One thing I know to be true about cities is this: they’re best judged by their neighborhoods.
I fell in love with some of my favorite cities–Seattle, Atlanta, New York–by visiting off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods with hidden-away restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, book stores and movie theaters. In Seattle, there’s Capitol Hill and Ballard; in Atlanta there’s the Virginia Highlands, Little Five Points and East Atlanta; in New York there’s the West Village, the East Village, Williamsburg and Park Slope. In all three of these cities, you could easily go there as a tourist and miss the best parts: you could stay downtown and see the Pike Place Market or the Coca-Cola museum or (midtown) Times Square and never venture into the parts that make these cities so beloved. Then you miss the whole point.
So when people diss L.A., I imagine it’s because–much like with those other cities–they’ve never discovered L.A.’s hidden-away neighborhoods. How many visitors to L.A. come east to Los Feliz? Or Silverlake? Or journey west to Venice for lunch at Gjelina? Not many, I’m afraid; and yet those three areas, so far, are my favorite parts of L.A. And now there’s another neighborhood to add to my list; an area called Atwater Village which is just a bit north of Los Feliz across the Los Angeles River.
I went there with my friend Diana last week after we ate lunch at Little Dom’s. We had two destinations in mind: Atwater Village Farm and Proof Bakery.
The first, Atwater Village Farm, is a work in progress. See?
That’s them putting up the sign. Good thing there’s this sign there too:
I first read about Atwater Village Farm in L.A. Weekly. It’s the brainchild of a woman named Piper Goldstein who basically wants to fuse the freshness of a farmer’s market with the convenience of a grocery. It’s a brilliant idea, especially in L.A. where farmer’s markets are scattered and frequently close by 1 PM; with Atwater Village Farm you can get farm-fresh ingredients at all hours at a convenient, never-moving location.
Here’s the scene inside:
As you can tell, the place is just getting started. But that makes it kind of adorable. Look at all these treasures to behold… Pickled apples:
Onions, potatoes and squash:
Some nice looking fruit that looks normal at first:
But can we get a closer look at those kiwis?
What in blazes! As Jason Kottke commented on Instagram: “Camel testicles?” I was too scared to buy one (or two) to find out.
There was fresh bread to be had:
All kinds of cheeses:
Smoked-dried tomatoes (these would be fun to play with):
And a whole refrigerated case of farm-fresh greens:
Here’s Diana grabbing some fennel and parsley for a salad:
And here’s what you see when you check out:
All-in-all, I was charmed by Atwater Village Farm. It’s a great place to visit the next time I want to make a farmer’s market dinner without going to a farmer’s market.
The best part, though, is that just a few doors down is a world class bakery called PROOF:
Here’s the scene when you walk in:
The menu on the wall:
You might recognize the place from this Funny or Die sketch. Look at these goodies in the case:
And this cake close-up which looks rather tasty:
There’s this big jar of granola:
Valhrona chocolate croissants:
Dark chocolate ginger scones:
And these big puffy meringues:
Diana and I had a very serious meeting where we discussed which pastries we’d sample. Meanwhile, I ordered an iced latte and it was very well made and tasty though, note to Proof Bakery, it’d be great if you could offer some simple syrup for stirring into iced coffee drinks (pretty standard for L.A. coffee shops). After careful negotiations, Diana and I settled on a Valrhona chocolate croissant:
Which Diana carefully cut in half:
This was a superstar croissant with lots of flaky, buttery layers and then that intense, bitter, almost fudgy chocolate in the center. We both devoured it.
We also shared one of the meringues, which came in two flavors. I forget what the other option was; we chose strawberry:
This was wild–crunchy and pavlova like on the outside and then creamy and marshamallowy in the center. Every bite was a different experience, each moment shaded with subtle hints of strawberry. If you go to Proof, don’t miss these meringues. They’re an experience.
And Proof is now, quite easily, my favorite bakery in L.A. I can’t wait to go back.
That was it for my day trip with Diana; but later that day I was raving to Craig about Atwater Village and mentioned to him that across the street from Proof is a restaurant that many people have recommended to me called Canelé. I suggested we go there the next night for dinner. So we did:
Canelé doesn’t take reservations; so you just show up and hope that there’s a table. Lucky for us, we got there at 7:30 on a Friday night and there was a table for two just waiting for us right next to the board that listed that day’s desserts.
Bread came first, with really good butter:
We ordered a bottle of wine that the waitress described as “smoky.” It didn’t disappoint:
As for our food, my appetizer was a seafood stew that was really a miniature Bouillabaisse, complete with toasted bread topped with aioli:
Craig had a very autumnal shaved Brussels sprouts salad with pomegranate seeds:
Around this moment of our meal a funny thing happened–especially if you’re fans of the show “The Wire.” We’d noticed, at the beginning, the actor who played Bubbles (Andre Royo) eating at a corner table with several friends. That was exciting enough but the crazy moment came when the actor who played D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.) came in with his family, totally separate, saw Bubbles and had a hug and a reunion. It was a very L.A. moment.
For my entree, I had a really flavorful Beef Bourguignon:
The beef was ultra tender and the sauce, spooned over fat noodles, intense, beefy and acidic from the red wine. Meanwhile, Craig loved his pork shoulder with mustard seeds and grapes:
This was hearty, wintery, Bistro-inspired comfort food at its best. In case you want a feel for the room, here’s what it looks like:
And here’s the dessert menu on the wall next to us:
We chose profiteroles:
Basically, cream puffs filled with coffee ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. That’s always a winning combo.
The loveliest bit is that, when you leave, the hostess offers you an actual canelé:
You can’t really tell from the picture, but a canelé is a mini-cake baked in a special pan that gets caramelized on the outside and stays custardy on the inside. Pim has a masterful post on making them at home, if you want to give them a try.
To bring this all back to my original paragraph, you can clearly see how much you miss when you visit a city and skip the neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are what make cities great! Cross off Rodeo Drive and add Atwater Village to your list the next time you visit to L.A.; it’s what makes a city like L.A. a great place to live.