The food at this place really rocks


The indie-rock band Viva K says that opening Elf Cafe -- a tiny Echo Park vegetarian restaurant specializing in organic Eastern Mediterranean cuisine -- was a lot like making a record.

“Being in a band can be a very political experience, when you have things to say to the world,” says bassist/head chef Scott Zwiezen. “We’re all vegetarians and we have strong feelings about cruelty to animals. Elf was a way to make a statement in a very tactile sense.”

“It’s also a creative project that requires you to bring things together,” explains singer/hostess Astara Calas, reclining languidly in a chair at a Silver Lake coffee shop. She and Zwiezen joke about “band laziness” but the group put the elements of their restaurant together with remarkable aplomb.


Located on a hip little block of Sunset, just west of Alvarado, the restaurant’s decor strikes all the right notes: dark chocolate-colored walls, moody candlelight, a small bar built from recycled scrap wood and three etched wood hanging panels that Zwiezen found on Echo Park Avenue. (“Scott’s the king of found objects,” Calas says proudly.)

In Elf’s kitchen -- which consists of three hot plates and a convection oven in full view of the restaurant’s seven tables -- Zwiezen is nimble and accurate; pouring just enough olive oil into a pan here, pulling a vegetable torte out of the oven there, turning swiftly to plate a savory vegetable tagine (a traditional Moroccan stew).

Zwiezen’s ease under pressure fits perfectly with Elf’s classy but laid-back vibe.

There is no sign and no phone to ring ubiquitously in the background. With your back to the window, it’s easy to pretend you’re in a cozy hole-in-the-wall in the East Village.

Before opening Elf as a restaurant, Zwiezen used the space to prepare raw foods for grocery stores like Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park. The restaurant grew organically out of his desire to share his culinary skills with a more immediate audience.

“It started as this weird little art project and it just grew from there,” he says.

Adds Calas with a wry smile, “We’re used to putting on shows.”

2135 Sunset Blvd., (213) 484-6829 (message only).