For the past two years, a baguette from Bread Lounge -- perfectly moist, crusty outside and airy as a wisp inside-- was one of the city's best-kept secrets. You could find it on the tables at some of the hippest restaurants in town, in the personal pantry of Walter Manzke or Nancy Silverton, served at underground dinners like LQ@SK or Wolvesmouth. Until recently, though, it was difficult for the average diner to track down what could be called the most coveted bread in Los Angeles.
Bread Lounge, a small bakery in the Arts District located a block west of the L.A. River next to an old firehouse, is the brainchild of Ran Zimon, a lifelong baker who previously worked alongside Suzanne Goin at A.O.C. and Lucques. In 2008, Zimon turned down an offer to head the baking program at Tavern in Brentwood in order to pursue his dream of opening a hyperfocused artisan bakery like the kind he enjoyed growing up in Israel. "When I first came to Los Angeles, everyone mentioned La Brea Bakery had the best bread available, and after trying it I thought it was good, but I also thought that there was room to do something even better on a smaller scale," he says.
Zimon started selling wholesale at first, traveling to a few nearby restaurants and to Wally's Wine in Westwood, convincing them to carry his loaves. It didn't take long for word to spread among chefs and restaurateurs. "I figured since this was such a large city it would take a while for word to get around, but I literally was bombarded by calls after a few weeks. It's amazing how close-knit the restaurant community is here."
Chef Craig Thornton, who hosts his Wolvesmouth dinners just a few blocks away from Bread Lounge, swears by Zimon's buttery brioche, which Thornton toasts and serves with Dungeness crab salad tinted with sour cream and lime. "I'm incredibly lucky to have a place like so close by," Thornton says. "I would literally drive hours for bread like this."
But even as the wholesale business grew, in the back of Zimon's mind was his goal to open a retail outlet bakery, something he had envisioned from the start. "I wanted to have something like a European cafe, a place where you could take home fresh bread, or have a pastry and coffee and sit around for half the day. It was important for me to become part of the neighborhood."
Zimon opened his retail space, a rather sparse affair with vaulted ceilings and a large window looking onto the kitchen, in late May. The menu consists of a variety of pastries, a few sandwiches and about a dozen or so selections of bread. There are sugar-dusted Danishes filled with rich almond paste, pain au chocolat laced with bittersweet dark cocoa, and a croissant whose flaky outer shell gives way to a golden center as light and fluffy as fresh-pulled cotton. There is Balkan-style borek, triangular pastries stuffed with a dense and gooey mix of feta cheese and a bit of roasted eggplant. Bread Lounge roasts its own coffee blend, and plans to start selling beans in the near future.
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Early on a recent Saturday morning, the shop already is humming with activity. Bearded dudes from nearby production houses picked up coffees and a box of croissants for their crew, while a young couple ponders bread choices for that night's home-cooked supper: a loaf of ciabatta, pale and chewy with a hint of sourness; a deep brown loaf of fig and walnut bread; one stuffed with kalamata olives and potato bread flecked with sprigs of rosemary? As the Arts District transforms into one of L.A.'s most buzzworthy neighborhoods, locals are more than pleased to have fresh baked goods at their fingertips.
Zimon insists he's not reinventing the wheel but simply focusing on quality. "There are no big secrets in baking. You have to take good ingredients and put the effort in. If we didn't use the best butter or the best flour, then you can taste it -- what comes out of the oven is what you put into it."
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