IN GOOD TASTE: LA Spice Cafe
April 21, 2014
Remember that restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally"? While sampling some of the offerings at LA Spice Café I came close to emulating Sally, except my reactions were to the food and totally and deliciously genuine.
For that I must thank Executive Chef Chris DeVillier, truly a magician in the kitchen, who recently joined LA Spice and brings his 25 years of culinary experience to this Culver City café. As the former lead culinary consultant and associate producer for Master Chef USA, he enhances both the café and catering experience with his gastronomic passion and innovation.
That passion began as an eight-year-old assisting his Cajun French grandfather to prepare crawfish etouffee, and grew through the many happy Sundays they spent together at his grandparents' family dinners for 20-25 people.
"We'd make pots of gumbo and I'd go crabbing at the bayou," DeVillier reminisced. "I fell in love with cooking and entertaining and the sheer joy it brought. My grandfather was a wonderful cook. He even taught my grandmother how to cook. She made incredible biscuits. I use that recipe in our biscuits here."
His education has been well-flavored through training in this country and internationally.
Attendance at Seattle Central Culinary College was followed by Corporate Management Training at Tom Douglas Restaurants, various classes regarding safe serving and sanitation, and many hands-on cultural food courses in homes and restaurants in Spain, Ireland and France.
DeVillier's menu is seasonal and far from static, since "I'll try things out as specials, get feedback, and if people like them, will include them on the menu." There are selections suitable for vegans, vegetarians and those with other needs, including gluten-free items. By combining the best, freshest and finest ingredients with an adventurous approach, global diversity is celebrated in this gem of a café.
As I sampled, my inner Sally could barely contain herself.
The exceptional cornmeal-crusted fried green tomato sandwich included Jack cheese, avocado, pickled red onion, romaine, spicy (but not too spicy) remoulade with Nueske nitrate-free bacon on ciabatta, a bread that wonderfully combined crispy crust with chewy interior – a symphony of taste and texture. It was accompanied by a salad enhanced by the best champagne vinaigrette dressing I've ever tasted.
When I complimented DeVillier on the beautifully nuanced flavors and voiced my surprised enjoyment of the remoulade – I generally avoid spicy foods – he responded that "the thing with spice is to tantalize so it keeps your interest but doesn't overwhelm the dish."
He added that "the salads and sides constantly change and are seasonal, and the Culver City Farmers Market is a great local source,"
I sampled two tasty sides. One was farro, a type of grain he'd enticingly combined with grapes, mint and a touch of yogurt. The other was an assemblage of golden beets and green beans in a ginger soy vinaigrette with sesame seeds – perfect!
And then came dessert, a tri-part exercise in decadence.
The chocolate pudding was made with avocado and cocoa powder and incorporated a little maple syrup for sweetening. The texture was rich and incredible and if I didn't tell you about the avocado, you'd never guess.
The rich and inviting s'mores cookie had a commanding presence that left me powerless to resist, and the rosemary and strawberry scone – well! I marveled at the wonderful, biscuit-like texture topped with a tantalizing taste of strawberry, and the piquant hint of rosemary that magically tied it all together.
I will be back.
This café, which opened in Culver City in February of 2013, is rooted in the childhood of owner LeAnne Schwartz, who started baking and cooking with her mother and "grew up in the kitchen." That led her to create LA Spice Catering (www.laspicecatering.com), which has been delighting clients since 1988 and, not surprisingly, was a repeat winner of the prestigious Daily News Readers Best Choice in 2013.
Schwartz has clients who have been with her since the early days. "I'm going to be catering a graduation party for a young lady who will be receiving her Master's," she said, "and I did her Bat Mitzvah. I'm doing baby showers now for clients who were the babies in the showers I catered for their mothers!"
Her catering business is evenly divided between corporate and social events such as "weddings, anniversary parties, summer blowouts and just about anything." It is not uncommon for her to cater multiple events with a wide range of guests in the same day. Her smallest catering job was for six guests, growing to 1,200 for a NAACP function in downtown Los Angeles and 2,000 for the grand opening of the Culver City City Hall.
She cited a technologically challenging breakfast and lunch she catered in September "for Virgin Galactic, 860 people in the Mojave Desert, to launch their spaceship. There was a high wind so it didn't launch that day," but that didn't stop her from launching a successful catering event requiring 90 chefs, waiters and managers, with 1,000 pound weights to be craned in for each tent leg – and there were several tents.
Fortunately for Culver City, Schwartz wanted to relocate her company closer to home. When she was introduced to the present location on Sepulveda Blvd., she realized there was extra space allowing for a café downstairs, while she could still run the business aspect of the catering company upstairs. Her decision that "this was a perfect opportunity to expand the business with a café and offer daily dishes of what can sometimes be found on our catering menus" provides local foodies with a tantalizing dining opportunity.
Let your gustatory GPS direct your taste buds to LA Spice Cafe, 4357 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230, open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering an eclectic gourmet experience, including beer and wine service, in a casual environment For more information visit http://www.laspicecafe.com or call (424) 500-2130 and give your senses something to truly celebrate. Bon appétit!