• Chapter One - California Cafe Cuisine

    post by Lance Lawson


    With the busy holiday season behind us, Jim and I decided to opt for a break in the sun and a holiday out West in Southern California. It seems there has been so much buzz of late about what is going on in Los Angeles. We have read and heard of many new stores and fresh dining spots taking hold in the city. (I mean how many copies of Everything I Want to Eat: SQIRL and The New California Cooking and Gjelina: Cooking from Venice California did we sell last year? A lot.) And we even lost one of our favorite employees when she headed to grad school at UCLA and traded in Logan Square for Silver Lake. So in anticipation of a new project launching later in 2017 we wanted to head West for inspiration and see for ourselves what was going on.

    This week we'll look at experiences exploring the Casual California Cafe food scene. In the coming weeks look for additional posts on stores and new products we found.

    Stop one on the trip - literally - was Gjelina (pictured above) tucked onto an inconspicuous corner on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Within a hour of touchdown we were on the list. Reservations are available online beginning 30 days out - but the pleasant hostess was able to make a late walk-in lunch at the communal table work. Even with all the hype - Gjelina did not disappoint. Although the decor seemed a bit Anthropolgie 2013 the food was solidly on point. Jim began with the most refreshing cocktail composed of Honey, Lemon and Pale Ale. The Swiss Chard Salad was super fresh and creatively composed with Squash and Pumpkin Seeds and the lightly charred Gjencallie Pizza was sublime. And I'm still dreaming of the Smokey Pork Meatballs served with a well grilled slice of their signature bread. The trip was off to a delicious start. Right next door is their take away spot that looked fantastic. The sidewalk outside the restaurant was littered with people eating slices of the most delicious looking pizza.


    The next morning we followed it up with a visit to their sister bakery concept Gjusta a few miles down the road near Venice Beach. This was the first of three visits there - including a frantic final one on the way to LAX where I left with a loaf of Seeded Wheat Sourdough Bread tucked into my carry-on. (I sometimes have issues with food). The spot is in an old warehouse and is unmarked (of course).  About Gjusta Bon Apetit quipped "It's a juice bar-bakery-deli-pizzeria-coffee shop-smokehouse—you get the idea. Is there anything this ambitious, do-everything spot doesn't do well?" Based on my experience - not really. It was all exceptional - from the friendly guys behind the counter to the perfectly yolky Baked Eggs (pictured above) swimming in a spicy red sauce. Jim loved the Biscuit Breakfast Sandwich and we both adored the spot on East Coast Style Bagels served toasted and served with a generous schmear of housemade cream cheese. Our Cafe Con Leches were punctuated with a frothy heart and we too were in love. After you order you have to scout seating at the marble lunch counter or on the back patio and your food is brought to you - but we never ran into any issues. We didn't make it past breakfast this round - leaving lunches and dinners for a future trip.

    Our neighbor friends also recommended another fresh breakfast - lunch - bakery spot located in Venice. It's called Superba Food + Bread and it was also terrific. Here it is sit down service and the bright and happy room is just what you would expect - stylish with a modern easy California vibe. From the Everything Croissant (their take on the seeded Bagel and Cream Cheese Staple) to the Sweet Corn Cookies the baked good were creative and delicious. The Marbled Eggs (pictured) satisfied - spiced and baked topped with torn bread and avocado. Jim's Breakfast Burrito was uber fresh and very California with the addition of Quinoa and Kale. Superba is such a sunny happy spot it makes you wish you lived in the neighborhood. Ironically it is not named for the quality of it's offerings, but instead after a street nearby. A second location is also open in El Segundo.

