I admit to prejudgment upon walking into Masa. My thoughts: "Oh, no. This decor. Saffron walls and flowers and oak chairs and peeling-paint rustic furniture and wine list and loud tablecloths. This means it's another gentrified bistro wishing it was French, 'rated' by 'Zagat' and 'blithely' 'ignoring' its own 'neighborhood' until nicer people move in."
I am wholly, utterly, shamefully wrong.
The people are wonderful. Masa is aware of its history and its locale, even the businesses that existed in this spot back to the '20s. It knows and loves Echo Park without a sense of exclusion.
The seating is casual, as if a restaurant quietly grew around a bakery counter and coffee bar. They make their own dough here, use organic local produce, and import what they need to make the Chicago-centric part of their menu. You may be seated near Echo Park local personage Miss Judy.
The Parmesana Panini is bigger than expected, layered under neutral but harmonious butter-slicked bread. If this was by itself with some pasta, it would already be a paragon of Chicken Parmesania. The chicken is superbly done, thoughtfully seasoned, lush and just crunchy enough. The marinara is a deep Sicilian red, and shouts of tomato freshness.
The salad is tangy, and of greater interest than I can think to write about it. The dressing is low-key, suggestive of shallots, lemon and a trace of balsamic vinegar.
There are Spinach & Mushroom Crêpes, to which you can add rosemary chicken or grilled veggie chicken. The thin, elastic sheets of crêpe taste of peppercorns, hiding the spinach, sliced mushrooms and swiss cheese; the effect is almost stroganoffian in robustness.
They make thin crust "bistro" pizzas here, without making claims to being authentically New York, which is fine with me. It is a successful rendition.
If I'm still on a chicken parmesan kick, I get the Lucretia (baked chicken parmesan, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and bay leaves). Otherwise I like the Douglas: homemade sweet Italian sausage, studded with fennel and falling apart, shreds of green pepper, purple rings of onion, mozzarella melted just so, and more of that impressive marinara, sweet and tomato-strong. I normally do not write sentences that long, by the way, but that's how fast I go through their pizzas: with barely a pause. They are Masa's own interpretation, and fabulous. The crust is thin as a pair of half dollars.
Masa's Chicago Pizzas, however, do make this claim of familiarity; Co-owner Ron was born and raised in Chicago. With a lot of love and the eighty-year-old revolving oven, it takes forty minutes to bake each pie.
Although fully aware that a Chicago pizza out here in California means needlessly puffy, tasteless dough and extra poundage to work off, I normally do not care for Chicago deep dish pizza. If Masa's pies are any indication of what a good pizza might be like in Chicago, I now understand the controversy.
I like the Traditional, with mushrooms and sausage. The homemade sweet Italian sausage appears again, but in sheets instead of crumbled spheres, hence why it looks a little alarming in the photo, but please trust me when I say it's delicious. Garlic is present, and the cheese melts like an underground glacier under the red, red sauce. It is complex, and amazing. The crust is like nothing I've ever tasted, prominent with cornmeal, with a trace of biscuity sweetness. I forget to shake parmesan cheese over my pizza, and I always shake parmesan over things.
Perhaps there is a way to pick this up, but I understand why they call it a pizza pie. I prefer a fork.
Parking for Masa is going to be metered, whether along the street (with fairly forgiving signage if they're not filming something) or in one of the blue-signed public lots.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, French, Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
Finding it was like a smile from a long-lost friend, hiding in a dingy alleyway in a particularly San Franciscan manner among the gloomily aged buildings of downtown.
It's an art gallery, a living space, a local coffee house like you remember before the corporate beaneries sprouted, that quietly absorbs the soul of Los Angeles. Small chairs and tables lurch uncertainly in the open space. The tiles show the war wounds of past drywall. Open pipes snake through the ceiling above knobby plaster, as if the building grew here over millions of years. The industrial hum of air conditioning muffles the reggae playing overhead.
