If you’re looking for a slice of Paris in Los Angeles, look no further than Chinatown. At Café Triste, the wine flows throughout the night and the crowd spills onto the sidewalk, and it feels as much like a trendy cave in Canal St. Martin or the 11th as it possibly can on a wide stretch of Broadway that barrels north toward Los Angeles Historic State Park and the LA River.
A neon glow from the Royal Pagoda Motel across the street casts its red luminescence across the façade of Mandarin Plaza, where the tiny lounge operates. Look for the sign above the door that says “LFX Furniture.” It’s a kind of only-in-LA strip mall wonder (housed in a building whose entrance is topped by what’s meant to resemble a giant ingot of gold) that can transport you to another place entirely.
Inside, the walls are punctuated with tiny bright-yellow ceramic shelves and scattered paintings. Electric blue café tables surround the U-shaped bar, where you’ll be greeted by a spectacular flower arrangement and a stack of menus of wines by the glass and small plates, or dive into the many pages of the bottle list.
Café Triste is the brainchild of the team behind Silver Lake wine shop Psychic Wines, and the same personality, wine-wise, distinguishes the list. The wines are often crispy or spiky or energizing or supremely juicy or biodynamic or from dry-farmed vines or from an overlooked parcel on the edge of the Rhone―or many or all of these things―no single quality is exclusive of another. Illuminated shelving by the door holds bottles such as Sebastian Morin’s slightly fizzy Beaujolais and notoriously experimental Philippe Jambon’s deep-orange blend of two Chardonnay vintages.
Remarkably, there is no kitchen and yet the chef can conjure seasonal dishes that change weekly. Recently, spring fava puree smeared on toast with tinned mussels and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano; pink folds of mortadella; Little Gem lettuces in a punchy ranch dressing of crème fraiche and lots of dill. The cheese selection is small but mighty, maybe a semi-firm melt-in your-mouth Alpine cheese of raw cow’s milk and a Shropshire blue. Don’t skip the olive oil cake.
The crowd is a blur of knee-high socks and trench coats, beanies and ballcaps. There are as many people standing as sitting. Everyone’s jockeying for a table, attended to by exactly one server and the chef who runs food between his hot plate and waiting diners. By nine on a weekend night, a sense of near-chaos might reign, but that’s ok―it only charges the atmosphere with even more conviviality.(Reprinted from Subsequence vol.6)
980A N. BROADWAY, LA, CA 90012
Betty Hallock/Writer, editor and natural perfumer.
She has chased rose, iris, jasmine, tuberose, orange blossom and osmanthus harvests in France, Italy, Bulgaria and China. Co-author of four cookbooks, she also loves the scent of the kitchen.