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Weekend brunch: Seven L.A.-area restaurants that are doing it right

Reviews of brunch menus at Ammo, Bouchon, Canele, Gjelina, Hungry Cat, LA Mill and Salt's Cure.

September 09, 2010|By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic
  • Egg dish at Bouchon
Egg dish at Bouchon (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles…)

I have a confession to make: I hate brunch buffets, those all you-can-eat affairs where, faced with a selection as long as a football field, you promptly lose your mind and pile your plate to the point you're confronting far more than you can realistically consume or appreciate. And some people don't stop there.

I think the moment I swore off such extravagances was a Sunday morning at the Rainbow Room in New York. The buffet there is famous for the view, and for the fact that the buffet spread slowly revolves like a turntable. I watched that morning as a woman grabbed a large piece of salmon and lifted it to her mouth while she was still loading her plate.

But if you're talking brunch as the weekend meal halfway between breakfast and lunch, ordered from a menu, and enjoyed in a leisurely manner, then I'm definitely in. Who doesn't love fresh-baked coffeecake, a perfectly poached egg and some smoked fish or thick-cut bacon?

The good news is that some of our best restaurants are delving into brunch. Saturday or Sunday morning and early afternoon are ideal times to catch up with friends without feeling rushed. The bonus is that the tariff is generally a lot less than for dinner. It's also a good way to try out a restaurant before committing to dinner.

On an abbreviated brunch crawl over the last couple of months, I tried to hit the highlights; it would have taken months more to check out every interesting brunch out there. For the record, these were the rules: no buffets and no hotel restaurants.

Here are my favorites, in alphabetical order:

AMMO. Chef Dan Mattern and his wife, pastry chef Roxana Jullapat, have brought new life to Ammo with their soulful contemporary American cooking. Now they're taking on Sunday brunch, and theirs is a doozy. Start with a fine white peach Bellini, a fragrant elderflower mimosa or a spicy heirloom tomato Bloody Mary designed by general manager Benny Bohm. Then maybe ease into brunch with an order of cheddar buttermilk biscuits or some tender beignets with a plum or strawberry dipping sauce. Jullapat is quite the wizard with dough and shows off with a wild-spinach pocket pie wrapped in a flaky crust. For something more substantial, consider the North African-inspired eggs fried in olive oil and served with chickpeas, yogurt and a dab of fiery harissa. There's a terrific fried egg sandwich with American prosciutto, arugula and a smear of aioli. These are all too good not to share. I'm saving the brown butter crepes with sautéed fresh peaches and the brioche French toast with cherry compote for next time.

I'd be tempted to spend the day in the neighborhood and come back for the phenomenal Sunday roast supper (a different menu each week), but how to spend the time between? That's when Aron's Records would have come in handy, if it hadn't, sadly, gone out of business.

Ammo, 1155 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 467-3293; http://www.ammocafe.com. Brunch, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Brunch items, $9 to $17.

BOUCHON. Can't get a reservation at Bouchon for weeks? Don't get huffy: Go to weekend brunch when you'll have the cool, spacious dining room practically to yourself. At least that was my experience a few weekends ago. Your order will have the chef's full attention. If you're feeling flush, start with a glass of vintage Champagne, then an order of brandade croquettes. One standout on the brunch menu is oeuf poché royale, a soft-poached egg on a cushion of house-baked English muffin, along with sliced smoked salmon, crispy fried capers and the silkiest of hollandaise sauces. Pain perdu (or "lost bread," what we call French toast) arrives in thick, tender slices perfumed with vanilla and garnished with finely diced Fuji apple compote and a dreamy applesauce. My favorite, though, is a special, dubbed "eggs and bacon" — two pristine poached eggs in a copper chafing dish with a glorious slab of braised pork belly that cuts like butter as the "bacon" in the equation. If, by chance, you're still peckish, there's always dessert, namely "bouchons," those deep dark chocolate cakes shaped like fat wine corks.

Bouchon, 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 271-9910; http://www.bouchonbistro.com. Brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Brunch items, $9.50 to $34.50.

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