If there's one dish that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Kismet, the new, all-day restaurant in Los Feliz, it might be the rabbit for two. Advertised as "a feast," it's served on a large platter, strewn with drifts of gorgeous green herbs and lettuces and rounds of charred lemon. Crispy, flaky bread — like a cross between a Chinese scallion pancake and stretchy pita — comes alongside, as well as a flurry of ramekins full of delicious dibs and daubs. There's pickled vegetables, tahini, and a house-made labneh that tastes almost like creamy French cheese. I'm not sure I've ever had yogurt quite that decadent and expressive.
The rabbit is served three ways: its legs roasted to a pleasing lacquer; its loin cubed and skewered and grilled between hunks of squash; its trimmings used to flavor a mellow garbanzo bean stew. What's most astonishing about the dish is not its perfect visual aesthetic or the flavors it presents, which are lovely. It's the fact that when you strip away those aesthetics, what you're getting is two rabbit legs, two small kebabs and a lot of condiments ... for $80. Our waiter explained the "feast" as being a whole rabbit, though what we got was undoubtedly closer to half a rabbit — rabbits, after all, have four legs, not two, and there's no way in hell the rest of Thumper was stuffed into the shallow bowl of not-very-meaty stew. (I've seen photos of the dish, on Kismet's website and elsewhere, that appear to depict a more complete set of rabbit bits. It may be that I'm the unlucky rube who ended up with the one amputee bunny. Not likely but possible, I suppose.)
Perhaps what's so incredible about the rabbit for two is that you might not even notice the outrageous indignity of paying $80 for half a rabbit, given the likelihood of your enamored reaction to that pile of pretty green leaves that fills out the plate, and all those bits and pieces of pickle-y, dippy things to play with. It's as if Kismet has cast a spell over us, blinded us with the beauty of its ingredients and the effortless way they come strewn across the table, lulled us into a blissed-out alternate universe where it seems perfectly reasonable to pay $80 for two rabbit legs, two kebabs and a bowl of chickpeas.
The rabbit, as it turns out, was the signature dish at Glasserie, the New York City restaurant where one of Kismet's chefs, Sara Kramer, made a name for herself and met Kismet's other chef, Sarah Hymanson. (The dish cost $76 in New York, and I've confirmed with a number of folks who ate it there that it was indeed a whole rabbit at the time, all four legs included.) The two moved to Los Angeles in 2014, and in 2015 opened Madcapra at Grand Central Market, where they serve brightly flavored falafel sandwiches on grilled-to-order bread.
For Kismet, which debuted in January in the former Mother Dough space on Hollywood Boulevard, the pair partnered with Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, chefs who now run a small empire of L.A. restaurants. Dotolo and Shook partnered with Ludo Lefebvre for the trio of Trois restaurants (soon to be a quartet of Trois restaurants), but those are culinary as well as financial entanglements. Kismet marks Dotolo and Shook's first foray into pure restaurateur territory.
Aesthetically, Kismet has a lot in common with Jon & Vinny's, the Shook/Dotolo American Italian joint on Fairfax. The narrow room has a minimalist elegance, with light wood banquettes lining the walls, which are paneled with more blond wood, also the material used for the tables and chairs. There's a clean, naturalistic, monochromatic feel to the place, and the design firm responsible, Guga, just nabbed a James Beard Award nomination for its efforts here.
Kramer and Hymanson are trying to do a lot with the food at Kismet. In fact, it's almost as if they've set out to create a whole new kind of dining: part Middle Eastern, part Californian; food that works as well at 10 a.m. as it does at dinnertime; food that feels effortless but actually has a ton of effort put into every little detail, from the look of the plates to the vernacular on the menu (dishes are "salad-y," sauces are "pickley"). There is a separate daytime and dinner menu, though they have a lot of crossover. At any time, for instance, you can order lemony chicken and pine nut pies, made with shattery phyllo, or roasted radicchio with beets and tahini, an utterly gorgeous, jewel-toned dish that pushes the boundaries of how much bitterness is acceptable on one small plate.
At dinner, the food stays snacky and is built around beautiful produce spiked with interesting, often dusky-flavored spices. There's a bowl of mussels served without their shells, punctuated with currants and parsley, a trio of flavors that is at once simple and unexpected. Lamb belly and quinoa comes with lightly funky turnips and enough fragrant Meyer lemon to make the fat of the meat seem buoyant and bright.
It may be my loss, but I have a hard time enjoying Kismet as much as I should because I'm so distracted by the question of value. This is a place where lemonade costs $7. Sure, it has rosewater in it, but still. There's a $17 dish of potatoes, one that's pretty brilliant in its combination of macadamia nuttiness and the sneaky umami of cured scallops. But let's be clear: It's a $17 plate of potatoes.
One of the restaurant's most celebrated dishes is its Turkish breakfast, which — like the rabbit — comes on a big platter with lots of components: fluffy bread topped with sesame seeds; a bunch of small bowls and ramekins holding various pickles and spreads; more of those beautifully vibrant herbs and greens. It's pretty, and fun to eat, and it costs $24. When my sister ordered it before I arrived one morning, the waiter told her we'd need something else to feed the two of us, and he was correct. Because when you break it down, this is $24 for one egg, some bread and five small ramekins of pickles and olives and feta cheese. One of the best bites of food I've had in weeks is a corner of that bread smeared with a daub of zhug, the spicy Yemeni condiment, and topped with creamy feta from one of those ramekins. It still didn't justify the act of paying $50 for a two-dish breakfast — no coffee or lemonade involved.
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Kismet is part of a new generation of restaurants that excels at providing cultural indicators of coolness and quality and good taste. Everything is perfectly engineered to make L.A.'s young creative class feel at home, to feel smart and attractive and wonderful for being here, among these other smart wonderful attractive creative types, drinking the right wine (a whole section of the list is dedicated to skin-contact wines), eating the right Middle Eastern–ish food. The perfectly messy bun and high-waisted jeans of your waitress might blind you to the fact that she has too many tables and can't quite keep up. The beautiful flurry of dishes that arrives at your table splits your attention and targets your pleasure receptors and distracts you from the fact that you're paying a lot for not very much.
For the right customer, it will not matter. The feel of the place, the beauty of it all, the genuinely pleasant food — it will be enough. For the rest of us, the question of value will prove too distracting, and even the most perfect bite of food will be tainted by its fog.
KISMET | Two stars | 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz | (323) 409-0404 | kismetlosangeles.com | Daily, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. | Plates, $6-$80 | Street parking