Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Vast Entourage And I Visit Ironic Mustache Coffee Place a.ka. LA Mill

Being Frenchy, but chic! I naturally cultivate a huge entourage. For example, for those of you who regularly follow my adventures - I'm amazed, this being said in passing, at the number of people who are fascinated by what I eat for lunch - you know I have a Distinguished Literary Correspondent (Hi Mike!). You don't know it yet, but I also have a few regular Scrabulous partners in crime (Hi Joseph! Hi Analia! Hi Brandon! Hi Jennifer! Hi Celine! Hi Mike!). Now you know.

I also happen to have a personal assistant (named Mezigues L'Invisible), a private chef (called My Right Hand - I'm not ambidextrous yet), a magic carpet (otherwise known as Mam'zelle VaVaVoom), an imaginary boyfriend (Daniel Craig, but with dark hair, including on his chest, but not shag carpet-like), a large posse of devoted followers (variously referred to as "art people" ), a few non-art friends (Hi Annie! Hi Jonathan!), a maid (the other Moi), and so forth. Who knows, one day I may even have a walker, when I reach a suitable age and somehow make a vast fortune? I just made $2 at the Mega Millions on Friday.

In addition to that large list, I also happen to have a regular Fellow Espresso Drinker (Hi Daniel!). My FED and I regularly meet at this place on Larchmont, because espresso there is really, really good, or sometimes at The (good?) Karma Cafe, or even at Susina. But, we tend to be sick of getting to the same place over and over.
So today we decided to change and head over to Silverlake, a neighborhood quite unfamiliar to my Frenchy self. 10 years ago I knew loads of people living there, but they all moved back East to Eagle Rock and Highland Park, when Beck abandoned the neighborhood. Now I know only a handful of people there (Hi Mike! Hi Andy and Brandon! Ivan, sorry, you live in East Hollywood I think, you're a couple blocks too far from Virgil. But Hi anyway!), so I never really schlepp to Hipsterville, though I've been there about 4 or 5 times over the last 3 months.

Silverlake has been hyped as the center of the Los Angeles Coffee Renaissance recently, because 2 fancy coffee places opened there. Now, I don't think there ever was decent coffee in LA in the first place, so "Renaissance" is a bit exaggerated to my art historian eyes as there's no Classical Los Angeles Empire History Of Coffee to be unearthed and resurrected. So Intelligentsia cafe opened, followed a few months later by LA Mill, operated by the same people who gave us Providence. I've been to Providence last year and really enjoyed myself immensely, so I had a good a priori. We picked up LA Mill first, and intended to follow our visit by coffee to go from Intelligentsia, to do a side-by-side comparison.

So by 3 PM we went to LA Mill, happy that there is a parking lot attached to the place. Despite the somewhat chilly weather, there were a couple people posted outside on the patio. Now, this being Silverlake, FED and I had to be cautious in our anthropological assessment of one of the guys outside. You see, that guy looked like a mix between Earl from My Name Is Earl fame, and the famous serial killer, you know the one? With the silly mustache? Plus, he was wearing a checkered shirt AND that abominable abomination, the crowning achievement of American fashion, SHORTS. When it's chilly and rainy outside. My fellow Americans, I love you immensely, but please, DO NOT WEAR SHORTS. Ever. Especially if you go abroad. If you do, don't complain if you're being ripped off in Italian restaurants, mugged by Romanian gypsies in Amsterdam, spat on by Parisian waiters or served tepid beer in British pubs. You will have deserved it.
Anyway, if you insist on wearing them at home, please make sure you have decently shaped legs and that they are tanned. Better orange spray than pallid, sickly looking beige matchsticks.
So, we were a bit repulsed, but you know, what with being non-native and all, we though we were witnessing a fine example of the Hipster Ironic Mustache, complete with the Hipster Ironic Outfit. It goes on par with the Ironic Bad Painting Of Some Insignificant Figurative Narration In Acrylic: you know, if you twist the interpretation a little, you're supposed to forget that what you're looking at is a bad painting, because in fact you've been staring at a post-modern take on the post-structural deconstruction of Painting. It gave us a headache just thinking about it, so we got in to have our espressos, dammit!

So, first impression: there's a hostess to tell you where to sit. It's a coffee place, they also serve lunch , but at 3.30 PM they need to have someone assigning you a seat so you can get coffee. There were many tables available, but as a side note, in another life, FED and I have been used to chichi expensive places, boutique hotels and rich people whimsies, so we didn't really register the fact as odd. We sad at a pleasant table on some rather ugly low chairs not designed for people with back injuries (I'll sue you! I'm being discriminated against!). We spotted a large wallpaper motif depicting a Toile de Jouy pattern in the manner of a Poussin pastoral scene. There's a very ugly brass chandelier (the real French word is "un lustre") that's rather redundant as there's recessed lighting throughout, and a few bland, generic abstract paintings here and there. Also a few turquoise/greenish seats covered in fake crocodile, that clashed with the rather tasteful light blue panels and wooden tables. Overall the design is neither here nor there, not over the top Baroque nor demurely chic. It doesn't work, but on another hand isn't disagreeable. A good point: the noise level is fine, which mean for LA you can actually have a decent conversation. About Ironic Mustaches, Hipsters, Bad Painting, your sad dating history, whatever.

