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Restaurant breakfasts make a comeback in L.A.
WHEN Campanile stopped serving daily breakfast a decade ago, the regulars (but obviously not enough of them) who'd made a cappuccino and pastry or poached eggs and ham at the restaurant part of their morning routine were devastated. They had become accustomed to using the white tablecloth restaurant as an office away from the office. Over a sumptuous breakfast, they would meet clients, hold meetings, plot goals and projects. Screenwriters scribbled, actors pored over scripts and there may already have been a few bloggers at their keyboards. And then it ended (except for weekend brunch, which is still going strong).
If Campanile couldn't keep breakfast going, what ambitious restaurant could? Du-par's and the Original Pantry rarely venture beyond the basics. Yet there's reason for optimism: After several years of deprivation for diners, the L.A. breakfast is making a comeback.
Why? It's a result of more relaxed working hours, unpredictable traffic and changing dining habits. Restaurants are noisier at night: If you want to spend time with a friend or colleague over a meal, breakfast has a certain novelty and convenience. And, usually, baby sitters are not involved. Or hard liquor. You can enjoy all the perks of a top-notch restaurant without the expense of a three-course meal, plus wine. Breakfast, I'm here to say, is a civilized affair, and compared with other dining options, a relative bargain.
Neal Fraser and his wife Amy Knoll Fraser helped jump-start the trend when they opened the casual BLD -- breakfast lunch dinner -- down the street from their more formal, contemporary American restaurant Grace. And they weren't just doing brunch, but breakfast every day. Ammo joined in too, with its early-morning offerings.
And now, a handful of restaurants, formal and laid-back, are discovering an enthusiasm for breakfast. Time it right, and you can stop on the way to work, avoid the worst of the traffic, eat something serious and leave ready to take on the day.
Suddenly there is an array of delicious options -- a Japanese bento box breakfast, a perfect croissant and café au lait, billowy pain perdu,a stack of blueberry ricotta pancakes, soft-scrambled tofu and the classic two eggs sunny side up with toast. Here's where to look.
Gordon Ramsay. Britain's celebrated tow-headed chef offers a proper hotel breakfast in the posh new London Hotel. The Japanese bento box includes grilled salmon and whitefish, green tea noodles and buckwheat soba, a dipping sauce, beautiful rice and Japanese pickles. Some other dishes could use more attention to detail. Juices aren't squeezed to order as you'd expect at these prices, and while toast served in a silver-plated toast rack is lovely, what's up with the eggs Benedict? The English muffin is supermarket quality, toasted on one side only; however, the hollandaise is silky as can be and the eggs are impeccably poached. English breakfast features quite ordinary sausage, crisp delicious bacon, a grotty-looking wedge of portabello mushroom and, in my case, perfect sunny-side-up eggs for $24. Citrus French toast is cloyingly sweet and, oddly, comes with sweetened butter for another sugar rush. Scottish smoked salmon is luscious, though the bland soft scrambled eggs and undercooked potato blini that come with it leave something to be desired. Still, the setting is swell, service is attentive and it's quiet enough to talk, just not the top-notch experience you'd expect from a chef of this caliber. Gordon Ramsay at the London, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 358-7788; www.thelondonwesthollywood.com. Breakfast served 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Comme Ça. What a difference the morning makes at Comme Ça when light streams in the French windows of this handsome bistro from Sona's David Myers. Jugs of juices are lined up on the bar. Newspapers and style magazines are draped over bamboo sticks and the noise level is more subdued. If you're not all that hungry, order toasted baguette and terrific walnut and house-dried-raisin bread and a flaky croissant. The omelet, though, is curiously pale, missing the variations in texture that make a proper example so delicious. One morning it took three tries for the kitchen to get the coddled egg right. Never mind, there's still a custardy pain perdu ("lost bread," or French toast) made from fat slices of brioche dusted with powdered sugar. Also, Bruno's quiche laced with Gruyère is fabulously rich and delicious. Another great choice is eggs Norwegian, which feature house-cured gravlax with a poached egg and hollandaise. Comme Ça, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 782-1178;www.commecarestaurant.com. Breakfast served 8 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; brunch 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Anisette. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, breakfast at Alain Giraud's Santa Monica brasserie is mobbed with shoppers stopping in after the farmers market, ready for croissants and coffee. And that is exactly what you should have at Anisette. The croissants are textbook perfect. With its red banquettes, mottled mirrors and tiled floor, Anisette looks the part. Some mornings there's delicious, fresh-squeezed tangelo juice, too. But eggs Benedict or Florentine come on a mediocre English muffin, which sits on a dense rectangle of hash browns. English and American breakfasts are piled unappetizingly on top of the hash browns too. The omelet is more like a frittata, flat and round with cubes of unmelted goat cheese feta sitting on top. Huh? Croque-monsieur is quite awful, slathered in inch-thick béchamel. Then again, if you wait until 11 or so, you could have a dozen oysters for breakfast -- why not? Or a fine steak