View more photos in Anne Fishbein's slideshow, "Eva: Intimate Bistro Serves Epic Meals at Regular Prices."
We are, it seems, in the middle of our fried-chicken summer, the hot season of wings and thighs and breasts, a year when the tawny-crusted bird has shouldered aside pork belly and carne asada fries as the most glamorous dish in town.
Los Angeles has always been known for its fried chicken. Hody's fried chicken once vied with Lawry's prime rib for supremacy, Knott's Berry Farm was built on the fame of its chicken dinners, and for 110 years, the annual Iowa Picnic in Long Beach has floated on a sea of the stuff. Roscoe's House of Chicken n' Waffles nourished soul musicians ranging from Natalie Cole to Snoop Dogg. Honey's Kettle was able to transition from Compton to Culver City in what seemed like minutes.
And fried chicken has rarely infiltrated the world of fine dining the way it has this year, from Eric Greenspan's Tuesday blues nights at the Foundry to fried-chicken family dinners at Campanile, the buttermilk hen at First + Hope to Ilan Hall's Scottish-Jewish fried chicken at the Gorbals. When Ludovic Lefebvre brought his fried-chicken truck to a street-food festival a few months ago, the line stretched more than a quarter of a mile.
But even in the middle of chix-mania, when a mere whisper of high-quality fried chicken is enough to lure otherwise sane Angelenos down to a coffee shop by the airport or a weekly food court in distant Duarte, there has never been a crowd quite like there was at Eva down near the Farmers Market the other night, bearded dudes spilling out onto Beverly Boulevard, smashed up against the cases of cookbooks inside, cramming the capillary-size corridors leading to the restrooms and the kitchen, every one of them clutching a red plastic cup sloshing foam onto their wrists.
Campanile on fried-chicken night is basically Campanile with fried chicken. When Eva offered fried-chicken Tuesday, all you could eat and all the draft beer you could drink for a flat $25 per person, the elegant restaurant turned into the fine-dining equivalent of a frat-party kegger, and even the swells in the crowd, the ones who brought their own $200 bottles of California cabernet to lubricate the bird, had enough stripped bones piled up on their plates to assemble a scale-model dinosaur. When chef Mark Gold gets around to scraping the clumps of flung potato salad from the ceiling, he'll have a civic institution on his hands.
Eva, of course, is the furthest thing from a fried chicken shack, an intimate neighborhood bistro in what used to be Hatfield's. Eva is the creation of Mark Gold (no relation), who spent a decade as an haute-cuisine foot soldier for Joachim Splichal — an intimate bistro friendly to kids and regulars, neither too loud nor too brightly lit, with a gently priced wine list, a tendency toward advanced kitchen techniques, and a market-driven seasonal menu at popular prices.
Wild Alaskan salmon is just that: blocky slabs that you tease into soft, barely gelled flakes that dissolve in your mouth like snow. The crusted, black surface of "poached'' beef filet, Gold's version of a pot au feu with turnips and bone marrow, turns into pure juice on your tongue. Nobody is going to tell you, unless you ask, that the meats had been cooked under vacuum for many hours to relax the proteins, that somebody schlepped to the farmers market at 7 a.m. to pick out the baby carrots, or that the intricately carved fingerlings come from Weiser, the local god of potatoes. But if you've spent much time in better Los Angeles restaurants, you just know.
The waiters may wear layered uniforms that look like something just off the shelves at Douglas Fir; the food photographs on the walls may be by the fashionable photographer Hans Gissinger; and Gold may go out of his way to make delicious egg creams for the customers who don't happen to drink, but the food at Eva is the real thing.
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Sundays see epic family dinners, multicourse compositions, less involved than the weekday dinners, that may include a Caesar salad, a plate of chicken piccata, a few ears of roasted corn, braised short ribs and a selection of doughnuts, imported from Bob's Donuts, for dessert.
Last week it was goat cheese salad, chicken braised with wild fennel, short ribs, and Nutella bread pudding. A couple of months ago it was chicken braised with mushrooms, brisket with frizzled broccoli rabe, butter-poached sea trout, and frisée salad in a lightened Green Goddess dressing. For $35 ($20 for kids), including wine, it's the kind of dinner you could almost see going to every week.
Still, the strength of Eva is the relaxed but remarkably detailed cuisine Gold puts out every night, the roasted beet salads dotted with candied walnuts and rich smears of burrata cheese; the bacon-wrapped Jidori chicken sizzled in an oven until crisp; the seared but nearly raw scallops served with fresh porcini and slivers of luscious Regier Farms peach; and the linguine with clams reinterpreted as thick, stretchy Japanese udon noodles, tossed with sliced garlic, littlenecks and a generous handful of chunky bacon. For that fried chicken night? You'll want to reserve on a Tuesday.
EVA: 7458 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 634-0700. Lunch, Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tues.–Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; Sunday family dinner, 3-9:30 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. First courses, $10-$21; main courses, $18-$28. Wild salmon sous vide with summer vegetables