LA Spice Cafe embodies So Cal style
Posted March 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm in Lifestyle
In a way, the grand opening of LA Spice is a homecoming for owner LeAnne Schwartz. Though new to the cafe scene, Schwartz has been serving up casual gourmet food to Angelenos for 25 years under her catering company of the same name.
Schwartz, who is used to hosting the party, said it was a pleasant surprise to have longtime customers and associates flock to the newly christened cafe to lend their support and spread the word about the cafeâs fresh California cuisine and relaxed environment.
âTwice today, old customers and business associates have come in,â Schwratz said. âItâs almost like having my own party; so many people have been coming by.â
One of those customers, Sharon Terrell-Brown, has known Schwartz for 32 years. She even had her wedding (and her daughterâs) catered by Schwartz.
âHer flavors are the best. She always has something different,â Terrell-Brown said. âEvery time she had a party, people would come for the party, but they stayed for the food.â
Schwartz said she got the idea to open a cafe after she started looking into moving her catering business closer to her house. The space in Culver City she found was great, but was larger than what she needed for the catering company. Rather than look elsewhere or consider subletting though, she was struck with a better idea.
âI thought, âWhat if we opened a restaurant at the same time?ââ Schwartz said. âIt wasnât a big business plan â we just had extra space â and Iâd always wanted to do this.â
LA Spiceâs menu features a selection as diverse as the city. The menu transitions seamlessly from a garden goat-cheese omelet with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes to curried chicken croissants topped with currants, toasted walnuts and Fuji apple-curry dressing.
âWeâre talking California cuisine with all of the fresh farmers market ingredients,â Schwartz said. âWe have so many things here that they donât have anywhere else. We want to bring those fresh foods in with all of the different styles and influences and then make them ours.â
Schwartz, a Los Angeles native who worked the hamburger stands on the pier at Redondo Beach in high school, said she developed a passion for cuisine at an early age.
âI grew up doing a lot of baking and cooking at home. My mom was always interested in whatever was new,â Schwartz said. â[Anything] new and fun and just with a lot of California influences like tacos or whatever Asian cuisine was coming in style. Sheâd try out everything.â
To help her bring this casual gourmet vision to LA Spice, Schwartz recruited Executive Chef Joachim Weritz, a classically trained chef who uses his expertise to give everyday California cuisine an upgrade.
He takes basic cafe staples and makes them feel like something celebrities in Malibu would munch on. His The Adult Not PB & J for example is a far cry from what your mother used to put in your lunch box, incorporating a home-made nut butter (a mix of pistachio, chia, hemp seed, flax seed, cashews and almonds) smeared atop a generous spread of pinot noir grape jam.
For Weritz, the most important thing for him is to incorporate fresh,Â local food. He makes it a point to visit the Culver City or Santa Monica markets at least once a week and also plans to vary LA Spiceâs menu based on the season, with the spring menu, set to debut on March 21.
Currently, he said one of his favorite options on the menu is Ariba Chilaquiles.
âItâs the perfect hangover dish if youâre a little tipsy. We make it with very fresh corn tortillas, fresh guajillo salsa, which is mild but very flavorful, a Mexican fried egg on top with red onions. Delicious,â Weritz said.
True to its varied, Los Angeles roots, the cafe also caters to those who eat gluten-free, which is important for manager Chiara Issa-OâConnell.
âThe worst is going to a bakery in the morning knowing youâre not going to get a donut or a muffin because itâs not gluten-free,â Issa-OâConnell said.
Even the cafeâs decor embodies Southern California style, capturing a laid-back, yet sophisticated feel. Still, the interior is as much a reflection on Schwartz as it is on Los Angeles.
âIâm a casual person in my life. I like my jeans and my T-shirts and sweaters,â Schwartz said. âFor me, this is a place where you can come, meet friends and have a delicious dining experience.â
Fittingly, the cafe has a warm and inviting feel to it, with soft yellow walls and big open windows, which overlook Culver Cityâs main drag. Itâs the little details though, such as the zinc tables, which have a softer feel than stainless steel, or the different types of chairs, which are painted in orange to make them feel unique yet aesthetically pleasing, that give the restaurant a sense of character and space.
Comfortable environments like this are sustained by loyal clientele, of which Terrell-Brown promises to be. For her first visit, she ordered LA Spiceâs Indian Spinach soup. She paused a moment to savor the broth before settling on her verdict.
âItâs delicious,â she said with a smile. âNice and spicy.â