By: Ashley Berry
As I wound my way up Beachwood Drive on a drizzly Tuesday night, I found myself once again amazed by the seemingly endless opportunities for exploration in Los Angeles. Beachwood Canyon is a quaint community in the Hollywood Hills that has the peaceful charm of a little, European village. The area became popularized in the 1920s with the introduction of the historic Hollywood sign that originally read “Hollywoodland”, and it has since served as a haven for a variety industry types including authors, musicians, and actors. In all of my years in Los Angeles, I had never had a reason to venture into this district, but after hearing buzz about the March 1st grand opening of a little café and restaurant just north of Franklin Village, I knew it was time to go on another expedition.
In actuality, the grand opening event is more of a first birthday for the restaurant that now serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as owner Patti Peck, with Chef Minh Phan at her side, took over the location about a year ago. Peck chose the name “Beachwood Café” as a way of paying homage to the building’s previous incarnation as the Village Coffee Shop, a business that had been a neighborhood institution for decades before it closed its doors permanently in late 2011. As soon as I entered the café, I couldn’t help but notice the striking design elements, courtesy of Barbara Bestor, that won an AIA Restaurant Design Award in 2012. The new design marries old-timey features such as the original soda fountain counter, with modern details, like the striking graphic wallpaper and boldly tiled floors. Congregations of woodland creature figurines and intricate hand-made dioramas embedded into the walls like little windows into fantastic imaginary worlds add a touchy of whimsy and lend the feeling of having fallen into the pages of Where The Wild Things Are.
The enchanting, albeit quirky, atmosphere serves as the perfect backdrop for a culinary experience that is nothing short of extraordinary. The menu is an inspired combination of Peck’s inclinations toward New American comfort cuisine and Phan’s culinary perspective that draws influences from Asian, Mediterranean, and Scandinavian cuisines and is executed with classic French techniques. While some of the menu items might cause a raised eyebrow at first glance, Phan’s masterful creations feature counter-intuitive flavor combinations in dishes that are somehow simultaneously delicate, hearty, and always a bit playful.
The fennel pork rillettes’ salty, rich creaminess is balanced with just enough grainy texture and the house made vegetable pickles, including cauliflower and brussel sprouts, refresh the palate with a crisp, tangy pop. Seemingly innocent ingredients, like corn and orzo, become sinfully decadent after being braised in cream and mingled with a generous portion of bacon. Tender chunks of ume sake braised pork are full of bold sweet and savory flavors, while the silky mashed sweet potatoes are kissed lightly with the zesty essence of Satsuma mandarin oranges. The Dover sole, cooked to perfection and stuffed delicately with shiso and enoki mushrooms, is an absolute must-try. It rests demurely in a bed of glass noodles, bathed in a fragrant tamarind-ginger broth, and nothing could bring more delicious warmth and comfort on a rainy evening. Except, perhaps, the cardamom cake. The light, airy texture and earthy spiciness of the cake is offset by a thick layer of cool cream and moist roasted pears and beckons even the most satiated diner to savor every last bite.
While such exquisite fare is often presented in restaurants with stuffy atmospheres and aloof service, Peck has created a place that feels like home. The small staff treats customers like beloved friends and, when Phan emerges from the kitchen to greet patrons, she exudes warmth and genuine gleefulness at being able to share her food with her guests.
The March 1st Grand Opening/ One Year Anniversary Event will feature an open house from 6p-8p where attendees may sample appetizers, mocktails, and cocktails, followed by a $30 tasting menu from 8p-10p that will introduce the new spring menu. The event is open to the public and if you haven’t already submitted your RSVP at https://www.facebook.com/events/427640673975410, do so post haste—your taste buds will thank you.