Throughout my tenure as Food Editor of LA CANVAS, I‘ve had some good food and I’ve had some great food. I’ve never felt dissatisfied, and I’ve consistently wondered why Jonathan Gold seemed so unimpressed with things I’ve found thoroughly delicious. Maybe, I think, it’s because he’s had too many meals like the one I’m about to describe to you.
Allumette is a fascinating new restaurant from the owners of Echo Park’s Allston Yacht Club, in the same location. Echo Park’s dining scene (well, everything scene) has been flourishing and changing for years now; a step ahead of the curve, Bill Didonna and Charles Kelly decided to close down their old casually hip small-plates eatery and resurrect it as a sophisticated new concept that cannot be so neatly encapsulated by a few buzz words.
After working with 24-year-old Chef Miles Thompson on The Vagrancy Project Pop-up, Didonna and Kelly eagerly recruited him as executive Chef for Allumette. With a profound respect for the foundations of French cuisine, Thompson pulls from the full spectrum of global flavor possibilities with an approach that’s playful as it is cerebral. In short, the stuff that comes out of his kitchen is a trip. Or as one diner put it, “A cavalcade of wonder.”
Thompson’s menu is short, seasonal and forward-thinking, offering a nightly tasting/pairing menu and a neat selection of around twelve a-la-carte dishes. They aren’t meant to be shared (but we shared them, because they were too intriguing to keep to ourselves) but instead to be ordered in sequence as a personal tasting. Whatever you choose to do, be adventurous (there isn’t really another option. no filet mignon on the menu). And if being decisive isn’t your thing, you should feel entirely confident that whatever Thompson has planned will be more than pleasurable.
The cocktail menu is similarly impressive, with Serena Herrick of Harvard & Stone behind the bar menu. At first we were gigling over seemingly-absurd ingredients like “Velvet Falernum” and “Tangerine Szechuan Peppercorn.” But then we took a sip of our drinks and were swiftly silenced. Wide-eyed, speechless, licking the top of my mouth, all I had to say was Varnish shmarnish. And the bitter libations made more and more sense as the meal unfolded.
The dinner was a learning experience and a work of art. Read on for the photographic play-by-play.
On the left, a Negroni Sbagliato (“Sbagliato” meaning miscalculated/wrong/messed-up in Italian), a take on a traditional Negroni. This drink is dark and bitter but bubbly, like a grown-up coca-cola, made with the Italian Vermouth Punt E Mes and fizzy Graham Beck Brut. A bit of Aperol and a fresh sage leaf make it extra fragrant and flavorful.
The cloudy pink beauty is the Blood Meridian, which is kind of an uber-sophisticated, complex margarita made with Vida Mezcal, Luxurado Maraschino, blood orange, lime and kumquat. The rim of black lava salt adds a textural, savory bite.
This is the first thing that Chef Thompson sent out, a gift from the kitchen for every diner. If we weren’t convinced by the cocktails, the butter ball definitely did it (“Oh, this is going to be good”). It’s potato butter with a crispy shell, like a tater tot, mixed with mascarpone and just ready to bathe that piece of toast. Ridiculous.
Sprouting Broccoli, with parmesan sabayon, beet, and black olive vinaigrette. The plate is littered with various herbs and leaves (those flowers taste like cilantro) each gleaming with a glaze and carrying its own pointed, unique taste. This is when things started to get wild.
Who put peas in my macoroni???? If peas were this insanely fresh and tasty when I was a child, I probably wouldn’t have minded. But seriously, this was my favorite dish. Cavatelli with uni ragu, English pea puree, braised mushrooms and fromage noir, which is a cheese that hung out with squid ink and turned black and devilishly delicious. Secretly, Chef Thompson also throws meyer lemon and white chocolate chips in there. It’s bananas. Eat it.
Short rib, cooked in pho and surrounded by pretty Vietnamese herbs. The scattered leaves provide a similar experience to the broccoli dish, held down by that hunk of beef that is just INFUSED with delicate spices and sometimes tastes like a ginger snap.
Juicy Pork Shoulder wrapped in bacon, with kombu relish, caramelized onions, and feuille de brick (that yellow stuff). All contrasts: sweet and savory, soft and crispy. Like a breakfast sausage but WOW.
And finally, the Poached Octopus. This was from the tasting menu, but available a-la-carte. The octopus is the ideal texture and sitting in a small pool of Vadouvan Butter, a butter infused with delicate french curry. The fried quail egg just drips the whole thing in yolky goodness while the marinated slices of blood orange provide a refreshing contrast.
Cheesecake Mousse, with drizzles of maple syrup, some frozen cookie dough and graham cracker bits. Notes of tangy citrus balance out the sweetness so that you’ll easily devour the whole thing (at least I did).
1320 Echo Park Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90026