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
The move from Sydney to Los Angeles is, for the most part, a seamless one. The two cities flow at a similar pace, with life lived mostly in the sun. Yet since the day I arrived in this glorious city I have been desperately trying to navigate my way through one of the only culture shocks I experienced – coffee.
This is where the two cities disagree. Coffee in Sydney is a social ritual, delivered with care and precision and enjoyed as a moment to stop, not as a fuel to keep going. In America, the sheer volume by which coffee is consumed on an hourly basis means that for most, it’s a habit, regardless of how it’s served or even how it tastes.
But coffee in LA is well on its way to changing. Los Angeles is in the middle of what’s been dubbed the 3rd wave coffee movement. More and more people are treating coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, and paving the way for improvements on all stages of production, from harvesting to roasting to brewing—as our friends at LA Coffee Club recently noted.
It is with impeccable timing then that Australian-inspired café Coffee + Food should arrive on Melrose. Placed unassumingly in the ever growing Larchmont-Melrose intersection, Coffee + Food is the brainchild of Australian ex-pat Mel Cain and Angeleno Cyndi Finlke. As is typically the case with these things, it was a vacancy that lead the two friends to go where neither had gone before and open a coffee shop. Born through Mel’s passion for coffee and dream of owning a café and Cyndi’s local knowledge from successfully curating two art studios and running a craft service business, Coffee + Food is entirely about superb, well bodied coffee and wholesome, quality food made with local produce and love.
There’s a pervasive happy feeling you get upon walking in, largely thanks to the supremely welcoming people behind the counter, which is just what Mel Cain always hoped to achieve. “We wanted it to feel like our home, like we were bringing people into our homes and feeding them,” Meg told LAC.
Industrialized chairs and stools give the café a modern feel while barn wood, chalk boards and photographs dot the walls in perfectly cozy juxtaposition. The counter is where it’s at, the espresso machine at its heart, the deli case full of can’t choose breakfast and lunch options and various sweet and savory delights ornately displayed across the top.
The coffee menu reads like a café wall in Sydney, featuring the Australian originated flat white, which to the Aussie expat is a cup of espresso and nostalgia infamously hard to find Stateside. It’s velvety smooth, with milk and microfoam folded into a double shot of espresso so that the ratio of coffee takes over the milk and the two are blended seamlessly. C+F enlisted the help of fellow Aussie Mark Baird of Longshot Coffee to curate the caffeinated beverage menu and teach the staff the art of espresso, which they gladly and passionately pass on to curious customers.
The food is designed by C+F’s “food guru” and you guessed it, another Aussie, Claire Smith.
Never has a deli counter in Los Angeles looked so tantalizing, rich, and colorful. For breakfast there’s homemade granola with seasonal fruit and yogurt, or Bircher muesli with poached pears or the favorite brekky sandwich of arugula, egg, prosciutto and gruyere cheese tucked into Turkish toast, specially commissioned by C+F and delivered fresh every morning from a local baker. Lunch is a mixture of signature dishes like the much obsessed over kale salad and a rotating menu of sandwiches, frittatas, lasagnas, fritters, salads and so on. It’s all made to-go, but you’re more than welcome to stay if you’d like.
Though, the real joy is the signature Aussie fare that pops up now and again, whether it be a meat pie or the breakfast staple for 21 million Australian’s – Vegemite on toast. In case you’re still wondering WTF Vegemite is, I urge you to ask no questions, order it with blind faith and let the pros do the work, for when properly delivered, Vegemite is the right mix of salty, buttery goodness—not to mention a solid hangover cure.
On high rotation above the counter is a collection of homemade sweet and savory treats, like Anzac and Monte Carlo cookies, which can be found in every house and office pantry across Australia. Mel divulges to LAC that the Monte Carlo is a favorite on the menu among expats and Angelenos alike; both seem to have an insatiable taste for the crumbly cookie filled with vanilla cream and raspberry jam that pairs perfectly with a Dirty Chai.
What’s right about Coffee + Food is simply that it’s about coffee and it’s about food, both in their simplest, purest forms and without complication. It’s become a home away from home for this expat and many more, so if you’ve ever had a moment of wanderlust, a desire to know what it’s like Down Under, or simply a longing for coffee and food that gives you joy, then make Coffee + Food your next stop, it might change your life.
Coffee + Food
630 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 7am – 3pm
(323) 962 3390