Evan Algorri, chef at the new Augustine Wine Bar in Sherman Oaks, really only saw two choices when he graduated from Chico State. Go to law school or go to culinary school. So he quit his job at a law firm in downtown L.A. and moved to New York City to attend the French Culinary Institute.
"I think everyone I grew up with was like law school or investment banking — very traditional career paths," said Algorri, who grew up in Pasadena. "It's a little nerve-wracking, but I'm doing what I love."
While at the FCI, he landed an internship at Marea in New York City, then he got a job working for Mario Batali at Lupa after finishing culinary school. He cooked with David Bouley at Bouley in New York City before moving back to Los Angeles to helm the kitchen at Augustine. At the wine bar, Algorri says, he's tapping into his family's Spanish roots, making braised octopus with chickpeas, chorizo, romesco, cotija and cilantro crema; and a red wine-braised beef cheek sandwich with date paper, onion strings and spicy aioli.
What's the better food city? L.A. or New York? I think as of right now, New York. San Francisco is probably on par with New York City, if not better, but having been away for six years, then coming back [to L.A.], it's absolutely amazing to see the change. All of the sudden downtown L.A., especially the arts district, it's a totally happening food scene … and there are still so many places to try. And the [San Fernando] Valley, I mean, I probably would have balked at the idea of being a chef at a restaurant in the valley, but it's like this totally untapped source of people who are needing good food.
Favorite cocktail? My favorite cocktail is this creation that I made on Christmas Eve with my brother-in-law. It's gin, blood orange juice, orange bitters, cherry bitters and a splash of Disaronno and soda. It's called the bamboccione, which is also a hot sauce that I'm bottling right now that we use here. The name in Italian is kind of a slang term for a grown man who lives with his mother.
It's 2 a.m. What are you eating? What I crave at 2 a.m. is Mexican food. And Sunny and Annie's bodega in New York City. I used to go like every night after work and get a chicken club sandwich and a tall boy Modelo.
Best meal you ever had? I've never eaten at the restaurant, but working in the kitchen at Bouley, tasting through the menu there and the different iterations of everything.... Because he'd [Bouley] come in at like 4:30 in the afternoon with a huge white board and say, "This is what we're going to do"
and just create the menu right then and there. So I think that is like the most special, perfect meal.
If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be and what would you eat? Because he never got to experience a meal I cooked at a restaurant, it would be my grandpa Ernie Algorri. He passed very early on in my career, and I'd moved out to New York City. He'd love nothing more than a really great martini and a steak medium-well.
Augustine, 13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 990-0938, www.augustinewinebar.com