They do crêpes here in a big, quesadilla-esque way, a slightly burnt experience that is more savory than fluffy. They have the expected Nutella-or-fruit inclusions, but my current guilty pleasure is the Pizza Crêpe; a thin veneer of marinara brings together pepperoni, salami and mushrooms with mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan. I have a knife but prefer to shred it into wedges with fork and finger.
Sandwiches come on sunbread, a pilipino [sic] pandesal bread with a powdery tang, more sweet than salty. The Tuna Melt is a pillow of cuteness, hidden under a cap of melted pepper jack and OMG good, made zesty with a slice of tomato and light mayo. The lost souls here also do wraps.
There are teas of serious nature here--Yerba Mate, Plum Oolong, French Lemon Gingergrass--but I always dart straight to the blended beverages. The Cookie Monster is a creamy epiphany of a deep asphalt hue, with toddy coffee (concentrated cold-brewed, coffee), vanilla, milk and annihilated Oreos. The Ube Shake is lilac-colored and lighter than The Oinkster, with a smack of sweetness at the finish. Bianca and I drink these far too fast and have to go get a bottle of water to accompany the food.
There are counter goodies, and we are blind to most of them because of the red velvet cupcakes, and ridiculous cookies with Reese's peanut butter cups jutting from them like ancient ruins. While you're considering, peruse the flyers and pamphlets dotting the small table against the wall
Fourth Avenue is one-way going east, so come down Spring and park in one of the public lots. When you're done with your crêpe ritual, consider crossing the street over to Bar 107 and soaking in some kitschery.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, French, Bakery/Patisserie, Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts )
The kitchen is in the front, so this seems at first glance to be a typical counter-order pizzeria. Past that, however, is an elegant dining room done in vigorous Mediterranean blue and white, including the ceiling panels. Folk ballads bounce merrily along. There is a homely yet refined feel to this Italian/Austrian/French joint.
If being nice was all it took to make a restaurant notable, quintets of stars would rain down on this humble establishment, due to Adrian and his wife; Lucia in particular is amazingly sweet and gracious, making one feel like an honored guest.
Gratifyingly, her pleasant greetings are backed by really solid food. Toasted rolls, buttered and freshly herbed, come blazing from the oven. The Mista Italiana salad is small but beams with freshly picked greens, black olives, tomato, slivers of green pepper, in a zippy house Italian dressing.
In the interest of I-always-try-this-first simplicity, the Chicken Parmesan is pounded flat, breaded and fried absolutely perfectly, with a veneer of sauce and a half-circle of melting cheese. The spaghettini is thick with melted parmesan, which leaves it sticky but addictive. I always say yes to an offer of extra parmesan, but this was splendid as is and I completely forgot about it.
The pizza feels like eating in Mama's kitchen, assuming Mama has an accent and wants you to eat, bambino, eat, because you're too skinny, why you no eat? The homemade dough is bready and crunchy. The Adrian's Special is freshness itself, with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage thinly cut from the link, fresh mushrooms, and white onion, all shuffled atop a sweet, tart red sauce.
What else to try... Austrian Chicken Schnitzel? Of course, and it's a specialty. There's also seafood, and some write-home dishes like scallopine di pollo sautéed in lemon or marsala wine with mushrooms.
There's an expansive parking lot in back, shared by a liquor store, Zig's, a battered little Chinese joint, and the alleyways of Vanowen and White Oak; accessible but rundown.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, French, Pizza, The Valley )
An independent French offshoot
1661 Colorado Blvd. (in Eagle Rock)
Phone: 323-255-5133 | map
So I'm meeting my friend Jeff for lunch, he who has provided so many excellent recommendations for his Eagle Rock stomping grounds. He's already waiting for me as he always is, with a cup of superior hot chocolate before him. I imitate him, marveling at how well cocoa beans are fused with heat, while also pleased that the place is so casual and unfussy.
