"It started out as a tamarind mojito," explains Apryl Lundsten. "But tamarind makes kind of a heavy juice, like apple." Prototypes were mixed, found wanting, and discarded. Minutes before people arrived, the final mix came together. It incorporated grapefruit, fresh from a guest's tree, in place of lime; strawberry for "the color of our summer sunsets"; ginger; and a tiny floating ring of jalapeño.
Lundsten, a freelance writer who runs the neighborhood podcast Eagle Rock Talk, hosts Casa Comadres, a prix fixe, by-invitation-only "secret supper club" in "northeast Los Angeles." She and her friend Tana March started the club after grumbling over the lag between local Mexican restaurants and the new cuisines the two women had sampled while traveling in Mexico, "the birthplace of cuisine" says Lundsten. "People usually think Mediterranean, but a lot of what's cooked in Spain or Italy was brought back from Latin America."
They quickly enlisted a small bevy of chefs and foodies with professional experience running from restaurant kitchens to TV reality cooking, and now a team of six revises and divvies up a menu initiated by Lundsten and March. The most recent dinner kicked off with Lundsten's mojitos, followed by a pineapple and a lamb empanda, the former under a swirl of mole; a tuna carpaccio served with watermelon; a consommé-clear heirloom tomato gazpacho; and a main course of grilled octopus served atop chorizo and saffron rice. (While the July event sold out in two hours flat, this one was a little slower. "Who knew there were so many octo-phobes?" asked March.)
All these were striking and complex, and all were plated under the direction of food stylist Albert Pacheco and pastry chef Amy Hoeffecker. Restaurateur Myrna Valdez directed the busy grill. The stand-out preparation of the evening had to be dessert, namely Hoeffecker's coconut cake and honey-banana ice cream.
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The other star of Casa Comadres is its location. From Lundsten's patio, canyon views lead to downtown L.A. and Century City, and her home is a mid-century modern museum piece. The dinner includes a musical guest: there was piano-bar crooning at the first dinner and a singer-songwriter playing guitar at the most recent event.
"Since we all have real jobs and do this for fun, we can't really do more than one supper every six weeks or so," says Lundsten, though a September menu has already seen a first draft. At the moment, Comadres is growing by word-of-mouth, but its founders are easy to find online and, presumably, happy to make new friends.