Upon The Closing of Angeli Caffe: A Love Story
Evan Kleiman, with pie
Back in 2009, I was assigned by the LA Weekly to cover a wedding that was being held at Angeli Caffe. I can't remember how the story came to me but I've known Evan Kleiman for longer than either of us would like to see in print. Yet I don't see her very often. Over the years, she's become the friend that I wave at as she hustles past me at the Wednesday Farmer's market in Santa Monica or as she emerged from the Angeli kitchen on one of those prix fixe $28 Thursday night family style dinners that she used to have where newcomers always panicked that they weren't going to get enough to eat not knowing that the platters of food would be unending.
Ours has always been a conversation of longtime friends meaning it has no beginning and no end. Regardless of how many months that have gone by since I've last seen Evan we just start talking as if one of us left the room for a minute and returned to pick up the thread. If there isn't anything fresh to discuss, we can always rely on old favorites. Mine is the summer we were both vacationing in neighboring hill towns in Italy and Evan invited me and my friends to the country estate in Todi where she was staying to celebrate her birthday. When she called to ask for a head count I was too embarrassed to admit that I was bringing 27 people (as well as two cases of wine and a pair of hard-working chefs to help her -- Nancy Silverton and Suzanne Tracht -- but still) so I lied and told her 21.
I can still remember how her eyes bulged a little at the long stream of guests that snaked through her kitchen and out into the back yard. But she recovered just as quickly. She is Evan Kleiman, after all, and she knows how to laugh, shrug it off and feed the masses. Soon there was a five-meat lasagna in the oven and a whole baby lamb on the spit. It was one of the most magical afternoons I'd ever spent in Italy. Plus, more importantly, she forgave me.
Two years ago when I showed up at Angeli with my reporter's notebook in hand I think we cracked up for the millionth time about my Todi surprise. How different was it, after all, that upon discovering that two of her servers had no place to get married that she simply opened Angeli's doors to them and started cooking?
I was driving on the I-5 to Bakersfield with Squid Ink editor Amy Scattergood when we heard that Evan was closing Angeli. We practically had to pull over to the side of highway, our sadness was so complete.
In lieu of an elegy, here's that piece I wrote in 2009. Elegies should, after all, be celebrations.
Another L.A. Love Story -- the Setting, Angeli Caffe
The waiting game
By Margy Rochlin, Wednesday, May 27 2009
Not long ago, Angeli Caffe was closed for a private party. The back employee-parking lot had been scrubbed, tented and festooned with magenta paper flowers and amber carnival lights. On the green tile floor in the front room, right near the window, someone had painted the words "The Magic Spot." That was where, three years ago, Jasmine Roberts, a server at Angeli, first met the restaurant's pasta cook, Marco Awad. Now they were getting married.
Because the tiny neighborhood restaurant was filled with family and friends, there didn't seem to be a soul in attendance who wasn't familiar with the details of their initial encounter: It was 2006 and Jasmine, who'd just been laid off from her researcher job at Law & Order: Criminal Intent, showed up at Angeli to interview for a server position with Evan Kleiman, the restaurant's owner-chef. Other than Marco, though, the place was empty. Kleiman had forgotten about the appointment. This, Marco considered a stroke of unbelievably good luck.
"I thought Jasmine was really beautiful," he said. "So I had a good half-hour in which to charm her."
After seating her at a table in the front room, he called Kleiman and apprised her of the situation. Then, as they waited for the chef to speed over, he began a flirtation built on a stream of light jokes and a bit of nurturing.
"I kept trying to push food on her. 'Do you want some pasta?' 'Do you want some soup?' And she was, like, 'No, no, no, no.' She wanted water and a straw because she was wearing all white and didn't want to get dirty," Marco laughed. "But I'll always have that image of her, just sitting there, waiting."
If there are threads that run through every relationship, waiting might be one of Jasmine and Marco's. Her arriving at Angeli the very next day to wait tables. Him waiting for her to go out with him (two weeks of asking while she went out on a string of bad blind dates before they finally went for drinks after work at Birds up on Franklin).
"That's it. I can't wait anymore. Let me kiss you," is how Marco made his first move.
So it only made sense that they had to wait an hour for their wedding to begin. Jasmine, dressed in a long, white-satin wedding gown, stood on the sidewalk out on Melrose Avenue, drinking a glass of white wine as Angeli's head chef, Kathy Ternay, raced to the scene. She had gotten a flat tire in the Valley, and the couple didn't want to tie the knot without her.
Angeli is almost 25 years old, and Kleiman has hosted almost every kind of event there -- wine tastings, family-style dinners, birthday parties. But never a wedding. Why this one, then?
"They were going to get married at a relative's house but there were two deaths in the family," said Kleiman, standing in a side kitchen, arranging plates of delicious antipasti misti -- garlicky mushrooms, perfectly marinated baby peppers, braised fennel. "So they asked if they could get married here and I said, 'Sure.'"
While they waited, the restaurant's employees, some in work clothes, some dressed up, milled around, trading compliments and mild insults. There's a tribal quality about Angeli. Few of the staff ever seem to leave and the kitchen is so narrow that they're all forced to rub up against each other. No wonder Jasmine and Marco are just the latest in a long line of Angeli workers to meet, court and marry. Marco isn't even the first Awad to find true love here. His older sister, Nadia, met her husband, Tony, at Kleiman's now-defunct Westside adjunct, Trattoria Angeli. Kleiman shrugged. "We're a lazy family, I guess," she said, throwing her head back and laughing. "We meet our mates where we work."
Wine was poured. Trays of pizza were passed. Ternay arrived and 90 guests cheered loudly. Just before Jasmine walked up an aisle of scattered yellow, red and orange rose petals, she gazed at crisply suited Marco in front of a makeshift altar of eucalyptus sprays. Then, as if her excitement had settled into her feet, she started jumping up and down.
Every wedding, in ways big and small, is a reflection of the couple getting married. In Marco and Jasmine's case, it wasn't difficult to figure out they were both loyal Deadheads: Their officiate, Barry Smolin, is host of the KPFK radio show The Music Never Stops, devoted to the Jerry Garcia-led combo, and the band they hired is L.A.'s premiere Grateful Dead tribute group, Cubensis. After exchanging vows, the newlyweds put their heads together and swayed alone to the moving Dead classic "They Love Each Other."
As for the toasts, they all began with merciless teasing -- tales of Marco circling Jasmine almost immediately, of Jasmine "strong-arming" a reluctant Marco into making things official.
"This isn't fair!" Jasmine protested weakly. "It's how it is," replied Angeli manager Jason Marx, who then shared a few more squirm-inducing stories.
Then the Grateful Dead came to the married couple's rescue: Jason recited lyrics from "Attics of My Life" that remind him of how Marco and Jasmine came together. Suddenly, Marx's face crumpled. "When I had no wings to fly," he said, his voice thick with emotion, "you flew to me."
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