The Westside of Los Angeles has a thing for hybrids. No wonder so many Priuses (or is it Prii?) are silently traversing mean streets like Montana, San Vicente and Abbot Kinney. That fact also helps to explain Westsiders’ fascination with brunch, a hybrid meal that, at its best, can fuse the best aspects of breakfast and lunch.
We were happy with brunch at The Tasting Kitchen in 2011, and would have recommended the experience. The patio was also full at the popular Mediterranean-influenced restaurant along trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, but the powers that be clearly had bigger plans. Exacting chef Casey Lane continued to turn the screws, yielding even better results.
Our initial experience involved good cocktails and baked goods, a respectable short rib hash with wild ramps, potatoes, carrots and horseradish sauce, and a satisfying plate of Fried Clucks with a bacon waffle. We would have gladly repeated our meal. Then again, we didn’t know what was possible at TTK brunch, but we found out a year later.
It also helped that The Tasting Kitchen added pastry chef Brooke Mosley, who maintains an eccentric Instagram presence while producing some of the city’s best baked goods. A good brunch leans heavily on the baked goods and breads, and she’s got that category on lock.
Mosley’s Sticky Bun ($7) was damn near magical, holding sway over me and my tablemates like a charmer’s tune to a cobra. The bun with caramelized edges oozes when you cut with a knife, exposing a soft core, and sports cascading pecans and caramel kissed with bourbon.
In its previous incarnation, the Ricotta Muffin ($5) sported more streusel and contained pockets of fluffy cheese. Mosley prefers fuller integration, with a smoother cake supporting plump blueberries, served with blueberry compote and creamy whipped butter.
Los Angeles has a fascination with hamburgers, and even so, Lane still managed to distinguish himself with The Tasting Kitchen’s Burger ($16), which was spectacular. A juicy patty of Prime Niman Ranch chuck supported lean, sweet caramelized bacon, lettuce, caramelized onions, molten Gruyere, and a fried egg sprinkled with flakes of Maldon sea salt, all served on a cakey house-made brioche bun. The only way the well-proportioned burger could have been better is if the bun spent less time getting toasted, since it sported char in spots. The accompanying bowl of French fries were similarly great, served skin-on, submerged in peanut oil and cooked to crispy outside while maintaining essential give. A sprinkling of herbs and crispy sage completed the beautiful picture.
The Tasting Kitchen serves waffles both sweet (butter and syrup) or savory ($18) w/fried clucks. Add sausage or bacon ($4) to the waffle, as we did during our initial brunch, but don’t bother. Even the basic dish has plenty of pop. They go light on the Clucks, but at least the two small pieces of buttermilk-bathed bird are well-seasoned and juicy, served with a fluffy waffle that Mosley whipped with egg whites and sugar (meringue) and drizzled with syrup. In this case, the ramekin of pork gravy didn’t come into play. There was no need.
One option that still resonates is a cocktail from creative head bartender Justin Pike, whether it’s at dinner or brunch. In 2011, he worked with bartender John Coltharp on a bloody Mary trio, setting the bar for a bloody L.A. trend. If you’re an aficionado, by all means order the full line-up, which includes a House Bloody ($11), which incorporates horseradish, aged tomato juice from the kitchen’s cans, rested for a week to intensify the flavor, a salt-and-pepper rim and a celery, olive and caperberry garnish; a spicy 1920’s Bloody ($13) with French tomato juice from Orlianas, Tabasco, pepper, celery and a naked rim; and my personal favorite, the Petite Mary ($11) with vodka, celery juice, salt, pepper and a tangy sumac-lined rim.
It’s heartening to see that with some chefs and restaurants, “good” isn’t enough. That’s one of the aspects that makes The Tasting Kitchen a better restaurant from meal to meal, and it also makes a convincing case that Casey Lane and his pastry counterpart Brooke Mosley will (and should) oversee three Los Angeles kitchens in total by the end of 2012.