Scouting Report: The one dessert you need to have in L.A. right now is something called a ‘brick pastry’
Name: Spartina, a neighborhood Cali-Italian restaurant in the former Melgard gastropub space at Melrose Avenue and Gardner Street. It’s next to the recently closed Johnny Rockets, on that quadrant of the street that includes Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, Melrose Umbrella Co. and all those clothing stores that sell variations of the same slouchy sweater.
Chef: Stephen Kalt, most recently chef at Caulfield’s at the Sixty Beverly Hills. You may recognize him from his appearance on “Iron Chef America” (he won), or as the former executive chef of Corsa Cucina at the Wynn Las Vegas, or as the chef at Fornelletto at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Concept: Spartina is a reincarnation of a restaurant Kalt opened in New York City in 1993, also called Spartina. It’s Italian food that leans Mediterranean and a little Korean in presentation, at least when it comes to the amuse buche. Instead of the typical bread and butter, diners are given small tastes of three to four items when they sit down, similar to Korean banchan.
These items will change, but on a recent visit, there were salt-cured olives, pickled cucumbers, salt cod fritters and bite-size squares of spaghetti pie. You know those times when you just want to hang out in your pajamas, wander into the kitchen and eat something cold out of a take-out container? That something cold is probably this spaghetti pie, which tastes like a perfectly cut square of next-day carbonara.
Dish that represents the restaurant and why: The grilled avocado. A whole avocado is split and grilled until the interior is branded with pretty grill marks. Then the avocado is stuffed with a tart salad of diced tomato, dressed with Moroccan lemon and Calabrian chile oil. Both halves are topped with large spoonfuls of grated ricotta salata.
Or if you’re in the mood for pasta, there’s a burrata ravioli. The burrata Caprese-ish dish that appears on almost every menu in the city has been nipped and tucked into a ravioli stuffed with burrata, served with a sweet tomato sauce and a chiffonade of basil.
You can’t leave without ordering this: A stack of crisp Moroccan brick pastry covered in sweet, orange-scented crème anglaise. Imagine multiple layers of a cross between a Chinese wonton wrapper and phyllo dough, stacked in a bowl, covered in sweet custard sauce. Kalt was inspired by a trip to Marrakesh, where he watched women make a wet, sticky dough that turned out to be brick pastry, typically used to make b’steeya, a classic North African dish stuffed with pigeon, egg, almonds and powdered sugar.
“I dined at Dar Yacout ... this incredibly beautiful, chic restaurant in the middle of nowhere down alleys and winding roads,” says Kalt. “At the end of the meal, a large platter is brought to the table with a stack of these paper-thin sheets of fried pastry dough. The waiter pours a stream of crème anglaise over the top, and I have to say it was extraordinary.”
Spartina pastry chef Stacy Desrosiers makes the orange crème anglaise, which is poured over the pastry tableside.
Info: 7505 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 782-1023, www.spartina.la.
My sweet tooth has an attitude. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_
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