Last week we reported that Evan Kleiman would be shuttering her Angeli Caffe on January 8th. The response was so overwhelming — since the announcement they've been serving roughly 200 or so dinners a night — that the door-closing has been extended to Jan. 13th. Then, yesterday, Kleiman threw out a question to her staff, “Who wants to work lunch?”
On Tuesday night it was easy to see why she's extending the farewell tour. A crowd of customers who rushed to the Melrose Avenue restaurant to get a final bite of garlicky insalata forte or a goat cheese and carmelized garlic pizza al caprino but neglected to make a reservation, lingered out in front of the Melrose Avenue restaurant, waiting for someone to leave. Los Angeles Times food editor, Russ Parsons, was with his wife at a two-top eating suppli — rice croquettes stuffed with mozzarella. One long table was comprised solely of those who work with Kleiman on “Good Food,” her KCRW Saturday morning radio show.
We requested a bottle of San Felice Perolla, 2008 and when it arrived our server told us, “This is the last one. As in ever.” A round of Kleiman's bread, so hot from the pizza oven that it should come with Kevlar gloves, appeared. We ordered red beet-ricotta gnocchi and were told they'd run out of it. A lemon and rosemary-infused Pollo Arrosto, so big it seemed the size of a half turkey, was placed in front of a trio at the end of our community table. “I'm going to have to learn how to make it,” said one of them trying to sound hopeful.
We saw two little girls who couldn't have been more than three or four years old, toddle out clutching aluminum tins of uncooked dough, and we realized that they'd discovered the pleasures of an Angeli tradition – there, children are distracted by letting them make a misshapen pizza in the kitchen and giving them a ball of dough take home – a little too late. We didn't know exactly what to think when in the front dining room we spotted a twentysomething girl with a Mohawk attempting to console her rumpled boyfriend who was sobbing into his fist. Then Kleiman, by way of explaining that in attendance was a generation of regulars who grew up at Angeli, introduced us to a more composed patron: smiling, dry-eyed, but still wistful Adam Zelin. On his first birthday, Zelin's parents brought Adam to Angeli. Now 27 years old, he was saying goodbye and thanking Kleiman for the memories.
During a quick break between hugging saddened diners, bussing tables and darting into the kitchen, Kleiman held a press conference-of-one for us in her office (okay, the back parking lot). She talked about the outpouring of affection (like “being dipped in a pool of sweetness” is how she'd later describe it) and how much she and her staff wanted to make sure everyone had the End of Angeli experience they deserved.
Mostly, she seemed lighter than usual, like a woman who'd been carrying around the secret of financial problems inside of her for years and upon announcing the unimaginable and potentially humiliating — being forced to close her restaurant — found that a huge burden that had been lifted.
She talked about her post-Angeli future, one which includes speaking tours and cookbooks. “I'm writing a pie book. I have to,” said Kleiman who has long and famously fostered a crust and filling obsession. Earlier in the evening, as she approached a table, some customers started clapping. “No applause. Just throw money,” said Kleiman who is hoping to collect enough cash to make her last payroll.