Ambience You Can Taste
Atmosphere Café offers plenty of substance to back up its style
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
One of the well-worn quips in the food critic repertoire is to say that a restaurant “has nice atmosphere — but unfortunately you can’t eat the atmosphere.”
I really like Atmosphere Café in Mar Vista, successor to the interesting but erratic Curious Palate, so I’d happily debate the author of the proverb if I could figure out who said it first.
On arrival, my wife and I scoped out the inside dining room, which was nicely decorated with original art but seemed a bit stuffy for such a hot day. The patio was much more pleasant — the new owners have added a cover with ceiling fans that stir the air — so the greenery and breeze won the toss.
While the layout of the restaurant might be much the same as before, the shift in food and attitude is enormous. Where the former Curious Palate was hypermodern eclectic, Atmosphere Café is home-style with a distinct French influence.
Our server, Daniel, brought menus for brunch, lunch and specialty coffees and teas. There was plenty of variety in the caffeine department, but we were in a simple startup mood and went for big cups of a flavorful medium roast Americano.
The breakfast menu is mostly straightforward — yogurt parfait, omelets, classic “eggs anyway with meat” and apple-stuffed French toast. There is one very interesting exception, however: a skillet of sautéed kale, onions and chorizo sausage topped with eggs and served alongside homemade salsa and tortillas ($11.50).
I had been tempted by a green lentil salad with dried cherries and Egyptian spices, and I tried to nudge my wife towards ordering it so I could have a bite or two. She dithered between the sandwiches and salads on the lunch menu, but finally settled on a panini of roasted eggplant and zucchini with mushrooms, balsamic onions, tapenade and feta with aioli (also $11.50).
The panini was simple goodness Mediterranean-style, the flavors of Provence between a pressed country loaf. If I had made it myself I might have made a choice between the tapenade and the aioli, but the combination of flavors worked, and the total amount of the two was moderate enough that the sandwich wasn’t a soggy mess. The panini was served with a nice little salad of lettuces and tomato with vinaigrette, and all in all it was a substantial, healthy lunch.
The skillet was a slightly heftier portion and wasn’t quite what I had anticipated. Instead of the Mexican style of chorizo, this dish employed the Spanish style, which is quite different.
The word chorizo is a generic term for pork sausage, and every country settled by the Spanish or Portuguese has some variety of it. Mexican chorizo is soft, fatty and packed with paprika, while Spanish chorizo is coarsely ground and leaner.
The kale, onion, and sausage mix would have been spicier with the Mexican version, but the flavor balance was probably better with the Spanish. I could get all the spice I wanted from the homemade salsa that came on the side, and instead of being fiery the dish’s virtues rested on complexities of smoky and fresh chili flavors. The eggs provided protein and the tortillas something to nibble in between everything else, making this dish a fine way to start the day.
We visited Atmosphere Café because someone had recommended it for brunch, but I’ll be back for dinner. The entrees look interesting and they’re all priced below $20, which is very reasonable for a high-quality kitchen in this neighborhood.
Atmosphere Café offers a stylish culinary experience at a reasonable budget, and any place that does that is worth a visit and deserves success.
Atmosphere Café is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily except Sunday, when it closes at 3 p.m. The menu is vegetarian/vegan friendly and posted online.