This past weekend some girlfriends and I took a little day trip to Los Angeles. My usual MO has been to go up and spend the night - which is great too - but the day trip actually works pretty well, especially with a group of friends who make the drive a a pleasure instead of a chore. We started the day with brunch at Cortez - a cafe in Echo Park run by the same lovely folks behind Cookbook - a small grocery and take out shop a few blocks away.
The menu at Cortez is small, but everything on it sounded fantastic. If you're familiar with Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, it was like that, only more California and less French, with half the price and pretension. (I've been fantasizing a lot about opening a food business lately, and this was eerily close to what I imagine it would look like.)
I had the farro and lentils with harissa and egg - which came with a big tangle of fried shallots. Something like this runs the risk of being bland or heavy, but this was neither - the perfectly cooked runny egg mingled with the harissa and farro to form a hearty but not gut-busting breakfast dish.
Desi and Jora had the merguez sausage on flatbread with yogurt, pickles and greens - and Jora added an egg. The lamb sausage was mild and the pickles added a nice sharp accent. Elise had the white beans with smoked tomatoes, chard and an egg - which also had great flavor.
We shared some roasted kabocha squash with sage browned butter and shaved cheese, and the flatbread with avocado honey and olive oil. To drink, we had blood orange juice (I did anyway, I was still recovering from a wicked hangover) and cappuccinos, and Elise had beautiful fresh mint tea - just mint steeped in boiling water.
The flatbread with honey and olive oil was pretty much the perfect indulgence. It reminded me of the sopapillas at Tomasitas in Santa Fe. I liked it so much I bought some of the honey at Cookbook later.
I was also really taken with the design of the place - it's a small room, with two long communal tables and a small bar in front of the kitchen. It feels open and airy with the simple wood & brick interior and high ceilings. The accents - copper, citrus, dried herbs - strike the perfect note of modern California chic, and I liked that it doesn't look just like every other hipster retro-pharmacy/train-station style joint out there.
After we ate, the place cleared out and we started chatting with Stephen and Jitson. (I don't know what it was about this trip but we just made friends wherever we went. LA has become so friendly lately!) We even got them to pose for a photo. When I originally asked if I could take pictures, Stephen said sure, just follow and tag us on Instagram! (@restaurantcortez)While we were chatting, they mentioned that Jonathan Gold had recently savaged them in the LA Times - I pulled up the review and read it on the spot. I usually like his reviews, but I think he may be off base on this one. He went for dinner - which may be a substantially different experience than brunch, but he waxed rhapsodic about the food, calling one dish "just short of stunning" - so clearly the food was not the problem. His main complaint seemed to be that the portions were too small and the wine ran out too soon. A choice quote: "You are going to cut the two globes of merguez sausage neatly into halves, wrap your bit in a bandage-sized scrap of flatbread and hope that you have not taken more than your allotted half-teaspoonful of yogurt sauce." Their response: just ask for more! He also rather snottily references "screechy jazz" and claims "if you belong here, you know who you are." Oof. The most irritating part is that it seems the review is mostly for effect - since he comes into Cookbook all the time, and has never uttered a complaint about the atmosphere there or seemingly felt out of place. Regardless - I doubt his review will deter anyone who would otherwise be inclined to go there for dinner, and I for one can't wait to try it!
Stay tuned for more of our adventures on the East Side!
1356 Allison Ave in Echo Park - just off Sunset
Los Angeles, CA