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Porridge + Puffs finally returns, this time as a full restaurant

Cult favorite Porridge + Puffs, which has bounced around Los Angeles for four years as a pop-up — in Hollywood, in Silver Lake, at the Smorgasburg market — finally has a place to call home.

Minh Phan’s porridge shop will open Aug. 30 on Beverly Boulevard in Historic Filipinotown, just west of downtown L.A. Phan will host a neighborhood community dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. the night before, with $5 bowls of porridge.

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“I just say yes to things when they feel right,” she said. “And it was right.”

The menu will be divided into porridge, plants and puffs. Poultry and mushroom porridge with edible flowers and other classics will make a reappearance alongside new creations such as a summer lemongrass porridge of Malabar spinach, pickled okra, ground gooseberry and amaranth flower tempura. Phan exclusively uses Koda Farms’ organic heirloom Kokuho Rose rice.

Also on the menu are an Asian herb slaw as well as a yakimiso and sausage porridge. Phan says she might offer a banh mi — she is Vietnamese — but in a nod to Historic Filipinotown, make it with house-made longanisa sausage. The pillowy rice flour-based puffs — good on their own, even better when dunked into porridge — come “naked” or dusted with cardamom sugar.

Yakimiso and sausage porridge with grilled black eyed pea miso and negi rice porridge at Porridge + Puffs.
Yakimiso and sausage porridge with grilled black eyed pea miso and negi rice porridge at Porridge + Puffs. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

To begin, the restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. By the end of September, Phan plans to extend morning hours by opening at 8 and add weekend brunch, serving Asian-influenced twists on California breakfast staples, such as Japanese multigrain pancakes. Then, in October, she hopes to add dinner service with a menu that leans to the more experimental.

Porridge + Puffs began in 2014 as a four-times-a-week pop-up within Phan’s former restaurant, Field Trip, in Hollywood. In his 2014 review, Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold wrote that one porridge was “as dazzling in its complexity as anything coming out of the most famous kitchens in town.”

Despite the concept being a hit, the rent was too expensive, so Phan closed Field Trip, and with it Porridge + Puffs, a year later.

“We had so much momentum, and then I killed it,” she said ruefully.

She vowed to bring the porridge concept back, and soon. But in the ensuing years, Phan worked as a restaurant consultant and caterer and spent time in Japan, Mexico and Denmark, where she staged at the Michelin-starred Dragsholm Slot. She revived Porridge + Puffs in L.A. for pop-up events occasionally, leaving fans to wonder whether a full restaurant would ever materialize.

Poultry and mushroom porridge with sweet soy braised chicken, turkey, mushrooms, crispy shallots, celery pickles, seasonal edible flowers, mirepoix rice porridge and hibiscus-shiso pickled soft egg at Porridge + Puffs.
Poultry and mushroom porridge with sweet soy braised chicken, turkey, mushrooms, crispy shallots, celery pickles, seasonal edible flowers, mirepoix rice porridge and hibiscus-shiso pickled soft egg at Porridge + Puffs. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Funding challenges and finding the right location took a while. Phan met with prominent restaurant investors but became wary; ultimately, she and partner Aaron Sonnenschein fronted their own money and took micro loans from a close group of female friends to launch Porridge + Puffs. She looked at storefronts in Echo Park, where she and Sonnenschein live, as well as Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Glassell Park and Mt. Washington before settling on the Historic Filipinotown spot, previously occupied by the restaurant Thai East Wind.

Phan first encountered the 1,000-square-foot space as a customer about a year ago. In May, she tested it out by holding — what else — a pop-up dinner there for an L.A. Times Food Bowl event. Soon, she was negotiating to take over the property and most of the existing furniture and kitchen equipment.

A speedy makeover has transformed the interior in a few short weeks. A fresh coat of white paint erased the muddy orange and green that used to color the walls. Dark granite dining tables were covered up with light blond wood tops. A big custom communal table now dominates the middle of the space, which, along with individual tables lining a long black banquette, can seat about 40.

The restaurant’s eye-catching feature is a floral installation; Phan had an artist friend tape dried flowers and plants — lavender, fennel, sage, rose geranium, mugwort and California peppers among them — upside down, sort of a waterfall of flowers that appears to gently rain down from above.

Pinterest-esque floral walls and $12 porridge with ingredients such as Malabar-herb-coconut pistou may be a first for this stretch of Beverly Boulevard, and Phan allows that the site is unexpected. The easiest way to help pinpoint Porridge + Puffs’ location is to say it’s two blocks from the first Original Tommy’s hamburger stand.

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“I’ve always liked areas that are a little less developed. It’s realistic for me — you know, rent-wise, of course — but I like exploring these areas,” she said. “I like the flavor of it. We’re gonna change it, and I hope we do it respectfully.”

Like so many eateries around L.A., Porridge + Puffs got a huge boost from Gold’s glowing review.

Phan said she was inspired to create a new dish in honor of Gold, who died July 21, based on a quibble he once shared with her: that lengthy menus bombard diners with too many choices to make.

With that in mind, Phan has been working on a five-item Asian breakfast board that will come with pickles, a salad, eggs, porridge and a choice of protein (such as braised short rib or Dover sole stuffed with shiso and shiitake) for $20.

“I’m going to call it the Gold,” Phan said. “And the Gold is the best thing we have to offer.”

2801 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 908-5313, www.porridgeandpuffs.com.

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