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.