    Next up a visit to SQIRL in the much hyped hipster mecca of Silver Lake. There we also found a lot of creativity in flavor combinations. Even though we got there just a bit after they opened at 8 the line was already well out the door. Here you wait in line, place your order and scout for seating. The customer to seat ratio is not proportionate - so this is somewhat stressful. We ended up sitting on tiny stools along a miniature counter lining the restaurant's wall. While I get this is their concept it is somewhat obnoxious considering breakfast for three was almost $100 once toast, coffee and tips factored in. But perhaps I am showing my age. The food was solid. Their signature Brioche Toast with house made Jam was comforting. Our breakfast sandwiches were satisfying, But my friend had the most interesting dish - an Asian influenced long cooked Chicken and Rice Porridge with a Poached Egg on top. I think if I had it to do over I would stick to the Toast Menu and Coffee for breakfast and head back to check out the lunch menu. 

    It might be a stretch to categorize my final food highlight as Cafe Cuisine. But it was certainly very California and we did eat it outside. After we were turned away from the very trendy Farmshop at The Brentwood Country Mart (the very impressed with himself host told me that the list was so long that I needn't bother putting my name down) we ventured to the darling shopping mecca's Central Courtyard and had the BEST Burgers and Fries from Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers. Here you order at the window - making your own combination from the extensive list of options - and find a seat at a picnic table. We scored a great one by the fire pit. And my Cheeseburger was perfection - with all my California inspired touches (Monterrey Jack, Avocado, and Grilled Fresh Jalapenos). One taste and my FOMO with Farmshop evaporated. And honestly I think I had maybe had enough high touch baked goods for any one trip anyway.

    That's all for now - check back next week for Installment Two with our take on the LA Retail Scene.




  • Dispatch from Paris Fashion Week

    While fashion is certainly the main draw during Paris buying trips - it seems that the food is all anyone wants to talk about when we return. Perhaps it is because I am so meticulous about every morsel that goes into my mouth over there - hoping not even a crumb will be for naught. This trip we hit our regular faves, a few new places and also stumbled upon a wonderful bakery. 

    ChateaubriandAu Moulin A Vent: Every Saturday night we spend in Paris includes dinner at this not to be missed spot in the Latin Quarter. Opened in the 1940s, little has changed in the classic neighborhood gem. The crusty waiter's apron's are well starched and the menu is full of all the classics which brought you Paris in the first place. And as you are tucked shoulder to shoulder into one of their long banquettes it's fairly certain that someone beside you will be Parisian - a welcome endorsement. This trip it was a chic mother celebrating her 50th birthday with her husband and three twenty-something daughters. However do not fret - the restaurant also has a healthy population of in-the-know tourists and English is freely spoken here. Classics like Escargot in Garlic Butter and Salad Lyonnaise are a great place to start. But it is the restaurant's signature Chateaubriand which is not to be missed. Served with your choice of sauces (I love the Brandy Mustard version in the picture) and to-die-for fried cubed potatoes (I'm still dreaming of them) it is a plat-de-force. Wine is affordable and if you're lucky the Maître D' will send you on your way with an apple brandy "for your warmth."  Reservations Required.

    Allard: We have been coming here on and off for the past ten years - it was first recommended by an ex-pat friend who lived around the corner in Saint Germain de Pres. Recently Alain Ducasse took the helm of this 80 year French Neighborhood Gourmet Bistro - tuning it up without ruining any of it's cozy charm. Also drawing a mix of tourists and locals alike,  Allard is all about french comfort food - with a menu which began with a mother's family recipes later passed down to her daughter in-law. The spot also holds a tradition of female head chefs which continues to this day. The Duck with Green Olives is a stand-out - as is the Roasted Chicken - both of which are served for two in copper roasting pans. I am particularly obsessed with the bread service where hardy slices are served up from a cart with mounds of room temp butter. Also the seasonal vegetable starters are a great bet - this last visit it was perfectly trimmed Asparagus served with Bernaise. The prices on the wine list seem out of step with the well-priced menu. Don't be steered into a $100+ bottle - instead opt for a lesser priced Bordeaux and you can't miss. Reservations can me made via their web site.