FED and I were given the food menu, and the coffee menu. Their thing is a supposed pairing between different types of coffees and the food. The problem being, IMHO, that coffee tends to clash with lots of food. I never understood how American people could drink coffee with their burgers and fries. Coffee is either a breakfast thing, or a post-lunch thing, or a I Need a Break-thing, but not something you drink with your lunch or dinner. Same with soda). Also, being French, for me coffee is espresso, not that horrible watery thing you guys drink.
At LA Mill they unfortunately offer US-style haute coffee, made either though a gazillion dollar machine called the Clover (it looks like a compact office coffee machine of the type you sometimes find in Europe, but its reddish) and an alchemical contraption called the Chemex. I don't know about you, but drinking coffee that comes out of something called the Chemex sounds scary to me. I'm sure it releases Dioxin or worse in your brew.

So, if you decide to get your daily dose through one of these things, you are given a choice of about a dozen or so blends, origins and whatnots.
But if, like us, you are espresso drinkers, your can have... Ta da! regular or decaf! Yeepee! Life's grand! 2 choices! Sounds like Poland under Jaruzelski! Granted it's their "organic house blend". But, hmmm, you know, in Europe, when you go to the fancy coffee places, you're given a choice of about 20 blends for your espresso, plus 3 or 4 decaf choices. And I'm not only speaking about boutique places like Verlet, but also chains such as Malongo (if you go to one of their Paris outposts, try La Grande Reserve).

I don't know how they can do food /coffee pairing with their espresso choices. Which didn't matter that much as we were there in the middle of the afternoon. So we opted for our espressos, and I got one cannelé when FED opted for a croissant. The espressos are announced as being "2 shots". I asked if I could have only 1 shot, and was cheerfully told the baristas were making ristretto. So I should opt for 2 shots. No, no, no, give me my real ristretto, one shot only! They did it, a good point for them. Now, the service, while being friendly and trying very, very hard, isn't very good. We forgive them, because the poor waitresses have to wear the most horrible uniforms ever: some super high-waisted jeans, paired with black shirts adorned with really ugly bouffant short sleeves. Yikes!

It seemed the waitresses were also sadly deprived of trays, so FED's espresso arrived before mine, then I got mine sans spoon, then his croissant arrived, then my cannelé, then the sugar. The sugar and cream are presented in those super famous Danish-designed containers (Arne Jacobssen?). There's a caveat: the sugar is cubed only, but is served with a spoon, not tongs. I'm sorry, but if you have to over-design a coffee place, complete with clownish outfits for the staff and grotesque glass contraptions to make coffee, please at least have the proper serving ustensils and flatware on hand.
Like, a spoon to dilute the sugar cubes in the coffee (I'm not even asking for a demi-tasse spoon. Any spoon would have done) and tongs to grab the sugar, otherwise people might me tempted to use their fingers. Even if they are Frenchy, but chic!

I was happy when my coffee arrived because it looked like a proper ristretto. Short, thick with crema, warm and not tepid. Alas, the taste...I'm afraid the LA Mill school of espresso subscribes to the NASCAR doctrine: bitter, burn rubber. When a decent espresso is smooth, round, short and strong. That was a disappointment, but from a place that touts its American-style coffee, we should have guessed it. As for the pastries, I must say my cannelé was very good, a surprising fact given that even in its town of origin, Bordeaux, the cannelé can be pretty much hit and miss. As for FED's croissant, unfortunately it was terrible. Cold, doughy, with the unmistakable look of something that's been popped out of a freezer and left out to thaw overnight. LA Mill people, if by some incredible planetary conjunction you're reading my blog, I URGE you to get your pastries from La Maison du Pain! Please, please, at least you could serve decadent macarons and great croissants! I could forgive you your so-so espresso, but that croissant is a serious blot on your record.

So FED an I had a pretty lousy time with our drinks and food, but we had tons of fun watching our surroundings. After commenting on the decor, you can observe the Chemex ritual: it looks like some weird chamanistic drug-related voodoo, just to make a cup of coffee! Plus, it didn't work at the table next to ours, so they had to send a second waiter with the glass thing (think about it as some kind of complicated crack pipe) to do it all over again.
Then, there's the people: within 30 minutes of being there we spotted 3 Ironic Hipster Mustaches!!!!! More than I've seen in over a year! Worth driving to Silverlake for! As for the rest of the crowd, it seemed evenly divided between Trustafarians and their parents, and the Mustachioed Hipsters.

Now, should you go all the way to Silverlake for that decadent cup of coffee?I don't think so. But I'd recommend the place if you need to go on a first date/coffee date if, like me, you suffer from social anxiety, or if you suspect you won't have much to say to your date. There's enough stuff to look at to give you conversation fodder. Now, if your date is with an Ironic Hipster Mustache wearer or a female Trustafarian, hhm, better go somewhere else...

As for intended comparison with Intelligentsia, we failed to act on it. We found a decent parking spot, walked up there, but after seeing the line FED decided he didn't want to wait behind 15 or so more hipsters. So, if I ever go there I'll let you know if they have decent espresso.

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