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Pacific fish stew; Photography by Carin Krasner

The County Line

by Lesley Balla | Angeleno magazine | February 22, 2012

If there were ever a reason to fall off the no-carb wagon, the chewy spelt “Spretzle” pretzel at Cooks County might just be it. It’s a lovely little thing, with a few grains of coarse salt on top—just the way a soft pretzel should be—served with a sweet mustard sauce for dipping. Every time I’ve ordered it, it didn’t last more than a minute on the table. Next time, I tell myself, we’ll get three.

This isn’t carnival fare by any stretch. Executive Chef Daniel Mattern and his wife, Pastry Chef Roxana Jullapat, are just having a little fun. The entire menu at the new Beverly Boulevard restaurant is straightforward and uncomplicated, a tight list of familiar dishes heightened by their use of locally sourced ingredients. And yet it’s so much more than those buzzwords.

This place should have its own branch on the Los Angeles restaurant family tree. All four partners—Mattern and Julapat, and owners Claudio Blotta and Adria Tennor Blotta—worked at Campanile at one point. Mattern and Jullapat went on to A.O.C. and Lucques, moved to Portland’s Clarklewis, then came back to the Hollywood mainstay Ammo, where they won praise for their creative take on farm-to-table cuisine. The Blottas (Adria also worked at A.O.C.) now operate one of the best wine bars in the city, Barbrix, in Silver Lake.

With such experienced partners guiding it, it’s no wonder Cooks County felt like a well-oiled machine from the start. I love what they did to the space. The big windows allow sunlight to fill the room during the day, and make it feel bustling and bright at night, and the heightened ceiling—now all wood beams and ducts—is even airier. A wall was blown out to open up the kitchen, separated by a small bar with a few stools around it. It feels like you could drop in any night of the week, but if you did, you might find yourself waiting for a table or simply giving up: The place is packed almost every night.

This all perfectly matches the menu, or vice versa. Mattern loves his ingredients and doesn’t putz around with them. The menu changes constantly, and each dish has so much soul, you know it comes from the heart. I’m pleasantly surprised to see sugar snap peas in the winter, tossed lightly with farro, and a little lemon and mint. Shredded celery root and apples tossed in a creamy, mustard dressing—almost like a slaw—is another nice light start. I think the fluffy chickpea pancake, studded with tender chickpeas and topped with a cumin-scented carrot salad, isn’t large enough for a vegetarian entrée. We kept getting it as an appetizer, and devouring it.

Hopefully Mattern will never take the Pacific seafood soup off the menu. It’s sort of a cross between cioppino and bouillabaisse, with perfectly cooked shrimp, chunks of grilled fish, Dungeness crab meat, plump mussels and clams. Save the grilled bread, stir the romesco into the broth, and dunk. I’ll be surprised if you don’t pick up the bowl to sip every last drop.

There are a few pastas if you want to play it safe. Best bets are the whole-wheat fettucini (made in-house, of course) with wild mushrooms and pancetta, or the ribbons of tagliatelle tossed with oxtail ragu. Instead, go straight to the meats, especially if you spot Windrose Farm lamb on the menu. One night it was done two ways, a few slips of medium-rare meat cut from the leg, and a chunky loin chop served with a pistachio salsa verde. The soft beef cheeks with flageolet beans come and go; if it’s there, get it.

Jullapat’s desserts are sublime. Complex flavors hide in seemingly simple packages, like the mini chocolate cake spiked with ale and served with a tiny scoop of stout ice cream, or the lime cheesecake that’s completely ethereal, even if the spiced crust is a little intense. And you can never go wrong with warm, chocolate-filled beignets.

Brunch is coming along. We absolutely loved every crumb of the pastry basket, and liked the savory dishes more than the sweet. The oxtail hash is just perfect, while the yeasted oven-baked pancake was a tad too... well… yeasty, until we smothered it with huckleberries and syrup. But all in all, it’s a lovely, sunny spot to spend a weekend afternoon or enjoy lunch, which is served every day during the week.

The staff is relaxed and helpful, enthusiastic but not overbearing. They know the menu, but when it comes to wine, see if Blotta is around. He was the wine director at both Campanile and Gino Angelini’s La Terza, and the list is as fun, flirty and reasonably priced as it is at Barbrix. The Alain Michaud Beaujolais he suggested to go along with my fish soup was a home run.

This is the kind of restaurant you want to see more of around Los Angeles: a place where anyone can walk in at any time and feel comfortable, where the chefs don’t try to overpower with foams and smoke and mirrors, but the food is well executed. It’s the neighborhood restaurant that everyone wants in their own neighborhood. I could eat here every day.

Cooks County
***

8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 323.653.8009, cookscountyrestaurant.com

Hours
Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner, Sun.-Thu., 6-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 6pm-1am; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm

Who’s There
Coiffed yet casual Mid-City neighbors, off-duty restaurant insiders

Watch the Action
Spot visiting chefs in seats along the small bar overlooking the kitchen.

Late Nights
The restaurant is open until 1am for post-movie eats—The Grove is just a few blocks away.

Industry Scoop
The Artist fans might recognize Tennor Blotta: She played John Goodman’s secretary in the flick.

What It Costs
Dinner entrées, $16-$26; desserts, $8-$10;
lunch entrées, $12-$16; desserts, $8;
brunch $9-$13;
corkage $15 per bottle, waived if you buy a bottle