This is pretty much a deli counter tacked on to the Pavlovian-response treasure that is the Surfas Restaurant Supply. After wandering the aisles and telling yourself you do not need a four-bottle dispenser system nor a single blade mezzaluna, you dry your eyes and step into the brightly lit interior of the Cafe Surfas deli. Nice people work here. It's rather like Porta Via in demeanor, though smaller and without the impulse-buy jars of artisan mustard and wedges of cheese.
Not photographically imposing but a good start, the Black Bean soup is not the thick, moody affair you might be used to from Cuban restaurants but is more like a tortilla soup that has black beans in it. It's rather thin but fresh and vegetal; crispy finger-staining little cheese bread accompanies it.
Their flagship sandwich is Jorge's Chicken Sandwich. Jidori chicken and Nueske bacon are the most prominent champions here; the chicken is super tasty and tender, the bacon fairly limber and cooperative rather than crispy. White cheddar, baby arugula, red onion, tomato are soft-voiced, slowly turning green with the cilantro avocado spread. Lots of napkin work is required.
Besides meeting my coworker Adam for lunch, one of my current triggers for driving clear across town is the Kurobuta Ham Panini. The bread is toasted hard with a snappy crust, which I normally avoid but is brilliantly sour and tasty. Its interior is softened by a thin spread of quietly confident homemade chutney, and it's a good platform for the black pork. The ham, true to its name, is robust and pink and dark and marbled and ever-so-slightly briny. White cheddar pulls and drapes and makes everything even nicer.
They do salads, of course, and put everything into crisp, recycled-looking to-go boxes.
To drink I like their Blueberry Lemonade, but they also make a dandy, strongly chocolatey iced mocha.
Outside the warehouse and the deli counter is a pleasant outdoor patio with strains of classic rock. Surfas has a good-sized parking lot, the easier to stagger to your car with your Hamilton Beach Triple Spindle Malt Mixer.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Bakery/Patisserie, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
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 )
The perpetually uncertain and blithely decorated Town & Country closed for remodeling, which in Los Angeles means it's never going to achieve the escape velocity necessary to reopen, until something else takes its place. Forage is here now, with better ideas and a higher caliber kitchen staff (think Jason Kim from Lucques and Amanda Bacon of Lucques and Canelé). The decor is clean white and wood.
Do you grow edible things? Lots of people do, evidently, and the concept of Forage is to take advantage of excess crops, helping to share the vitaminal wealth. One can bring in homegrown fruits and vegetables and barter them for credit (call in advance, or check the website for the Forage gatherings). They may figure out what to do with them, create a dish, and name it after you for as long as it's available.
A stable pillar of the menu is their Jidori Chicken, carefully rotisseried and shining with its own juices. The meat has just enough firmness, and while I generally prefer my chicken crisped more by the heat, the browning of the skin is tasty. If you can get some roasted fresh from the kitchen (I always seem to get the last two pieces under the heat lamp), so much the better.
Their everyday Market Green Salad is even better. Not a spiky tumbleweed or bitter red leaf in sight, the lettuces are softened like butter under the subtle lemon bite of yellow oil. Tiny coins of radish add snap.
A Pastrami Sandwich might be available, layered under a twisty torpedo of heavy, abrasive bread of great quality. The pastrami is even-handed, not overly fatty or salty, and mellowed by braised cabbage and thick sheets of Swiss cheese. A mustard aioli runs through it.
As with the Jidori Chicken, the side dish is fully as interesting as the main choice. The Black Bean soup embodies the concept of "soup" as much as any I've tried, rich with vegetables and not at all runny as many black bean soups are. Thin rings of scallion rest atop a swirl of cream.
The Awesome Avocado sandwich looks desaturated and pale, but the avocado is so fresh and solid that it becomes the strongest element. Tomatoes, cool wisps of green cabbage, fennel pickles and a Mexican pationa (I am still trying to figure out what that means) all create comfort without overriding the avocado, and still somehow maintaining sandwichal stability.
I'm told the Nirman Ranch Pork Belly Sandwich, on a baguette with the same toppings and a green garlic aioli, is rave-worthy, so I shan't say no.
To drink there's Blue Bottle coffee, or their Agua Fresca, which may be a homemade lemonade or a tangelo orange which reminds one eerily of a well-mixed glass of Tang.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American )
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 )
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 )
You'll walk by a window showing busy people making sausage, pressing dough, chopping vegetables, and other kitcheny pursuits before you even walk in the door, so your appetite is already clamoring for attention. Porta Via is a local favorite, with every needful thing for a lunch, a catered party, or, if you're like we are, evenings spent watching movies on the grass in a cemetery.
The deli counter is a big L-shaped presence along two walls; the rest of the space is populated by shelves of foodstuffs and condiments for them. Wander around with eyes searching the menus until you figure out your life, then order one of their sandwiches or salads.
The house-made turkey meatball with provolone, for instance. You'll be compelled to flip it upside-down in order to eat it without imperiling your shirt, but the meatballs are toothsome and the marinara tasty. The Toscano-grilled chicken panini, with provolone, baby greens, pesto and balsamic vinaigrette, is thin (well, duh, it's a panini) but packed with intensity. The Autostrada is mortadella, prosciutto, soppresatta, coppa, provolone, and pepperoncini, all those "this is a pile of cured meat and cheese and that's all you need to know" words that make an Italian sandwich godlike.
The counter has a number of nifty pasta salads to accompany your sandwich, but being concerned with quality over quantity, they won't pile that much onto your plate.
The parking lot is large but shared by everyone in this corporate lot, including the popular Los Tacos spot next door. Across the parking lot is an expensive but brutally awesome antique shop. Go there if you like iron candle holders and torch sconces, and heavy rustic furniture.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Deli, Bakery/Patisserie, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra )