Jonathan Gold review: Trois Familia, where the Trois Mec chef makes Mexican brunch
Crispy hash brown chilaquiles with sunny-side up egg, cotija and salsa macho is served at Trois Familia restaurant in Silver Lake.(Christina House / For The Times)
Ludo Lefebvre, left, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, right, at their restaurant, Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
Chef de cuisine Matt Bollinger of Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
Chicken Milanesa with raw and pickled cucumbers and Maggi ranch.(Christina House / For The Times)
A diner enjoys a meal at Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
Kenny Wang serves food.(Christina House / For The Times)
Beet tartare tostada with cornichon, lime and avocado milk.(Christina House / For The Times)
Diners at Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
A look at the decor of Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
Tres leches birthday cake.(Christina House / For The Times)
Decor at Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
Double-decker potato tacos with lime, creme fraiche, carrot pico de gallo and jack, paired with a limeade.(Christina House / For The Times)
Toy cars are displayed in a wooden shelf at Trois Familia.(Christina House / For The Times)
So a French chef walks into a Mexican restaurant. Maybe he has a bowl of cocido, maybe he doesn’t. It is a good bowl of cocido; he may as well.
So a French chef opens a Mexican restaurant. It is on the site of what used to be Alegria, an artists’ hangout beloved for its mole. The former owner is retiring after 23 years. Her restaurant is on a block that has seen 30 years of Silver Lake brunches, from Yucatecan huevos motuleños to Cuban tortilla española to the Devil’s Mess at Millie’s. The new restaurant, from Ludo Lefebvre and his partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, is named Trois Familia, to fit in with Lefebvre’s Petit Trois and Trois Mec. At one point the name “Trois Mex” was apparently considered. Discarding it was probably a good thing.
There are a lot of reasons for a French chef to open a Mexican restaurant in Silver Lake. He may want to explore what happens when you reinterpret Mexican flavors with French technique. He may want to continue the experiments of chefs like Carlos Salgado, Enrique Olvera, Danny Bowien and Rosio Sanchez on the unique properties of nixtamal, or follow the path of unique fermentations, or edible insects, or the kind of intelligent, hyperlocal cooking you find at Hartwood in the Yucatan.
It is easy enough to overthink the collision of Mexican and modernist French cuisines, the way that Alex Stupak seems to be doing at his Empellón restaurants in Manhattan, where the pistachio guacamole and farro with huitlacoche are never quite what you think they should be.
Was Lefebvre thinking of evenings at Staples Center when he concocted his nachos, which substitute sauce mornay, a fromage-enhanced French béchamel, for the usual puddle of molten orange cheese? (The similarity is uncanny, right down to the moment when the sauce congeals into a kind of delicious, cheesy cement.) Was he imagining a construction-site lonchera, when he decided to spackle his fried chicken Milanesa with Maggi-infused ranch dressing? Did the beet tartare tostada result from a typo? And how did he avoid calling his white bean burrito spiked with brown butter and bits of preserved lemon a “buerre-ito”? Think of the missed branding opportunities!
Whatever you may have to say about Trois Familia, it is not overthought, at least not in that sense. It serves nothing but brunch — getting an alcohol license was apparently too much of a hassle — and the seating, after you have perhaps endured a long weekend line, is on benches at communal picnic tables. You fish your own cutlery and napkins from a container. A sort of hutch in one corner holds a turntable, a stack of vinyl and an old Marantz receiver, like the setup your dad may have bought with his first paycheck when he got out of college. For the last couple of weeks, an Andy Gibb album cover has been prominently displayed. If there is an aesthetic on display here, it is probably Dorm Room Disco, 1977. Even the restaurant’s sign is in a typeface that looks lifted from an old band T-shirt.
So a French chef walks into a Mexican restaurant. And what comes out of his kitchen is whimsical — pain perdu fashioned to resemble churros, galettes stuffed with chorizo, a Croissan'wich with black-bean salsa — but is also not really a joke, because what he is cooking is simultaneously Mexican-American-French food and an ironic commentary on Mexican-American-French food, which is to say a kind of meta-cuisine, perhaps closer in intent to what Roy Choi concocted for his Kogi trucks than to anything you might find in a French restaurant in Mexico City. (Mexico actually was ruled by France off and on in the 19th century; the marriage of the cuisines is nothing new.) Plus, Lefebvre and his crew can cook.
But the dishes they are riffing on are neither the elegant masterpieces of the Mexican kitchen nor rustic regional cuisine, but sloppy morning-after breakfast stuff, the food you might normally snag from a drive-thru window, the refrigerator case of a 7-Eleven, or the kind of Mexican restaurant where the Cinco de Mayo decorations might not come down until August. This is Silver Lake. This is the most Silver Lake restaurant imaginable, down to the mostly vegetarian menu, the chugging ‘70s funk on the stereo, and the possibility of running into the guitarist from Bad Religion or the star of that show you liked on AMC.
So the house taco is a vast, overstuffed take on the Double Decker from Taco Bell, a flour tortilla glazed with melted pepper jack cheese wrapped around a crunchy taco, ready for its Instagram close-up. What appears to be shredded orange cheese is really marinated carrots; the gloppy sour cream is a touch of crème fraîche; the meat is a fat spoonful of mashed potatoes sluiced with brown butter. If the tacos were deconstructed and served as part of the tasting menu at Trois Mec, you would not question it as part of a $100 meal.
Confit duck legs are served in a puddle of citrus and chiles, like an especially crisp version of pollo en escabeche. That Croissan'wich involves an especially flaky croissant, a fried egg, garlic butter and griddled slices of Taylor ham, like a Gallic cross between a Burger King entrée and a bean-smeared New Jersey breakfast sandwich. The chilaquiles, basically a small, exceptionally crisp block of hash browns topped with a fried egg and set down in a mild, vegetable-intensive salsa, have nothing in particular to do with actual chilaquiles (fried tortillas sautéed in chile sauce) beyond the crunch and a certain chile heat. But if you look at the dish as an improved Taco Bell A.M. Crunchwrap, it starts to make a demented sort of sense.
Chefs Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo open a French-Mexican brunch place.
3510 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 725-7800, troisfamilia.com.
Brunch dishes $8.25-$18.75.
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. 18% service charge automatically included. Lot parking.
Grits with mole butter and sauteed mushrooms; hash-brown chilaquiles, double-decker tacos; duck confit with leche de tigre.
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