RESTAURANT REVIEW : Quality, but Not in All Things


Confronting our first full plates of food at Quality, a small, pretty new cafe on 3rd Street near Fairfax Avenue, a person at my table said, “Are you sure this place isn’t called Quantity?”

Quality Food and Beverage is brought to you by the same people who created the ultra-hip Olive. Unlike Olive, Quality has a sign--a very distinctive sign, in fact; the letters are steel with rounded shoulders and a patina of rust so convincing that one is certain the facade has been lifted intact from, say, a ‘40s-era diner somewhere in Kansas.

Quality sets out to be the local cafe for a hip Westside crowd. Every time I drive by, the place looks busy; the tables out front are always filled. Walking into Quality for lunch, however, one instantly understands the urge to cluster outside. The room is nearly empty, and for good reason--it’s hot, almost unbearably so, and really does smell like an old-fashioned diner with an active deep-fat fryer.


But Quality looks pretty and hip. The walls are celery green, the chairs a shade of moss, the tabletops have a lovely blond finish. There is antic use of older lighting fixtures, and a mirrored wall is etched with the word SOUND. A single yellow daisy graces each table. Visually, the prognosis is inarguable: very cool.

The reception we get is usually cool as well. The staff is young and not coached in the finer points of restaurant etiquette such as making customers feel welcome. The most genial of greetings is a belated, desultory, “Oh, sit anywhere.” Just as often, we are not greeted at all. That’s not to say the young staff is unfriendly--all the waiters and waitresses were pleasant, even sweet--but simply inexperienced.

The menu declares the restaurant’s dedication to quality, and proceeds to define what quality means. The food is homemade, says the menu, and organic if possible. The kitchen uses only biodegradable cleaning supplies and recycles, and to-go containers are made of recycled materials. But after a number of visits, one begins to wish the place had a broader definition of the word.

Quality is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast/lunch menu is available all day long, even at dinner time. We loved the homemade corned beef hash, which was essentially corned beef shredded into tasty mashed potatoes and served with a large biscuit and eggs “poached” in little cups. We were less enthusiastic about the eggs bechamel, thanks to a pasty bechamel sauce with far too much nutmeg. Breakfasts fill oversized plates, thanks to great heaps of home-fried potatoes.

Lunch portions can also be awesome. A cold bow-tie pasta salad with chicken, tomato and Gorgonzola cheese was delicious and large enough to provide a take-home meal. A perfectly acceptable turkey burger came on a bun with some heft--and about a ton of French fries.

At dinner time, the blond tables were draped with white cloths. A skinny list of specials had been devised. Votive candles in amber glass holders were placed on the tables. The scattered customers included a man and his parents, some women friends chatting earnestly, a few couples, my friend Bernard and me.


Bernard is strictly a no-fat and no-salt man, and I’d lured him to Quality promising that he’d find something there he could eat. He did indeed find a spicy dairy-free puree of carrot soup and a slab of poached whitefish with only the faintest trace of butter. The whitefish was a bit fishy for my taste, but Bernard was extremely pleased.

I was far less pleased with my grilled chicken breast stuffed with shallots and spinach. The chicken tasted something like burnt garlic. Luckily, the oversized plate was filled with mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables and lovely, lightly cooked spinach.

Other dinners were equally uneven, reminding us that the adjective homemade is not necessarily synonymous with excellent and can, in fact, also mean unprofessional. The garden salad and the potato dill soup were great, but the tomato herb soup was not. We liked a simple angel hair puttanesca with capers, mushrooms and olives, but the grilled vegetable plate was overly freighted with cubes of barely cooked summer squash. And a pork tenderloin special was tough and overcooked with a flavor that reminded me of liver.

Quality has potential. Unfortunately, Quality seems most of all to be a young restaurant, and it exudes a youthful propensity to rate appearance over content and hipness over professionalism. This would change, perhaps, if the house definition of quality were enlarged to include quality in flavor, freshness of ingredients and graciousness in service.

*Quality Food and Beverage, 8030 West 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 658-5959. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No alcoholic beverages. Cash and checks only. Dinner for two, food only, $19-$50.