tartare. Best advice: Stick with coffee, juice and a croissant. Anisette Brasserie, 225 Santa Monica Boulevard, Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-3200; www.anisettebrasserie.com. Breakfast served 7:30 to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday; 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; and brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Akasha. Caterer and cookbook author Akasha Richmond has made a successful career of plying finicky celebrity eaters with her organic cuisine. At her new Culver City restaurant, she serves breakfast in the attached bakery where you can pick out pear ginger scones (you'd never guess they're low-fat), vegan Meyer lemon scones and fluffy cinnamon rolls with a slick of orange glaze. Take a seat at a rustic communal table, or at a table on the sidewalk terrace. Cooked breakfast items include a tall, oval BLT frittata whipped up with organic eggs, Niman Ranch bacon, tomatoes and arugula or a delightful breakfast sandwich layered with a basil omelet, provolone and ham. Her house-made bagel is served with house-cured Loch Duart gravlax, organic cream cheese and all the fixings. Otherwise, get the day started with Bellwether Farms sheep's milk yogurt with berries and stone fruit and a cup of joe -- fair trade and organic. Akasha, 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 845-1700; www.akasharestaurant.com. Breakfast served 7 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
M Café de Chaya. The macrobiotic fare at this Culver City outpost of the original Melrose Avenue cafe has moved way beyond the hippie fare of the '60s. Clever and attractive, the kitchen's take on breakfast includes a smoked salmon Benedict on a grilled whole baguette with steamed kale standing in for the spinach and hollandaise based on soy instead of butter. There's a substantial breakfast enchilada stuffed with lightly scrambled tofu, avocado, chile-laced beans, soy mozzarella and a little tempeh (soybean) bacon. That faux bacon accompanies the tasty scrambled tofu along with sweet potato hash and grilled country bread. They've got great juices and smoothies, too. In short, this is a breakfast that everybody, not just health fanatics, can appreciate. The scene in the morning is very local -- folks on their way to work, mommies visiting over soy lattes and pastries. M Café de Chaya, 9343 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 838-4300; and the original location at 7119 Melrose Avenue, Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 525-0588; www.mcafedechay.com. Breakfast served 8 to 11:30 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends in Culver City; 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. weekdays and 9 to 2 p.m. weekends on Melrose Avenue.
Breadbar. A Century City shopping mall seems an unlikely place for breakfast, but Paris boulanger Eric Kayser's Breadbar is open every morning with a full array of pastries and breads. The croissants are no match for the ones at his Paris shop, but they're better than most. The pecan-raisin scones are terrific, though, and the basket of bread for two offers plenty to munch. Cooked dishes are excellent, too. Perfect sunny-side eggs are served with a fresh jalapeño salsa, ripe avocado slices and buckwheat toast. Ham and Gruyère omelet doesn't come loose and runny as ordered, but the flavors are classic. The best deal is "Two by Two," two eggs any style with two slices of raisin-walnut bread. Breadbar, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 277-3770; and 8718 West 3rd St., Los Angeles; (310) 205-0124; www.breadbar.net. Breakfast served 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Rustic Canyon. On Saturday mornings, with an eye to catching the lazy morning crowd and folks who'd like to hang out after the farmers market, Rustic Canyon serves a splendid breakfast. Pastry chef Zoe Nathan starts baking at 3 a.m. and keeps it up all through the morning. The goods are all laid out on the bar -- glorious crumbly maple-bacon biscuits with cream cheese and chives, croissants stuffed with Valrhona chocolate, pretty galettes filled with grapes and plums, frittata embellished with fennel and sausage, and tall wedges of old-fashioned coffee cake. Don't forget the chalkboard that lists the hot dishes. That's where you'll find the French doughnuts, a bowl of what looks like doughnut holes rolled in cinnamon sugar. Inside, they're soft and custardy, irresistible. Also recommended: the fried-egg sandwich outfitted with Niman Ranch bacon, Gruyère, wild arugula and a dab of aioli. Early birds get the best tables. Rustic Canyon, 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Boulevard, Santa Monica; (310) 393-7050; www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com. Breakfast served 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday only.
LA Mill. On the east side of town, this Silver Lake coffee boutique turns out a polished, breakfast designed by Providence's Michael Cimarusti. Vegetarian-hen eggs come either softly scrambled or baked in an earthenware cocotte (small dish). My vote goes to the wild-mushroom cocotte with lardons of Niman Ranch bacon and a sprinkling of fines herbes. Instead of oatmeal, there's stone-ground polenta swirled with butternut squash and pecans. There's house-made granola with Marcona almonds, hazelnuts and dried sour cherries and some of the best coffee (roasted at LA Mill's own plant) anywhere. Choose your method: French press, Chemex, or the entertaining Japanese siphon presentation in which your coffee rises from one glass chamber to another and then falls back down, perfectly brewed. LA Mill, 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 663-4441; www.lamillcoffee.com Breakfast served from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
--S. Irene Virbila