LOS ANGELES: West Hollywood
People who love good food seem to always know where to find it. Once they do, they tend to always revisit again and again, leaving the novice foodies to eventually pick up on their habits. Croft Alley (named for its location near Melrose and Croft Street) is an exceptional “culinary studio”. When one thinks of the word studio, they think of art. It is the art of good taste that partner and head chef Phuong Tran is creating. When one walks in to the cozy restaurant, they first might notice its rustic chic decor and secret hidden treasure location. One won’t find matching cooks in white or black uniforms, tons of the latest cooking irons or even $500,000 dollar digital and turbo flamed kitchen installations. On the contrary, they will find artists of food and service working with items that you might find in your own home kitchen. Armed with a simple oven not much larger than the biggest home microwave on the market and a few stove top burners that are easily unplugged and movable, they are creating magic. Food magic to be more precise.
The food magic begins with fresh ingredients delivered daily from local organic vendors (bakeries, butchers, produce, etc). A simple and delicious menu incorporating their selected ingredients can be prepared in a timely fashion, even with the minimalist kitchen. Their dishes are proof that flavor comes from food alchemy rather than food decor and over seasoning.
Most of us have had a bacon and avocado sandwich. It’s not revolutionary. In fact, reading the menu most will find dishes on it that don’t scream food orgy or fusion food exotica (seems to be always in trend). But that’s the precise stealth aspect of it. What one will probably envision is not accurate with what they will be tasting. Take our favorite, the bacon, tomato and avocado sandwich as an example. The difference is the freshness of the bread it is served with, the rich bacon perfectly (evenly) cooked along with a sauce that we can’t quite figure out if it’s butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, truffle oil or all of the above and toasted with the precise crispness your mouth wants. A honey lemonade to wash it down makes it even all the better. Don’t forget the triple chocolate truffle cookies. So to add some insult to those who don’t believe in perfect places, the menu is misleading (there, something wrong finally). It understates or does not use marketing tactics to lure in the customer with promises of wine reduction or ginger Asian mushrooms from the deepest caverns of the highest peaks of the Himalayas. No, the print on the paper isn’t sexy or is the opposite of storytelling. But like a novice foodie turning into a pro, you can forget the menu. Why? Because you will eventually know exactly what dish you want with every visit and order it again and again – end of story.
Fresh herbs and edible flowers can be overlooked by many customers as mere decor for the restaurant. It wasn’t until our third or fourth visit did we notice the manager picking green leaves and flowers from three white towering structures located in the intimate fedora dining section. We had assumed the water trickling inside was just to keep the plants hydrated for a “green” ambiance. Our eyes were opened and finally we were out of ignorance when we realized it was an edible garden. Only one word can describe this revolutionary blindness gone to actual vision, FASCINATING… We asked the owners where we could find these tiny semi portable self enclosed edible ecosystem towers. The answer, Green City Farms. Isn’t that the great thing about Los Angeles? So many environmental green gadgets that produce good things.
Much of the “food decor” inside is actually storage as well. Chefs often grab pastas and tomatoes from baskets and shelves on the walls. There isn’t one wasted inch of space in the entire restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself starting up conversations with someone, often attractive, simply due to the cozy atmosphere. Some are pleasantly surprised to bump into celebrities unexpectedly, only to later talk about how they almost stepped on so and so’s shoes before speaking with them for 30 seconds whilst congratulating them on their Oscar. But regardless of space limits, it works extremely well and efficiently. Their partially enclosed inside dining area is a favorite for private gatherings. An upstairs section scheduled to open in Autumn will add additional space for eating and lounging.
Maybe we are old fashioned, but when one of the owners walks over to serve you and by the end of the meal you are wondering if he is your new best friend (not because of the free cookies) and confidant, more than something is going right here. Customers aren’t just another “ticket” as the managers and partners get to know their clients and are happy to see them return.
If you are looking for a recommendation of “what” to try, that would be an impossibility because taste is personal. The recommendation would be to try a few things in your “flavor zone” and chances are it will more than pleasantly surprise you. Simple and delicious, qualities any gourmand can appreciate.
For more information about Croft Alley please visit their website: http://croftalley.com/