs on Wilshire, a salon in the lobby. They don’t have that at 4 Times Square, toots!
Ms. de Ruiter used to work at W , Vogue ‘s slightly homelier cousin at Fairchild (like Condé Nast, owned by Advance Publications) which also has an outpost-one floor only-at 6300 Wilshire. “The W people eat a lot at Garden of Eating,” she said. “I never knew about Caffe Latte until I came upstairs to Vogue . It’s hidden away in the ugly strip mall. I couldn’t believe it, ’cause I walk by it every day, and I was like, ‘Oh, thank God.'”
The thing to order at Caffe Latte is one of the $10-range “Meal Salads,” perhaps the raspberry chicken or the warm spinach with shrimp-“It’s not like New York, where you have to apologize when you get a salad,” said one Condé Nast editor-or the “Pasta Mama,” fresh pasta scrambled with eggs but, freakishly, no butter or oil. The warm, fresh poppyseed muffins come gratis, and the manager, Andy Lee, treats each customer like Si Newhouse himself.
Despite-or perhaps because of- Caffe Latte’s cozy, clattering, slightly midtown-Manhattanish vibe, it’s been a popular place for interviews with up-and-coming young actors over the years; page through back issues of GQ or whatever and you’re apt to find a lot of “‘Blah blah,’ said James Franco, digging into his Pasta Mama at Caffe Latte”-as if the place were some kind of hot spot or scene (though to its credit, Tyra Banks apparently visited recently).
Lisa Love, the senior West Coast editor of Vogue and an 18-year Hollywood resident, had kind words for the restaurant’s black-bean burger with roasted Anaheim green chilies. “Most good restaurants in L.A. are in strip malls,” she said. “It’s kind of sad.”
What does she think of the mother ship’s storied canteen back East?
“The Condé Nast cafeteria in New York is always so crowded,” Ms. Love said, “and I have a really hard time with the tray, so I go for the things in a cup.”
The Feng’s the Thing
Gary Heidt co-wrote the book and music for Feng Shui Assassin , a musical comedy about a feng-shui-obsessed man who lives in his closet so he can sublet two bedrooms in his cramped apartment. It will be performed at West 52nd Street’s Medicine Show Theater on Friday and Saturday nights from March 7 to 22. We asked Mr. Heidt a few questions the other day.
O.K., we’ve heard so many explanations but still don’t totally get it. What the hell is feng shui?
To the ancients, it was the art of maintaining the proper circulation of the life force, known as chi , through the domicile and the village. Nowadays, it operates on the same principle as Madonna’s bottled Kabbalah water.
Why would you want to kill someone for having poor feng shui?
We don’t want to kill anyone. We want to save lives by drawing attention to the little-known fact that feng shui, in the wrong hands, can disable, cripple and kill-even the tiniest tchotchke, wielded with nefarious purpose, can be deadly.
What about killing someone for having a lava lamp, a Robert Doisneau poster and a futon on the floor?
A lot of people don’t realize this, but that’s exactly what happened to Wilhelm Reich.
What’s in your apartment?
There’s this funny guy with a beard and a dialysis machine who showed up here a year or so ago and keeps borrowing my cassette recorder. Other than that, I have a magnificent collection of Hummel figures, a futon on the floor, a lava lamp and some really classy Vargas posters.
What would happen if we dropped you in a Pottery Barn?
In terms of the physics, it really depends on the altitude from which you dropped me. It would probably involve potsherds.
Toilet seats are apparently important in feng shui-are you an up or a down man?
I’m really glad you asked, because many people are suffering right now because they don’t realize that if one is born in the Year of the Boar, also known as the Pig, one must remove the seat entirely and squat. As a Dog, I prefer hydrants.
-Anna Jane Grossman