One of the best, most leisurely weekday lunches in town these days can be found at Canelé, the cozy rustic California-French restaurant tucked on a corner next to a crystals shop in Atwater Village.
That's right, lunch: If you live in the neighborhood, you likely already know that Canelé has always been a reliable spot for a dinner of wine and boeuf bourguignon, and that its weekend brunch nearly always commands formidable crowds.
In late November, though, executive chef and owner Corina Weibel brought Ria and Matt Wilson — most recently seen behind the stoves at Sqirl — on board to open the restaurant for lunch on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The husband-and-wife team dub their daytime shift "Wild at Canelé” and have created a lunch menu infused with hyperseasonal, thoroughly Los Angeles flavors.
This is a homecoming of sorts for the team, in more ways than one. Ria Wilson grew up in Atwater Village (Matt grew up in West Covina). The pair met in culinary school and cooked in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City before moving back to L.A. It was soon after their move back home that Ria earned a place on the line at Canele, while Matt cooked at spots such as Son of a Gun. Then came Sqirl, where Ria was the chef de cuisine and Matt the sous.
Thus it "kind of feels like going home," Ria Wilson says about cooking again at Canelé and its open kitchen, adding that she and her husband have received enormous support and encouragement from Weibel to launch Canelé's lunch program. With the freedom to create the entire midday menu, she says their philosophy is simply “to take what makes us happy and share it.”
What's been making them happy lately, Matt Wilson says, has been curing their own meats and smoking their own fish. Accordingly, recent weekday menus have featured strips of duck pastrami; smoked salmon alongside a terrine of seared potatoes; smoked bacon in a bed of raw milk curds. They’ve also created a hot stone rice bowl, made with satsuki rice, black kale gochujang and seasonal vegetables — and an egg, if you want.
And then there are the pastas that Matt Wilson makes fresh daily, which, as you’ll know if you’ve tasted any of his compositions at Sqirl, are about as consistently fantastic as DeAndre Jordan has been all season.
There’s also a strong Filipino influence on the menu: sinigang with rockfish was a special one day not too long ago, and there’s a fried chicken sandwich topped with ribbons of atchara (pickled papapya) that, if not for table manners, would be eaten in the same way Cookie Monster eats a cookie.
Speaking of fried chicken sandwiches: the Wild fried chicken sandwich does not replace Canelé's own fried chicken sandwich that’s served during weekend brunch. In fact, with the exception of a few tweaks here and there, Canelé on the weekends is pretty much the same as it always has been on the weekends, crowds and all, with Wild specials such as waffles, sablefish brandade, uni carbonara, etc. — supplementing, rather than supplanting, the brunch offerings.
A few months into the Wild, the Wilsons have a nice rhythm going and are continually experimenting with ingredients and dishes, as you do when you want to keep learning and growing. They're especially excited — we're all especially excited — with the upcoming spring produce (loquats! English peas! fava beans!).
At some point, they would like to have a place to call their own, but for now and the foreseeable future, Canelé is where you’ll find the pair, and, as is wont these days, their Instagram account is where you’ll find the day’s menu posted. And then? Maybe make plans for a leisurely lunch.