Ammo, on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles, doesn't exactly advertise itself. The only sign is a faded name stenciled on the awning out front. Founded by caterer Sweeney as a small takeout shop in 1997 and later expanded, this soulful restaurant flies well under the radar, which is precisely why it's such a haven of civility.
Busy at lunch with an industry crowd from nearby post-production facilities scarfing down burgers and salads, the place at night takes on a sultry, slightly louche look with discreet lighting and interesting-looking diners huddled in leisurely conversation at tables and some very private booths.
Scene? Not a bit. In fact a major rock star can dine in peace, virtually unnoticed.
Wolfson's menu reads like a California dream,perfectlyseasonal, fresh and inspiring -- the closest thing to Chez Panisse cafe fare in these parts.
A corn soup offered as a special one night tastes like the essence of sweet corn -- a little grainy, not over refined -- larded with bits of crisp pancetta and garnished with a swirl of crème fraîche.
Wolfson is a genie with salads. Her salt-roasted baby beets glisten like jewels in a salad with wisps of frisée, dabs of snowy fromage blanc (a fresh white cheese), fresh toasted walnuts and fat lardons of Niman Ranch bacon.
I love the salad of delicious summer beans -- Blue Lake, Romano and haricot vert -- with charred baby octopus in a snappy shallot dressing. Now there's a luscious heirloom tomato and white corn salad embellished with shreds of rich duck confit and pickled red onions. Sometimes she substitutes radishes for the tomato.
This chef rarely falls into the trap of too many ingredients. Her wild arugula salad, for example, is dressed up with shaved baby artichokes, toasted pistachios and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
She'll go for three or four strongly contrasting flavors, not 20. Pickled sour cherries and charred grapefruit add some pucker to a starter of braised pork belly. The pork has a wonderful texture, crisp at the edges, fleshy and moist inside.
Pick a pizza
FROM Ammo's wood-burning oven, she turns out some very respectable thin-crust pizzas, although occasionally the crust is a touch underbaked. You can't go wrong with the one topped with prosciutto di San Daniele (a little sweeter than the ham from Parma) and handfuls of arugula. The classic pizza of fresh, milky mozzarella, tomatoes and basil is a good bet too.
I loved the pizza of baby artichokes with teardrop cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow, some barely bigger than a pea. But the next time I ordered it the artichokes had the vinegary tang of the kind sold in jars. Maybe they'd run out of the fresh ones. Who knows?
Pizzas come from a category of the menu dubbed "middles." That would also include pastas, such as the ricotta and mint ravioli -- three very plump, round ravioli stuffed with ricotta and topped with a lamb ragù lifted with a dusting of lemon zest. But a little less salt, please.
Inch-wide pappardelle noodles tossed with wonderfully bitter dandelion greens, sweet onion and pancetta also make a satisfying pasta dish.
All through the meal I find myself stopping to listen to the music, a playlist put together by longtime manager Benedikt "Benny" Bohm. He's a warm and relaxed presence in the dining room, the glue that holds everything together.
He also put together the wine list, and it's a beauty. The dozen wines by the glass are worth trying. He's got 10 -- 10! -- half bottles, including Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, a Central Coast version of a Châteaneuf-du-Pape blanc.
Not many lists offer a Cremant de Bourgogne rosé (a sparkling wine from Burgundy) or not one but three Grüner Veltliners from Austria.
He's got a Moscato Giallo from Alto Adige (Italy), a Viognier from Lodi and a Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé for a very good price. The list of Côtes du Rhône varietals is especially long and enticing. And for beer drinkers, he's got Goesser from Austria along with Chimay Ale Red Label from Belgium.