Dinner at Elysian, a Quasi Restaurant in Frogtown
Fried barley and squid at Elysian
There now exists all sorts of permutations of the concept "restaurant," and many of them aren't easily definable. "Pop-up" was a useful term but came to mean something fairly specific: a chef or group of cooks presenting food in a temporary space for a set amount of time. There are incredibly interesting projects happening these days that don't quite fit that description.
One of these is Elysian, a quasi-restaurant in Frogtown. Elysian is an events space that sometimes opens for dinner and now holds a mainly regular brunch service on Sundays. Located in an old industrial building between the L.A. River and the I-5 freeway, the space has housed a manufacturer of molds for porcelain products, an artist's studio and residence, and now this hybrid eatery. Eating here is very much akin to the experience of showing up at an after-hours dance party in some random neighborhood, except instead of basic booze and strobe lights you're greeted by cocktails and fairy lights. There's no sign (except for a small one that says "clockshop," an arts organization that Elysian partners with), and you wander in past the large wooden gate, through a lovely little garden and into a space that feels very much like someone's backyard.
Right now, Elysian is open about twice a week to the public, once for dinner and once for brunch. Brunch is run by Dan Mattern and Roxana Jullapat, the chefs who until recently ran the kitchen at Cook's County. Dinner is usually prepared by David Thorne, the cook and artist who has been using this space as his studio and home base (in various professional and personal ways) since 2003. Some weeks, guest chefs hold dinners here, such as brothers Chad and Chase Valencia, who host a modern Filipino dinner on the last Friday of each month (this week's dinner is already sold out).
Last week's Friday-night dinner was inspired by L.A.-based perfume company Dasein's "Summer" fragrance. A woman came around as folks were dining and handed out samples of the unisex scent. As such, cocktails were fruity and fragrant, and Thorne's food was bright and summery as well.
So yellowtail came with plum, snap pea, basil, umeboshi and ginger, creating a plate of perfume. Even a dish as inherently meaty as pork rillettes got a fragrant uplift from golden raisins imbued with coriander. The rillettes were presented as cubes rather than the usual potted plating, and the whole thing felt playful and fresh.
Fried barley was a play on the idea of fried rice, and the treatment worked beautifully for the puffy, hearty grain. The barley was studded with tender squid and peppers that ranged in sweetness and spiciness. Mizuna and a soft-cooked egg brought the elements together.
For dessert, a fudgy chocolate torte got its summery lift from the addition of apricot, which brought a kind of ethereal sweetness.
Seating is mainly communal, and unlike many places where you sit with strangers but never speak to them, something about Elysian inspires neighborly conversation. It might be because it feels more like a backyard party than a restaurant. I'm not sure what to call that, but I sure do like it.
Elysian, 2806 Clearwater St., Elysian Valley; (323) 522-6625; elysianla.com
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