Le Petit Beaujolais is across and down the street from Cafe Beaujolais, which used to be the dinner counterpart to this Roche d'Aigle icon. The Cafe is now owned by a pleasant Asian family and is unconnected; the food seems not to have changed at all except that there are fewer baked goods available.
It could just be the fabulous-sounding words crocque monsieur a 'la parisienne', but the French attitude toward what should be a fairly simple ham & cheese sandwich--French ham with melted gruyère and béchamel, a cozy, self-contained hearth burnt on both sides--is comforting. The caesar salad is subtle and crisp. the fries thin, lightly crunchy and dusted with herbs as expected.
The Panino au Proscuitto [sic] is Italian ham, mozzarella, tomato and more sharp mustard. While the ham and and mozzarella are thick and toothsome, it has a little too much gum-scratching crunch, being in a flattened baguette rather than a thinner sort of bread. However, the burger is absolutely riveting, well-assembled and wonderful.
There's a steak & omelette dish for breakfast, which I eye enviously over on Jeff's side of the table; the steaks come hammered flat and grilled nicely rare with a pat of butter atop, the eggs yellow and billowy.
Parking is on the side streets or on Colorado.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), French, Bakery/Patisserie, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Coffee and Sandwiches on a Higher Level
2800 Hyperion Ave.
Phone: 323-665-0545 | map
A little something about me, just in case you're ever stuck for a birthday present. Aside from (of course) a very sharp cheddar, Manchego is my favorite cheese. It's a semi-firm Spanish sheep's milk cheese that has a rich, spicy bite to it.
Say Cheese makes a sandwich called The Barcelona, which has dry-cured Jamón serrano, roasted red peppers, capers, and yes, manchego, on a rosemary bread. They also make an absurdly good ham & gruyère on a croissant, and a meatless sausage with melted gruyère and the red peppers. That's half the reason I like Say Cheese.
The other half is the iced mochas of greatness they happen to make, which I always drink too fast and then feel sad for a while afterward because I have no iced mocha to drink. There is also coffee, carefully wrought and presented.
Anyway, more detail: Say Cheese is split into two parts. One is a small cafe with maybe a dozen tables, the other a cheese and wine store. Reggie, who works behind the cheese counter, is incredibly nice and helpful; Bianca and I are eternally grateful to him for introducing us to a Guinness-infused cheddar. Yes indeed. There are plenty of other cheeses to savor, of course, such as a single malt whisky cheddar (you see a pattern here, don't you?), and meats such as the aforementioned serrano, strong and not as salty as prosciutto. The wines are a touch expensive and don't range far outside of France, but they aren't too much more than the Cheesestore of Silver Lake.
What's not to like? Depends on your outlook and level of patience. If you have some time to sit at a sidewalk table and watch people march by with their newly filled bags from Trader Joe's, all is well. Otherwise, if you're in a hurry, you might cry. The service on the cafe side is usually friendly enough but can be "meh" on efficiency.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), French, Bakery/Patisserie, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
It's a cozy, friendly location, hip without being pretentious, with easygoing color and dark wood floors that are just uneven enough to give it a sense of warmth. The people at Canelé are concerned with good food, not their rating in magazines.
And the food is quietly brilliant. Roast chicken with polenta and stewed mushrooms? Bianca has much to say about it. I've had the Boeuf Bourgignon with buttered noodles, which is exactly as good as you'd expect it to be. It's one of the few places where I've sat and said nothing for a moment after a bite. Even the simple Farmer's Market salad is deceptive.
They also have spaghetti aglio olio, as a nod to the restaurant who was in this spot before, Osteria Nonni.
Dessert? Flourless chocolate cake. Yes, good. Better? Orange butter cake.
Yet upon your way out the door, after you're stuffed with all the desserts you sampled and the dinner you tried not to eat too energetically, you're offered a canelé, a fluted French pastry, from a plate. It's a nice way to end things.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), French, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock )