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Easygoing and an early winner

Times Staff Writer

ORDER coffee at BLD, and a family-sized French press pot soon appears at the center of the table. Its stainless-steel sides prevent you from seeing inside, but your server will tell you precisely when to press the plunger. It pours out dark and strong, a brew made from organic coffee beans roasted at Allesandro Cafe in Valencia. No worries about flagging down the waiter to refill your cup. At BLD, you do it yourself, and somehow, you never get to the end of the pot.

It’s just one of the well-thought-out details at this new breakfast, lunch and dinner spot from chef-owner Neal Fraser and his wife and partner, Amy Knoll Fraser, along with Richard Drapkin of Grace, down the street.

Each table gets its own sleek stainless-steel salt and pepper grinders. The juice -- sunny orange or more-demure grapefruit -- is freshly squeezed and has enough pulp to convey that voluptuous top-of-the-morning feeling. The servers are unflappable and cheerful, even at 8 a.m. And the place has a happy, contented buzz, especially on weekend mornings when it fills up and overflows for brunch.

BLD updates the American diner or coffee shop with global touches, top-notch ingredients and a menu of salads and sandwiches that carries through lunch and dinner. It’s not exotic or trendy, just everyday fare that’s well-executed and priced mostly under $20, which these days is a bargain.

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The space, formerly occupied by Cafe Capo, Opaline and before that, Red, never looked so good. Now light floods into the airy loft-like room through big picture windows; a ray of sun spotlights an alcove where a twisty branch of driftwood telegraphs a visual haiku.

Black-painted library chairs are pulled up to bare tables set with woven vinyl place mats. A handsome vintage Italian meat slicer peers over the top of the companionable bar, furnished with red leather stools.

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Outdoor seating

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OUTSIDE, on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Vista Street, sidewalk tables are occupied by neighborhood denizens and folks taking meetings or just hanging with their laptops and smart phones.

For weekend brunch, come early or bring your neighbors: BLD takes reservations only for six or more. Spread out the paper and watch the scene -- babies on parade, pooches ambling by, lovers making up over a platter of house-cured salmon with arugula, pickled onions and (when in season) orange-streaked heirloom tomatoes cut in thick slices. The bagel that comes with it is dusted with coarse cornmeal and poppy seeds. It’s a terrific, updated rendition of the smoked salmon plate.

Watch out for the brioche French toast. A gentleman strolling by almost falls over backward when he sees the waiter approach our table with a plate piled with the fluffy golden toast, each slice easily two fingers high and wearing a ruffle of eggy batter. The berries strewn lavishly over the top are so sweet that the truly disciplined can forgo syrup.

But it’s hard to say no to warm maple syrup served in an adorable tin cabin, or to an order of the ricotta blueberry pancakes big as a plate. They’re less sweet than most, delicious slathered with butter and splashed with maple syrup.

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But then somebody has to order the morning pastries, all made in-house by baker Zoe Nathan. She makes big crumbly buttermilk scones dotted with currants, cinnamon buns swirled with butter and cinnamon, and a wonderful Breton pastry called kouign amann. It’s tender and yeasty, tasting of butter and sugar, and folded like origami on top.

I seem to be going on and on about the breakfast items, but that’s only because there are so many of them: croissant with ham and cheese, smoked salmon benedict, fried egg and cheese sandwich etc., etc.

On the savory side, try the earthy Spanish scramble, soft scrambled eggs stained with smoked paprika and flavored with roasted piquillo peppers, manchego cheese and bits of chorizo and cured lomo (pork loin). The combination of flavors is terrific.

Or maybe the lovely, wild mushroom frittata swirled with goat cheese and pea tendrils.

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But substituting white beans for pinto or black in the huevos rancheros tilts the dish toward the bland, despite the carefully made but skimpy adobo salsa.

*

First-rate fries

HOME fries deserve special mention. For the first time in my memory, eggs’ best friends don’t taste as if they’ve been cooking on the side of the griddle for the past decade. These are fresh, flavored with spunky chorizo and that crispy lomo. Hard to beat, but possibly the fingerling potatoes roasted with thyme and olive oil come close.

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That’s breakfast. Lunch and dinner share a menu of super-sized salads and sandwiches, but dinner adds a do-it-yourself supper option.

Pick one protein -- grilled half a chicken, hanger steak, hemp seed-crusted tofu or salmon -- and choose two sides and a sauce for $16 to $26. The meal is decent and filling, just what’s needed if you’ve worked late and need something nourishing and tasty on the quick.

And while the sandwiches are appealing at lunch, I don’t often crave one for dinner. I feel the same about the main course salads of fresh greens loaded with various toppings. You can get a Caesar with various proteins or a fresh albacore tuna salad for something a little fancier.

BLD makes a good hamburger, but it’s outshone by the more novel Berkshire pork burger with its moist, flavorful meat. Like the prime dry-aged beef burger, it’s served with house-made pickles and fries or a salad. The braised short rib sandwich with a crisp, refreshing horseradish slaw may be the best of the sandwiches because of its sumptuously beefy flavor.

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I would go out of my way, though, for the charcuterie and cheese at BLD. They’re now serving the cured pork products from Paul Bertolli at Fra’ Mani, a new salumeria in Berkeley from the former Oliveto and Chez Panisse chef, along with prosciutto di Parma and Serrano ham sourced elsewhere. Ordering three or so choices from the charcuterie menu with a few cheeses makes a wonderful feast with a bottle of red from the Languedoc or the Rhone.

Cheeses and all but one salame are $6 each. And the selection is first-rate. I wish they would serve just a plain baguette, though, instead of the nut bread and toasted baguette drizzled with olive oil. Or at least give you the choice.

Polish off your meal with some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Trust me, they’re that gooey and delicious.

Neal Fraser and company have a winning idea with BLD: good and sometimes great breakfast, lunch and dinner at an affordable price. And the updated coffee shop is a mere three-minute stroll from Fraser’s Grace, which means he can keep abreast of what’s going on at the new place.

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After all the restaurants that have inhabited this space, BLD looks as if it will be the one with staying power.

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virbila@latimes.com

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BLD

Rating: **

Location: 7450 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 930-9744

Ambience: Smart, contemporary breakfast, lunch and dinner from Grace’s Neal Fraser and company.

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Service: Savvy and friendly, just what’s needed in a casual spot such as this.

Price: Breakfast items, $3.50 to $16; salads, $8 to $19; sandwiches, $12 to $21; pastas, $14 to $19; self-constructed dinner, $16 to $26.

Best dishes: Morning pastries, ricotta blueberry pancakes, brioche French toast, Spanish scramble, eggs Florentine, fingerling potatoes and Nueske’s bacon, pork burger, albacore tuna salad, charcuterie and cheeses.

Wine list: Quaffable wines to go with sandwiches and casual fare. Corkage, $15.

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Best table: One along the windows.

Details: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 8 a.m. to midnight daily (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.). Brunch menu available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. Bar menu served until close. Valet parking, $5.50.

Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.


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