Between the openings of Intelligentsia and Craig Min’s new “coffee boutique,” Silver Lake is suddenly ground zero for caffeine in Los Angeles. LAMILL Coffee was originally supposed to open in October, but with a project this ambitious, and by choosing a location that didn’t previously house a restaurant, there were bound to be delays. It’s not fair to expect LAMILL to be operating at full strength on opening day, and they weren’t, but there were enough signs to indicate that LAMILL will be a welcome but unexpected addition to the neighborhood.
Craig and his family have operated a wholesale coffee and tea business based in Alhambra for years, building a stellar reputation. Since taking over the business in 1997, Craig has managed to cultivate high-end restaurant customers around the city, including Providence and Bastide.
Asked about his initial passion for coffee, Craig said, “I started roasting coffee at 13. I’m interested in coffee, tea and anything that dazzles the palate.” In 2006, Craig logged 140,000 air miles sourcing coffee.
When Craig decided to open his first retail outlet, he thought to contact friend Michael Cimarusti, the bearded chef-owner of Providence and one of L.A.’s most celebrated chefs. Cimarusti and Providence Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez agreed to craft savory and sweet menus for LAMILL. Craig said, “Our main goal is to showcase our styles of artisan beverages served with food items that are equally at the quality level of the beverages.”
To shepherd the design, Craig hired Scott Mangan and Nick Bianco from Rubbish Interiors, who had completed several decorating jobs for him. They decided on “mid-century Colonial” with chandeliers, restored furniture, and hand-painted wallpaper from China on the west wall. To create an open feel, Craig went with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, facing Silver Lake Boulevard.
Upon entering LAMILL, we encountered a framed drink menu on the counter listing basic options like coffee, espresso, cappuccino and Chai. Six Clover offerings cost $2.50-$3.50 a cup, made to order in a “vacuum siphon brew chamber.” I thought that was everything, and the counterwoman didn’t tell us otherwise, so we ordered from the twin Clovers, which were custom-made to match LAMILL’s red exterior.
Turns out there was a bound menu with infinitely more interesting offerings. I would have gladly ordered a cappuccino with cacao and orange zest, Coffee and a Jelly Donut – strawberry essence layered with donut-infused milk and topped with espresso; or Mojito – fresh Key limes muddled with fresh mint and simple syrup, mixed with a seasonal iced tea and topped with a splash of club soda. According to the menu, LAMILL designed their drinks to be “creative, delicious, and fun.” No need to hide the fun. Why not put those unique offerings front and center?
True to Craig’s autumn promise, LAMILL offers a “no drip” policy, with every drink prepared by hand. In addition to the Clover, coffee extraction methods include French press, siphon brew, Chemex or Eva Solo, which is evidently the preferred method professional coffee tasters use to “cup” coffee.
A display case exhibited six different baked goods: blueberry muffins, banana bread, caneles, chocolate chip cookies, croissants and scones. Overall, I expected more daring offerings from a restaurant that quotes the “innovate or die” credo on their menus.
We made it clear we wanted to eat in house, but after some confusion, we ended up on the patio, where there turned out to be zero table service. No water, no plates, and no complimentary macarons. Across the glass, people who were literally feet away received all of the aforementioned perks. That made no sense to me. We also received to go containers instead of plates, porcelain and planks. Since there are tables outside, why not have table service?
I was interested in ordering the vegetarian hen eggs made with fresh Dungeness crabmeat ($12) and house-cured Tasmanian sea trout ($16) with bubu arare, wasabi peas, wasabi crème fraîche, toasted brioche and watermelon radish. They were out of both dishes, so I had to “settle” for the ABLT.
We ordered the Sofia ($14), a panini that was supposed to contain Judy Schadd’s Kentucky goat cheese, black olive tapenade, sweet red onion, compote of tomato and fresh basil leaves.
The sandwich came with a dish of Dijon mustard, both whole grain and smooth. Though I liked the sandwich, it wasn’t nearly as innovative as the Asian BLT, and wouldn’t pay $12 to eat another one.
On subsequent visits, I look forward to sampling desserts from Providence Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez. Last fall, Craig said that customers could expect dessert tasting menus. Considering the five current offerings include a sweet potato “pie” with Biryani Marsala spice ice cream, cajeta and pecans; and a pear and cranberry crisp with miso ice cream, sign me up for multiple courses.
It was a little disturbing to see Oscar’s Dog Biscuits on the menu, but considering one of the city’s largest dog park is only three blocks away, probably a smart business move.
Everything turned out to be complimentary on opening day, the tradeoff being that we fill out comment cards. I want LAMILL to be good, since I can walk there, but I also have to remain objective. By calling it LAMILL Coffee, it creates certain expectations. Coffee is a key ingredient, but not the focus. It looks like a restaurant and acts like a restaurant, complete with table service. Given that it’s a restaurant, it seems to be a promising restaurant.
Local bloggers have tried to stoke a rivalry between Craig and Doug Zell, owner of nearby Intelligentsia. Based on conversations I’ve had with Intelligentsia baristas, the rivalry is without merit. This was reinforced by Craig, who said, “It’s great when folks are like-minded and focused on coffee. Doug Zell is a good friend.” Finally, while LAMILL Coffee and Intelligentsia both house Clovers and Chemexes, their concepts and designs are quite different. There should be room enough in Silver Lake for a restaurant that serves coffee (LAMILL) and a coffee bar (Intelligentsia). I’ll continue to patronize Intelligentsia for coffee, but certainly plan to return to LAMILL for food.
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