If you were lucky back in college, the cast of characters who inhabited your world included the guy or girl who knew how to rise above the haze of smoke at 2 a.m. and create something great to eat. This food would not be made-from-scratch gastronomy; it would involve a bunch of veggies and condiments and Top Ramen, or Velveeta shells and cheese along with a dollop of sambal olek and a fistful of arugula. And it would be mind-blowing — all the more so if you were partaking in a hunger-inducing inebriant. I knew a guy once who figured out how to make a crappy home-cooked burger taste exactly like McDonald's, and another who took cheesy toast and turned it into high art. Pun intended.
A few of those old friends became chefs, but until I'd eaten at Trois Familia, the new restaurant from Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo and Ludo Lefebvre, I'd never come across food that reminded me so much of the late-night culinary tinkering that fed me through much of my late teens and early 20s. Sure, high-end stoner food is almost a genre unto itself these days, and Shook and Dotolo are in part responsible for its genesis. But fast food–imitating hash browns sitting in a pool of vinegary hot sauce and topped with a fried egg and a shower of fresh herbs? This, my friends, is a whole new level of absurdity, even before you consider that the dish is named "hash brown chilaquiles."
You almost get the feeling that Trois Familia is a bit of a throwaway for the trio of chefs, who have plenty of other projects both realized and brewing. A French-Mexican spot in a Silver Lake strip mall that's not open for dinner and has no booze license (and no plans to get one) is hardly a money-making machine. It's a side project, a fun thing to do while the trio plots world domination. It has none of the groundbreaking ambition of Trois Mec and Petit Trois.
You put your name on the list hanging beside the front door, you wait outside (sometimes for a while) until you're called, and you sit at white picnic tables and eat nachos drizzled in mornay sauce and "broccoli salsa." You drink strong coffee from an enamel cup, you bop your head to the music (likely a deep cut, perhaps some very early B-side Cure, it's kind of obscure, man, you probably haven't heard of it), you take in the somewhat ridiculous Silver Lake crowd, you pay and go. Your life won't be changed. But while this may not be these chefs' loftiest achievement, it is kind of an incredible feat. Because in anyone else's hands, the hash brown chilaquiles and the mornay-drenched nachos would be a horrible idea.
OK, the French nachos still aren't the best idea in the world. Not to say that this plate of crispy chips and gloppy sauce doesn't taste good, just that queso would be better. If you're going to defy the "if it ain't broke" adage, you'd better make sure your fix is more weirdly delicious than the original, or at the very least equal in deliciousness. The true test of the brilliance of the stoner chef is the one who can remove himself from the "duuuude, wouldn't it be cool if ... " flash of inspiration and recognize when the idea is better than the actual food. But this is a menu full of surprises — most of this stuff is far better than it might have sounded if, say, your friend announced he was going into the kitchen to make garlic butter burritos.
It turns out you really do want a ton of garlic brown butter in your French bean burrito, and yes, you even want wakame and preserved lemon in that same burrito. Who said seaweed didn't have a place in your French-Mexican food? They were wrong.
Why not indulge in a high-end ode to the double-decker, hard-shelled taco, here stuffed with smooth potatoes, creme fraiche and pico de gallo made from shredded carrots? Somehow it's far, far better than the sum of its parts, though I would have liked a shot of hot sauce to help bring it over the top. (If I have one major request of this place, it's that they put hot sauce on the tables.)
Don't be fooled into thinking the kitchen is overly beholden to the French-Mexican theme. There's a touch of Asia in the shrimp fried rice, even as it's shot through with lime and hunks of creamy avocado. The South shows up in a dish of grits with mole mushrooms, which is showered in pepitas. It's hard to pick which of these dishes would be better to cure a hangover — might as well just get both.
There's the occasional, almost sneaky drift into elegance, as with the duck confit leg that comes in leche de tigre with chunks of sweet potato, or the "beet tartare tostada," which presents zippy beets that are almost creamed, drizzled with a swirl of "avocado milk" (a crema of sorts). The dish is worthy of more than its punny name, and interestingly it appears right now as one of the courses on Trois Mec's tasting menu, dressed up differently with a sliver of latke and horseradish rather than avocado. But the basic, mouth-filling pleasure of the thing is the same. There is some high-level cooking going on in this place, no matter how it's disguised.
Some of that can be seen in the restaurant's most straightforward offering, the crepes, which come simply topped with Nutella or jam or dulce de leche or — best of all — lemon butter. This is where Trois Familia most closely resembles Petit Trois, channeling the latter restaurant's ability to bring the flavors of Paris to an L.A. strip mall.
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You can hate Trois Familia for its complete and utter conformity to Silver Lake's reputation as the most hipster neighborhood in the known universe, for its stack of vinyl next to a vintage record player as decor. You could hate it for its bearded and moneyed bohemian customers, or for the fact that it replaced a long-standing family business that sold Mexican food with no trace of garlic butter. You could even hate it for the food, but it would have to be the idea of the food that bummed you out, the fallacy of French-Mexican stoner hipster silliness. For the taste, for the cooking, for the fun? Nothing but love.
TROIS FAMILIA | Three stars | 3510 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake | (323) 725-7800 | troisfamilia.com | Daily, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. | Brunch dishes, $8.25-$18.75 | No alcohol | Lot parking