In the heart of Little Osaka -- just steps away from all the ramen, shave ice and okonomiyaki you could eat -- is Flores, a modern American small-plates restaurant chef'd by the husband-and-wife team of Rob Lawson and Angela Hernandez. The space, formerly Sawtelle Kitchen, has had a complete redo and is now dark and lovely, with great bar seats overlooking the kitchen window, a firepit on the patio and café tables ringing the walls.
The menu is meant to be shared and ranges from bar snacks to entrée-sized platters, including a roast chicken for two, beautifully presented on a cutting board with grilled bread and roast mushrooms. Deviled eggs are elevated with a chip of fried pig ear; pig cheek croquetas, creamy and crunchy with a kick of porkiness and a hit of lemon zest, are paired with house-made pickles and a swipe of seaweed aioli. There are beets and citrus, as well as little gem lettuce swathed in sharp blue cheese, toasted walnuts and lightly macerated grapes.
Portions are billed as "small" but are larger than expected -- chicken liver pâté atop grilled bread is at least an inch thick, paired with pickled cherries, beetroot and bacon.
Hernandez and her husband, who met in culinary school in Austin, moved from New York to Los Angeles for stints at the Bazaar and Hotel Bel-Air, respectively, but signed on with this project a few months ago when Amal Flores bought the restaurant. The space was already familiar: Flores' father, a sculptor, had once used the building as a gallery space. And now Hernandez and Lawson are Sawtelle residents -- they moved over from Koreatown once they took the job.
"We want people in the neighborhood to come here and feel like this is their spot," Hernandez says. "I feel like we stick out like a sore thumb in this neighborhood, but this is the best block to cook and eat on with no inhibitions ... and we want people to realize that, too."
There are hints of Texas' culinary influence on the menu, including "Texas caviar" -- a light stew of black-eyed peas and ham hock, topped with a poached egg -- and nods to the neighborhood, including grilled shishito peppers topped with sea salt, a sweet Asian glaze and dried tuna. Soft-shell crab is a must-order seasonal special, served fried on a brioche bun and smeared with avocado and sweet pickles. There are curry mussels, skate wing with artichokes, and a hanger steak served with pomme puree that gives a nod to the chefs' French culinary training (including two years at L'Atelier Robuchon).
"We're trying to create a menu that we'd want to eat on our days off," Hernandez says.
Pastry chef Cesar Bermudez Cifuentes, formerly of the Bazaar but hailing from Barcelona, is putting his own spin on all-American desserts such as blackberry cobbler topped with crème fraiche ice cream and a version of peaches and cream. Lunch, which begins today, will feature salads, sandwiches and Cifuentes' strawberry shortcake ice cream sandwich.
Flores has been open less than a month but the courses are well-paced, the dirty plates promptly removed, the water refilled and the napkins refolded when you step away to the bathroom. It's casual but refined -- polished, even -- and worth a visit soon, while that soft-shell crab is still in season.