L.A. Chapter thrums before a show at the next-door Theatre at Ace Hotel. The tables scrunch together. Performers exchange elaborate handshakes on their way from dinner to backstage. The scrawled drawings on the walls, the scuffed black-and-white tiles, and the steep staircase give the room an abstract theatrical vibe — on these nights, the half-dozen people at your table when you begin with a Manhattan or two are rarely the ones still there an hour later when it comes time for coffee and the check.
What are you eating? Charred vegetables mostly, vast bowls of blackened shishito peppers, sweet Brussels sprouts with a Vietnamese dab of fish sauce, or broccolini with pickled fruit; wrinkled roast carrots with pumpkin seeds; fingerling potatoes sloshed with oil. It is the kind of food you idly pick at while you drink and talk and drink some more, secure in the knowledge that Lyft is only a few taps away.
L.A. Chapter is under the aegis of Jud Mongell and chef Ken Addington, who also run the restaurant Five Leaves in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. Five Leaves was apparently inspired by and partially financed by the late Heath Ledger. Its New York Times review leads with an appreciation of a waiter's excellent tattoos. Mongell and Addington both spent time in Australia, which probably explains the fried egg, grilled pineapple and pickled beet root on the hamburger (also, probably, the omnipresence of nuts as garnish). The dinner menus of L.A. Chapter and Five Leaves overlap neatly. If you enjoy the kabocha squash agnolotti or vaguely Thai steamed mussels in coconut at the Brooklyn restaurant, know that you will also find them here.
The first time I visited L.A. Chapter, I did not enjoy the meal. There were dry, under-seasoned rabbit rillettes, and the house-made ricotta might have doubled as thyme-enhanced spackle. That grilled octopus had spent a lot of time on the grill. The kale salad with puréed anchovies tasted like the kind of thing a trainer at Sea World might have tossed her dolphins when she wanted them to get more roughage. The gem lettuce salad ended up being sweeter than the dessert. The stiff sea urchin pasta barely tasted of sea urchin. The empty dining room reeked of ketchup, stale beer and despair.
But L.A. Chapter is not best experienced when it is empty, and it is not often empty. I have come to appreciate the salmon, cooked sous-vide to an extreme-but-still-buttery rare, seared on a griddle and served with a garlicky beet purée. That charred octopus tentacle is actually pretty good when they get it right, and I really like the anise-scented rare duck breast with chewy spaetzle. The whole coriander seeds covering a monkfish filet can be a little off-putting — nobody really wants half a jar of seeds in his mouth — but once you brush them off the fish is cooked accurately and well … although the bacony mass of beet greens and clams underneath seems as if it belongs to a different dish entirely.
A plate of grilled octopus with puréed green olives? Why not. A half-dozen oysters? Make it two. It may not be the best of signs that the restaurant seems to be most itself when you are barely aware of what you are eating, but sometimes that's just the way it is. You did not come to the Ace Hotel, to this micro-neighborhood of pour-over coffee, lava lamps and $300 jeans to dine on rabbit-liver terrine and quenelles de brochet. You came because you wanted craft cocktails and a handful of really good fries.
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L.A. Chapter, in the Ace Hotel
Come for the craft cocktails and the Ace Hotel vibe
930 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 235-9660, lachapter.com.
Starters $6-$18; main courses $21-$27; dessert $8-$9.
Open Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; dinner nightly, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking.
Grilled octopus; "liquorish-rubbed" duck breast; king salmon à la plancha; maple custard.