DTLA’s Camphor Wants Patrons to Get Lost in Spice

Two accomplished chefs wanted their tony French restaurant, Camphor, to transport diners to a glamorous, far-away place—Paris maybe? South India? Wherever, you won’t find flavors like these anywhere else in L.A.
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The main plan for this restaurant was to transport people,” says Max Boonthanakit, of the new Arts District bistro, Camphor, that he opened with Michelin-starred chef Lijo George. “Bistro” is an understatement, given the restaurant’s stunning minimalist interior and exquisitely prepared dishes, though Camphor is, at its core, a French bistro, however lofty and futuristic, where plump oysters are served in a bath of amaretto mignonette and the beef tartare comes with a side of tempura-fried herbs. 

When guests enter the sleek, white-walled dining room, they’re met by hosts and servers dressed entirely in white. The feeling is tranquil and transportive, even a little disorienting—is this Los Angeles or Paris? Some tables are laden with steak au poivre and small cast-iron pots piled with frites. What appears to be a chocolate souffle floats on a tray through the dining room; in fact, it’s a chocolate meringue atop hazelnut ice cream, with marshmallows and toasted hazelnuts. Maybe Paris?

Boonthanakit, known locally for his work at the now-shuttered Nightshade and his famous chili crisp Boon sauce, and George, met in 2020 while working at Alain Ducasse’s Blue in Bangkok. With Camphor, the two aim to bring something completely new to L.A.—that is, something distinctively not L.A. 

“We were just trying to create our own flavor identity,” Boonthanakit says. “Because once you open up a restaurant anywhere in the world, you’re forced to use the ingredients that everyone else is using in the vicinity.” This is George’s first U.S. restaurant, and when he arrived in the city from abroad, Boonthanakit made a point of not taking him to the many wonderful restaurants in Los Angeles. “It was kind of beautiful to bring Lijo straight into the restaurant without trying foods from other places—just to keep ourselves focused.” 

Regardless of the influence Los Angeles may or may not have on the two chefs’ cooking, Camphor’s access to the spices from George’s southern Indian homeland makes it stand out. “Every restaurant here has spices in their pantry,” Boonthanakit says, “but they don’t have spices from Kerala. They don’t have cardamom that smells like our cardamom. So our recipes will taste different, no matter what.”

923 E. 3rd St., Ste. 109, downtown, camphor-la.

FRUITS DE MER (PHOTO COURTESY ALICIA CHO)

Other New & Notable 

Bar Maruno, Silver Lake
Osteria Mozza alums Chris Feldmeier and David Rosoff have revived their much-lauded tapas spot, this time in Silver Lake. Meals typically start with Iberian tinned fish and are best paired with playful martinis.
3705 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, barmoruno-la.com

Mes Amis, Hollywood 
With nods to Paris and Lyon by way of the nearby Hollywood Farmers’ Market, acclaimed chef Lincoln Carson creates a lively environment with upscale brasserie food and cocktails.
1541 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood, mesamisla.com.

N/soto, West Adams
The pop-up from N/naka duo Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama, serving izakaya-inspired small plates (below) and mains like miso-baked bone marrow, now has a permanent home in West Adams.
4566 W. Washington Blvd., West Adams, n-soto.com.

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Los Angeles.

(Illustrated by Justin Metz)
(Illustrated by Justin Metz)

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