The scent of wood burning on open flames lures interested diners in to smoke.oil.salt. We were led to a table in the slightly more formal area, and Sommelier Arby Artoonian poured us a sparkling glass of Cava as we looked over the tasting menu.
Photos of the Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dalí, adorn the walls.
Entertainment Executive Stephen Gelber along with Umami founder Adam Fleischman (Choco Chicken, Red Medicine, 800 Degrees and Roadhouse LA) and hospitality expert Jason Berkowitz opened a cutting-edge Spanish restaurant, different from any other in Los Angeles. For several years they scouted for the right space and the perfect chef. Finally, the stars aligned when Fleischman discovered that Angeli Caffe on Melrose Avenue was vacant and hired Executive Chef Perfecto Rocher. Perfecto comes from a lineage of authentic Spanish chefs, including his grandfather and father.
Gelber, Fleischman and Berkowitz found Perfecto after he left the Lazy Ox downtown. They convinced him to help them open smoke.oil.salt.
As a Creative Director, writer and producer at Capitol Records, Gelber used to enjoy business lunches at Angeli Caffe. He remembers the day when chef-restaurateur Evan Kleiman opened the restaurant in 1984.
As we nibbled on olives with toasted almonds and tiny cubes of Manchego cheese, Gelber described the restaurant’s layout.
“It fit the bill of wanting a slightly more formal sit down service on one side and fun, causal side with communal tables for people to talk, share food, wine and socialize,” Gelber said.
We enjoyed red and white Spanish sausages on crunchy bread with a dazzling Catalan tomato jam.
Gelber searched for a legitimate Spanish chef who would prepare dishes from his native country and not pander to American tastes.
“There are great Spanish chefs and restaurants in London and New York, yet I couldn’t find any in Los Angeles,” Gelber said. “Chef Perfecto prepares dishes from his grandfather’s and father’s recipes. Two-thirds of the dishes are old school style, and one-third is New World cuisine,” Gelber said.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening arrived in a black skillet filled with a light and airy artichoke omelet topped with a mosaic of sliced pickled fennel, celery, mint and cauliflower with very distinctive flavors.
Gelber has curated some of his favorite wines over the years to enhance and reflect the flavors of each dish. We enjoyed a Spanish white wine with the cold oyster and mussel soup marinated in tiger nut milk, the original Horchata. Originally from Valencia, tiger nuts are ground with water and sugar to make horchata.
The bravas trencades skillet of fried cubed potatoes, slices of Serrano ham, chorizo sauce and a luscious fried egg on top would make a stunning brunch dish as well as satisfying dinner fare.
The calcots of traditional smoked spring onions arrived on a plank with a Romesco sauce made with hazelnuts, chile, garlic, tomatoes, mint and lemon.
Many rave about the sea urchin flan served in a Mason jar with caviar and shrimp chili oil drizzled the top. For those who love calamari, Chef Perfecto serves Monterey Bay calamari with warm cranberry beans.
The piece de la resistance of the entire evening was the pluma Iberica, a butcher’s filet of Iberico pork that is wood-fire grilled. The pork is lean, tender and red and filled with succulent flavor.
For dessert, we finished with a dense chocolate pate served with a dollop of crème fraiche whipped with olive oil and sea salt.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday evenings for dinner. Every Sunday they offer a prix-fixe Paella dinner that includes a choice of a starter, a medium plate, and a shared paella plate with a choice of meat, seafood or vegetables plus dessert. The Sunday meal is offered with an optional wine flight pairing.
Gelber offers an exciting array of rare wines that guests can pour and enjoy by the glass using the Coravin system. This device keeps the cork in the bottle, where it’s been since it was ﬁrst sealed in the winery, so it doesn’t oxidize or disturb the natural aging process of the wine. It also allows guests who only want one glass of wine to not have to commit to an entire bottle. $$- $$$ 7274 Melrose Ave. (323)930-7900.
This article was also published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on June 5, 2014.