Allow art at ESMoA to set the mood for a meal in downtown El Segundo

By Christina Campodonico

Images of gooey strawberries or melty butter on corn will make your mouth water at ESMoA’s EAT

You could say ESMoA’s latest art experience EAT is inspired by flavor: sweet, salty, savory and sour.

The front of the exhibit, featuring photos of glistening desserts and ceramic slices of cake, is focused on sweets, while other sections have briny, more bitter overtones. There’s a section devoted exclusively to saltshakers — various shapes and sizes — while a British still life featuring dead fish and lobsters evokes the taste of the sea. L.A. artist Patrick Martinez’s sculpture of a sheet birthday cake honoring the quarter-century celebration of one young man evokes the joy of a birthday cake, but also a bittersweet aftertaste. Its title is morbid: “25 and still alive.”

“This man had a very violent upbringing,” says Holly Crawford, the co-curator of EAT, about the subject of cake portrait. “To make it to 25 is a really, really big deal.”

Neither taste nor flavor were initially the organizing principles of EAT, she says, but the exhibit offers inviting ways to experience food, among them a Filipino-style Sari Sari cart, serving up various snacks during gallery hours, and evocative videos of oozing fruit by Stephanie Sarley that are quite erotic. (Think Georgia O’Keefe’s voluptuous flower paintings, but with grapes or juicy oranges.)

“Yeah, it is sexual, and what I love about it is it’s a reminder of pleasure, like things can be pleasurable and food should be very pleasurable, too,” says Crawford.

Outside the museum’s doors more temptations await; be inspired by the works in ESMoA to guide your dining affairs.

If tempted by Jo Ann Callis’ “Forbidden Pleasures” photos series of decadent desserts, you may want to run out to Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery (225 Main St.) across the street from ESMoA. There you can mix and match cupcakes to fit your mood: Choose the Lemon Drop cupcake if you’re tempted by Callis’ close up of a glistening lemon tart with a whirl of meringue on top, pick the mini-donut topped chocolate vegan cupcake if you’re enamored by her gleaming glazed donut, or select the gluten-free white chocolate raspberry cupcake if you’re vibing with Wayne Thiebaud’s pastel of a yellowy moon pie-like dessert with a red berry on top. (The two are almost mirror images of each other.)

Just like the fork sinking into Joan Takayama-Ogawa’s imagining of a berry-crowned white chiffon cake, you’ll want to dive into Smallcakes’ fruit-laden sangria wine cupcake filled with surprises. Use the plastic pipette peeking out the top to dole out droplets of sweet sangria across this pillowy confection; use a knife and fork to discover its filling of wine-soaked strawberries.

German artist Marco Reichert’s luscious close-up of giant glazed strawberries, “Erdbeerschnitte,” comes to mind while eating this treat, as do the muddled strawberries in Sausal’s strawberry margarita, which you can order at the 219 Main St. restaurant-and-bar neighboring Smallcakes.

The half-moon salt rim hugging this well-mixed cocktail is just the right antidote to a sugar coma, preparing your palate for a zesty dinner. Like the brilliant paint splatters in Wenceslao Quiroz’s East L.A.-inspired images of street food vendors and their wares — ice cream cones or elote — Sausal’s dishes are packed with explosions of flavor and color. Their crispy fish taco is served on a purple tortilla; the chipotle-spiced shrimp diablo is a fiery orange.

Nicole Maloney and Treg Miller’s “EAT II,” featuring an American flag painted on old-fashioned brick with the words “EAT” underneath and French fries scattered over the “E,” would fit right in at the new saloon-themed El Segundo Chophouse (131 W. Grand Ave.), which serves up a “Butcher’s Cut” steak with corn, keeps cowboy boots on its shelves and covers its seat cushions with old blue jeans. Go here if Carole Bayer Sager’s cheekily titled oil of a buttery ear of corn, “Corny,” has your mouth watering.

If you’re taken with the eclectic assortment of tchotchkes and vintage kitchen utensils from the collection of Tania Norris (a pig with a chef’s hat doubles as a rolling pin holder), you can continue the Americana theme at Wendy’s Place (107 W. Grand Ave.). This wood-paneled whole-in-the-wall is quirky and classic, serving up traditional American breakfast fare from fluffy pancakes to steak & eggs. Between the Norman Rockwell prints on the wall and cozy vibe of the restaurant’s red leather booths and chairs, you’ll feel transported to grandma’s kitchen — if, you know, grandma had a diner, too.

If you’re seeking something a tad more sophisticated and find the herbs on Norris’ shelves also appealing, snag a table at the much-buzzed about pasta spot Jame Enoteca (241 Main St.) if you can. The scarpinocc stuffed pasta with braised beef cheek in a heavenly brown butter sage sauce is an herb enthusiast’s delight. The charred Brussel sprouts at Jame (or Sausal) are also very adult choices if you’re feeling the dark and broody moods of the muddy-colored English, German or Dutch still life paintings in the exhibition.

Lastly, you can reenact artist Matthias Gálvez’s depiction of a contemporary Last Supper at Deluca Pasta (225 Richmond St.). The long table at the restaurant’s center can also seat 12 (sorry, Judas) and has a dramatic white tablecloth, making it the perfect setting for a rowdy, but hopefully less back-stab-y, dinner with your loved ones. (Then again, what’s a family dinner without a little drama?)

Deluca’s menu offers dozens of wines to choose from and welcomes you with a bread basket to share. If inspired by the long baguette at the center of Gálvez’s painting, try the restaurant’s signature Grandma Dee’s meatballs panini-style
in a fresh banquette with mozzarella and basil leaves.

Who says you have to stop savoring art after you hit the gallery?

EAT remains on view from 1 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through May 18 at ESMoA, (208 Main St., El Segundo). Free. Call (310) 277-1020 or visit esmoa.org

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