    Kunitoraya Bistro Udon: Sunday nights can be hard in Paris as most restaurants are closed - many of them on Saturdays as well. Also after a few days of eating rich French Classics, by day four we are ready for a pallet change. This is why after finishing up a long day of buying appointments we happily cue up for a casual Japanese meal at Kunitoraya. Some might scoff at eating Asian food in Paris - but then they are missing the point. All food is taken very seriously by Parisians - including that found in small ethnic enclaves like the Japanese area adjacent to the Palais-Royalle. At this spot the Udon is made by hand daily and dropped into a silky smooth stock which simmers for days. But the stand out here is the Shrimp Tempura. While waiting in line for a table you can observe the magic of the Japanese chefs tenderly filleting shrimp, lightly battering them, and then frying just so. Get an order, served with seasonal tempura veggies, as a starter. It is not to be missed. Kirin draft is the way to go here - service is brisk and effective. For sure ask for an English Menu and point - as the servers here only speak Japanese and French and it is easy to get confused (i.e. all the soups can be ordered hot or chilled). We try to get there before the line forms for the 7:00 pm dinner opening. But even if the cue is long, don't be deterred - it moves quickly. It was in fact the line which initially attracted me to this place. Lines are generally terrific casual restaurant barometers. No reservations - open for lunch and dinner.

    le servanLe Servan: This trip we visited this spot in the mostly residential Voltaire. It was our first time there after seeing it show up on many top Paris Foodie lists. I always love to go where the locals go and we were for sure the only Americans in the lively dining room that night. The restaurant is a co-creation of two sisters - Tatiana (chef from L'Arpege & L'Astrance) and Katia (sommelier and hostess) Levha. The menu is farm to table French with light Asian influences. We enjoyed a delicious starter salad featuring Jerusalem Artichokes and another with a perfect soft boiled Scotch Egg. Our shared entree was a Whole Sole which was masterfully cooked, presented to us, and then filleted in the kitchen and finished with small golden potatoes and a light lemon butter sauce. The freshness the ingredients was readily apparent in every bite. Desserts were also well executed - especially memorable a Salted Camel Custard Tart. The wine list is all organic. The friendly co-proprietor steered us to a crisp Appellation Savennieres which was perfectly suited for the meal. As we crawled into the uber back to hotel we for sure felt like we'd had a terrifically authentic Parisian night-out. Reservations Recommended - Counter/Bar Seats Available.

    Du Pain et Des Idees: As often is magically the case in Paris - in a hungry moment you stumble upon a tiny neighborhood gem. It's one of life's wonderful cliches. This time we were famished - exiting a trade show late in the afternoon. And then, miraculously in front of us - almost like a hunger induced mirage, was this Bakery. The outside looked like it had been created by Walt Disney for a 1920s movie set. And inside it was just as charming. As we waited in the line we chose the sweet and savory baked goods which would compose our lunch. Sadly, places like this make you yearn to be a Parisian so you could buy bread there every day. The huge loaves all stacked in bins by the register. But as tourists we were happy to settle for still warm Yeast Rolls filled with Cheddar and Bacon or Fresh Herbs and Goat Cheese. A bright green Pistachio Croissant was also a part of the mix - every ingredient in perfect proportion.  As was the case with the "Escargot" or snail shaped pastry filled with sweet cheese. There is no spot to dine in - but happily there is a large communal picnic table outside for those who can't quite make it all the way home. Since coming back to the states I have learned that the bakery uses only organic flour. And that the perfect mise-en-scene is likely the result of the fact that the founding baker is a former fashion executive. Trust me - this place is well worth a trip up near The Republic. If you need a tide me over until your visit be sure to check out their web site - where the soundtrack is a feed of people being helped at the counter. And note well - they are closed on the Weekend.

  • Plant Planet Installation at SPACE 519

    Upon a recent scouting trip to Brooklyn we came across the work of Los Angeles based artist Claire Nereim. When we first spotted her work we found ourselves instantly drawn to the calculated simplicity and bold color contrast of her botanical prints. This is especially apparent in the Poison print - with its dark pallet and ironic beauty.

