It was 2001 when Kevin Meehan and Drew Langley met at L’Orangerie, the former West Hollywood bistro then considered one of the city's finest French restaurants.
Meehan, a Long Island native, was working under then–head chef Ludovic Lefebvre, and Langley, who grew up in Maryland, was brought in as sommelier. They hit it off immediately and soon became close friends (Langley would later serve as best man in Meehan’s wedding). After both working at fine-dining establishments including Bastide and Citrine, their career arcs parted ways, with Langley joining Michael Cimarusti’s Providence in 2005 as beverage director and Meehan joining the Patina group as an executive chef and later departing to launch an underground restaurant out of his garage, Kali Dining, in 2012.
“We’ve been talking about opening a restaurant together since 2001,” Meehan says. “It has always been in the back of our minds.”
A decade and a half later, it finally happened. Meehan and Langley opened their joint restaurant this week, a brick-and-mortar extension of Meehan's Kali concept, located on Melrose Avenue not far from Paramount Pictures.
“It was a nerve-wracking process,” says Meehan, who received the keys to the former Midtown Bar & Kitchen space back in October. “I’m 39 now, and I knew I didn’t want to reach the end of my career without having opened my own restaurant. This is a bigger stage for us, and we have no regrets.”
So what kind of place do you get when the former beverage director of L.A.’s most acclaimed fine-dining establishment partners with a chef whose Instagram feed is studded with pictures of caviar and white truffles? The answer is far more casual than you’d expect.
“We didn’t want Kali to be a special-occasion restaurant,” Langley says. “It’s meant to be a place where you pop in for a drink and a few dishes.”
Kali will offer a $65 five-course tasting menu, yes, but each of the dozen or so dishes also will be available à la carte.
As with the pop-up restaurant after which it's named, the cuisine at Kali will focus exclusively on ingredients sourced from California. The menu, according to the restaurant, is “by default 90% organic and sustainable.” For Meehan, that means focusing on a different type of luxury — rather than serving turbot with caviar or Wagyu beef, dishes might include fresh-cracked Santa Barbara sea urchin, Flannery beef tenderloin from San Rafael or escargot collected from a garden in Ojai.
For one dish, Meehan chars an olive oil–brushed Fuerte avocado from J.J.'s Lone Daughter Ranch in Redlands (“the best avocado in California,” he asserts) and showers it with shaved vegetables and Fiddyment Farms pistachios (“the best pistachios in California”). In another, Meehan spins a classic Italian risotto into a California native, subbing Parmesan with sharp Fiscalini cheddar and swapping arborio rice for locally grown wheat berries. The lone import on the menu is Canadian foie gras, which Meehan uses for a dessert with almonds and dates dubbed “Flan Gras.”
Langley, too, is eager to take up the mantle of local sourcing. Although the restaurant’s “daily wine list” will feature bottles from around the world, pairings for the tasting menu will feature wines exclusively from small-production California winemakers. “At Providence, the focus was on delicate, lighter whites that paired well with seafood,” Langely says. “It’s been exciting to diversify a bit, especially with red wines.”
A short cocktail menu will feature locally sourced spirits, house-made shrubs and produce from local farmers markets. For the teetotalers, Meehan is offering kombucha he brews himself, flavored with seasonal fruits (blood orange, currently) and tea service featuring local herbs.
The airy, 2,000-square-foot space, designed by Meehan and Langley, reflects a sort of stark but bright Scandinavian vibe, with seating for 65 guests including 16 seats around an L-shaped bar.
Kali will be open for dinner from 6 to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Kali, 5722 Melrose Ave., Larchmont; (323) 871-4160, kalirestaurant.com.