Rustic Kitchen is making all the right moves to become a local landmark
By Richard Foss (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It makes me happy when I see an adventurous dining concept sprout up in a previously staid neighborhood. It’s like a flower blooming in the crack of a sidewalk, a sign of life and vitality and the courage of an entrepreneur who has seen an opportunity that nobody else did.
Sometimes nobody else saw that opportunity because none actually existed, but often the new restaurant fits in so well that it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t there all the time.
Rustic Kitchen is a perfect example — a stylish and eclectic space on Centinela Avenue in one of the few commercial buildings in a mostly residential neighborhood.
The décor tags all of the bases of the modern market bistro: exposed fancy light bulbs, colorful chalkboard menu, deli case full of gourmet pastries, selection of cheeses and fancy groceries, and wine bar themed counter (even though they don’t have the license yet). Given that everything else in the area looks like it was constructed in the 1960s at the latest, the contemporary look is a breath of fresh air.
The menu follows suit with a banh mi sandwich, lobster roll, gourmet mac and cheese, avocado toast and a pleasing mix of multicultural and American retro items, marked as vegetarian, gluten or dairy free as appropriate.
I visited for midweek lunch the first time and we ordered “Kung Pao” Brussels sprouts, a braised short panini, and a chicken salad sandwich (hold the bread).
In the last few years Brussels sprouts have gone from being a pariah of the vegetable kingdom to a popular item, and I have enjoyed them in all sorts of recipes. This one didn’t work for me, as the cabbage flavor of the lightly cooked sprouts dominated the accompanying peanuts, green onions, chili powder and smoked paprika. If the sprouts had been cooked a bit more to sweeten them, this might have worked better, but it still wasn’t really a kung pao, which uses unsmoked dried chillies, garlic and vinegar to create a hotter, tangier base for the other flavors. Names create expectations, and this one was misleading.
The other items on that visit were spot on, however — particularly the short rib braised to crispness and well paired in the panini with smoked gouda, arugula and a hint of mild horseradish. When my companion asked for the curried chicken salad without bread it was served atop some lettuce, and I think this should be offered as an option because it was excellent as well as quite pretty. This type of curried salad was a fad food in the 1970s that deserves a reevaluation, because when well-made it’s delightful.
When our server noticed that we had only had a bite or two of the sprouts she offered to get something else, but my companion and I both had places to be. It was a nice gesture, and a sign the staff wants to please.
My wife and I returned for brunch a few days later and ordered the Italian breakfast bread pudding and a breakfast sandwich with egg, aged Gouda and bacon.
The bread pudding was a triumph — rough-cut bell peppers, onions, herbs and croutons baked into a savory egg custard. It was served with a green salad topped with chopped radish, and the pair of items on the plate was colorful and pretty enough for a magazine spread. The sandwich was unimpressive by contrast, a well-made thing by itself, but how much better and prettier it would have been with even a half-portion of that salad. Presentation matters because, as the saying goes, we start to eat with our eyes. A little garnish and variety on the plate can equal a lot of satisfaction.
Breakfast for two with a latte and a coffee (and good coffee, with refills!) ran just over $30, which we found reasonable given the quality of the ingredients. I’d come back for that bread pudding any time, and there were items I saw delivered to other tables that also looked intriguing.
Rustic Kitchen has the right ideas in the right location and is on course to become a neighborhood landmark.
Rustic Kitchen 3523 S. Centinela Ave., Mar Vista (310) 390-1500 rustickitchen.la