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Chinatown bookstore offers curated local and global culinary knowledge

In the sixth installment of her column “Bookmarked,” Daily Bruin columnist Clea Wurster went to Now Serving LA, a bookstore centered around cookbooks and culinary-themed books. (Niveda Tennety/Daily Bruin)

By Clea Wurster

May 7, 2018 11:08 p.m.

Los Angeles is home to a multitude of specialized bookstores, from those oriented toward horror and mystery to others with more practical focuses, like cookbooks. Follow columnist Clea Wurster as she explores the many niche literary interests the city accommodates.

The secret behind every LA hotspot seems to be a charming Instagram page.

And Now Serving LA, a specialty cookbook store curated by and for chefs, has certainly figured that out.

As I scrolled through the shop’s chic photos of books and endearing shots of author signings, I began to form an idea of what it might look like before ever stepping foot inside. My only hope was that the brick-and-mortar shop would be just as cute and impressive in person as it seemed online.

When I arrived in Chinatown, I felt a bit nervous as Google Maps announced my destination would be on the left – when I glanced out the window, I saw only small shops with plants and produce, typical of any good Chinatown street. After parking and making my way back down a few blocks, my stomach turned and I was worried I had dragged myself and a photographer all the way across the city to be let down.

Only after stepping into a cute Taiwanese restaurant and asking sheepishly for some directions was I able to locate Now Serving LA. The entrance was nondescript, featuring only their simple logo and some tote bags in the window with screen-printed images of Chinatown.

The store itself was dimly lit; thick woven baskets housed the lights and indie-folk music streamed from the back room. The floors were minimalist, made of cement, and the shelving, constructed of light wood, embodied a similarly low-key vibe.

Though incredibly small, the selection seemed like the result of high standards and a very specific vision. At first, I felt disconcerted by the seemingly disorganized shelving, but after inspecting the titles, I realized it was all carefully crafted. One section covered pastries, breads and baking while shelves across the store organized their books more geographically.

Plenty of books caught my eye, and I browsed for quite a while, dreaming of a future kitchen that would free me from dining halls and make such books more necessary. Many of the books indicated an appreciation for simplicity, which I could respect. Titles like “Simple Fare” and the “Art of Simple Food” had me wanting to ditch dairy and commit myself to a yoga-filled life of meals constructed solely of whole grains and clean veggies.

On the middle table, many localized cookbooks offered recipes for LA-centric food. The stacks even included a nice selection of books on drinks – one with a lime green spine called “The Gin Dictionary” contained all the information you could possibly need about juniper berries.

Below the shelving I found display cases housing expensive cookware: a spoon that was $65 and a cutting board priced at $235 seemed a bit over-the-top, and I began to wonder if the shop was really that cute, or just pretentious. But after chatting with the woman at the register about the idea behind the store and its offerings, it proved to be a well-stocked and quaint selection. Though expensive, the items were high quality and hand-selected by the owner for his customers.

While I initially hit a few rough patches with Now Serving LA, the journey across town was well worth it. After browsing, I couldn’t say no to either a guide detailing the best coffee around the globe nor to a perfect gift for Mother’s Day: a collection of LA-specific recipes.

Though a little out of the average student’s price range, the store fulfilled all my expectations – and when I need more cookbooks, I’ll be back.

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