Los Angeles, January 22, 2015—IN THE PAST few years our favorite coffee here in Los Angeles has been Intellgentsia's Black Cat, available at two locations we know of: Pasadena and Venice. I suppose I first met Intellgentsia in Chicago, its home city; since then I've enjoyed it in a few other locations: in addition to these in Los Angeles, a café in Sacramento and another in, thankfully, Santa Rosa.
On this trip, though, when we had it yesterday in Venice, it seemed a little bitter. Don't know why. On the other hand, the croissant we had there yesterday was truly extraordinary, by far the best I've had outside Paris, possibly excluding the ones Kathleen Stewart used to make by hand in the early days of Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg.
This morning there were no croissants at Intellgentsia in Venice by the time we got there, but we weren't worried; they'd told us where they got them, and we simply drove over to the famous old Hollywood Farmer's Market, on Third at Fairfax, and stopped in at Short Cake for a second coffee and, yes, there they were, croissant.
It turned out that Short Cake had been conceived and founded by two old acquaintances of Lindsey's: Nancy Silverton and the late Amy Pressman, both bakers extraordinaire and smart cookies when it comes to business. The bakery is over three years old: why had we not heard about it, why had we not been here before?
Well, we made up for it now. As I was gobbling my croissant I noticed a very beautiful Pithiviers had been set up on a nice green cake-stand on a marble table outside the bakery; a young woman was standing on a stepladder taking a photo of it from above. Other pastries were being set about for more photos, and a pleasant-looking man with dark straight hair and an immaculate white apron was looking on, rather pleased I thought, and rightly so, with the proceedings.
I introduced Lindsey, and he recognized the name, and we had a nice talk. Ivan Marquez turned out to know of Lindsey and her work; he has her book. For a young man he has a considerable résumé, having worked at Spago here in Los Angeles, then The French Laundry in Napa county. He's a pastry chef with a pedigree and, clearly, a passion.
He took a few minutes from his work to sit with us and talk business. I have to say, there is nothing I like better to see than a person who is totally committed to métier, who combines passion, discipline, knowledge of history, imagination as to possibilities, awareness of constraints, enjoyment of the unique liberation of mind, muscle, and spirit that comes from a continuous address to expertise. My own enthusiasms are literature, music, painting, and cuisine: all of them offer this kind of address, and I've been privileged to know a number of masters. I have the intuitive conviction that this fellow is one of them.
Cynics among you will suspect my opinion has been influenced by his gift of those boxes you see on the table in the photo above. (They are opened in the two lower phots to the left.) You cynics are mistaken: the opinion had been formed before his insistence that we take a few edibles for our long drive home. Pain aux raisins, bear claw (with pistachios as well as almonds, brilliant!), apple tartlet, poppyseed cake, and at the lower right a curious savory tartlet with ricotta, strawberries, thyme, and tangerine — I'd never have thought of it, and it's remarkable. This is truly a find.
•Short Cake, 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles; (323) 761-7976
AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, we were not all that hungry this evening. Tired and a bit sleepy, yes: so we stopped in Atascadero, where there's a café whose coffee we like. Where, then, for supper? We looked on Open Table, after having asked at the café, and settled on a place up the road in Paso Robles.
How nice to find a small plate on the menu, combining nearly all the things needed for a balanced meal! "Bistro Steak," they called it: a "flap steak," which I suppose is somewhere near the "hanger," grilled just the way I wanted it (and had stipulated, to our pleasant waitress), with a small green salad and a small serving of really very good pommes frites, standing up in a ceramic cup with a good-sized serving of decent though not memorable aïoli at its bottom.
The steak was au poivre, a little rough and masculine. We're in Central Coast country, cowboy country; the food is by way of vieja California. I want to ride horseback tomorrow, with a bottle of whisky and a tin of bread and beans: but I know I never will. This kind of place lets me pretend.
Orvieto, Sergio Mottura, 2013: substantial, old-fashioned, acceptable; Pinot noir, Wrath "Ex Anima" (Monterey), 2012: good California-style Pinot noir, dry•Villa Creek, 1144 Pine Street, Paso Robles, California; (805) 238-3000
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants