Josef Centeno Leaves Lot 1

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These things happen, but it never gets any easier. Exactly three weeks after our review of Lot 1 hit the newsstand (one of the few unequivocally positive write-ups we’ve felt inspired to do in a while), I hear chef Josef Centeno is leaving. Daily Dish reports that tomorrow will be his last meal service at the small, Echo Park café, and that he won’t be cooking anywhere anytime soon. My feelings are once again unequivocal: this sucks. It’s not often I get so quickly seduced by a restaurant. It was the spot that shouldn’t be, but was—a lauded chef putting out inspired, smart cuisine in a cramped little spot on a less-than-gentrified strip of Sunset Boulevard. That’s what made me like it and also why I’m not surprised to hear it’s gone. Not to write-off the restaurant completely, but I won’t count on them finding a comparable chef willing to work under such bare-bones conditions.

Patric Kuh said it well in his two-star review of the restaurant, out this month:

Compared with Centeno’s highly decorated, heavily staffed operations, Lot 1 comes across as the starter restaurant that might have preceded them. Something about that setup is exciting. There may be little in the way of décor, but there are also no layers of management, no minions to do the chores, no hierarchy—nothing that gets between the talent and the food. …

He might never have expected to land in a joint like Lot 1, but for Centeno, working under such austere conditions is a chance to strip away what is extraneous, rediscover what is important, perhaps even see something new. The modest venue might well be where, without the pressure of ownership, he can articulate what he has to say. …

This, then, is a review of a work in progress. But it is also a review of something fleeting, because Josef Centeno will have that longed-for restaurant of his own one day. For now he is searching for what is essential in his cooking in a ten table spot on a jam-packed sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard.

I hope he found it.