    An acclaimed fine artist, Claire lives and works in Los Angeles. Born in Chicago in 1981, she received her BA from Oberlin College and her MFA from CalArts in 2011. In her work she investigates conventions of making meaning, and the relationship between art, design, and the body. Plant Planet is her way of delivering art in an affordable and accessible manner.

    We also love the fact that Claire makes all of the prints by hand in a small screen-printing studio in her apartment. And they are all printed on recycled paper with non-toxic inks. However the "green-ness" of her process in no way diminishes the final output. The color in the prints is striking and the paper feels gorgeous. 
    These works of art are priced to be an affordable gift. Wouldn't you love to receive these flowers as a host present?. The prints work equally well in many different design settings. Their abstract nature makes them feel very modern. Yet the colors and subject matter  lend themselves to a traditional settings as well. What a great way to perk up a kitchen wall or integrate some joy into the decor of your lake house.
     Swing by the shop and see all the prints in the installation. They are all in stock and  range from $45 to $195. The prints are also available in a framed and matted version for an additional cost.
  • Alasdair Fall 2016 Now In-Store

    Alasdair Fall 2016

    Preview the new Fall lineup from Alasdair here. In store now!

  • Get Through the Dog Days of Summer & Look Like a Fox.

    "So you’ve got your look nailed down all year long. The super-chic outfit day in & day out; the envy at the office with the side glances in line at Starbuck’s. Until . . .it jumps above the refreshing 75-degree mark, and the humidity comes creeping around to make you just that extra bit uncomfortable. Suddenly you're confused and in danger of heading from a fashion hero to hot messy zero."

    "You're off your game and mistakes happen. So you reach for that burst of color, that sheer piece, or that “should I be wearing something this short” dress. What to do?"

    "Let’s go over some suggestions for getting through the dog days of summer while looking like a fox."

    1 - Don't be drawn into wearing color when it isn't you.  I think black in summer is SO chic. You just have to make sure the fabric is light, say linen, cotton or gauze. Take your favorite silhouettes and find them in a summer friendly black fabrication.

    For the store I brought in a shrunken, fitted blazer by Majestic Filatures in a cool linen, with a cotton jersey back and sleeve, and I love it back to a Studio Nicholson black cotton A-line skirt. So easy!....

    2 - Embrace nautical. Blue is the new black, at least for three months… We adore navy, white and chambray all year round - but in summer these colors can be a lifesaver! A simple chic navy shift dress can ease all the, “I must wear color” anxiety. Or try one of our new nautical Orcival tee's - paired with a full skirt or loose pant - you'll be channeling Chanel on vacation in the South of France.

    One of my favorites pieces this season is by Harvey Faircloth - a silk navy dress with dual zippers, AND it can take you way into the fall!

    3 - Don't be fooled by the "fall" in "pre-fall." Shop Pre Collections. These days a designer looks to put out a staggering four to five collections a year. Summer can be my favorite delivery window, as many of the pieces are in fact wear-now. Designers are following the fashion migration towards immediate gratification. At SPACE 519 you'll find pieces coming in right now which will easily bridge summer to fall. 

    Rachel Comey does a fantastic job on bridging the gap between seasons. I love her light weight fabrics used in fuller breezy silhouettes.

    4 - Although the summer weather seems to be short in length - your hem line need not be. Reach for fuller skirts in light weight fabrics. They give you and easy airy look. And a cropped jean is a great way to go short and not look like a Kardashian (who may have left her pants at home).

    We are loving the Frame cropped boot cut right now - it feels fresh and dressed.

    5 - Bring color into your wardrobe with accessories and make-up. A fresh fun colorful necklace, or a clutch in a bright hue signals summer without screaming it. Similarly lighten up your cosmetics. A great way to do this is to take your face oil and mix it with a dab of concealer and suddenly you have a dewy tinted moisturizer. 

    Lizzy Fortunato's pieces make you feel like you are on vacation all year round They are a great addition to any warm weather look. And the aesthetic has just that hint of 1980s Miami that will also make you feel super cool.  

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