Culinary adventurers Josh Goldman and Julian Cox have made an enchanting culinary home for themselves with Brilliantshine
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
The culinary world has its hired guns — people who are brought in to establish a new kitchen or fix a faltering one, create a menu and train people to execute it, and then move on to the next job once subordinates are ready to take over. The work is well-respected and well-compensated, and many people are happy to do it. It involves lots of creative work and very little of the drudgery and routine of an established operation.
For many culinary professionals, that creative freedom is only achieved toward the end of a career, a reward for long years of consistent labor. It is therefore a surprise when consulting pros at the top of their game decide to open their own restaurant.
Partners Josh Goldman and Julian Cox have individual and collective resumes that are impressive — they’ve created food and drink menus for restaurants all over Los Angeles, from classic places like Bastide and The Dining Room to adventurous operations like Ink, Acabar and Test Kitchen. The two recently took the plunge and opened their own restaurant, Brilliantshine, an eclectic operation in a charmingly bizarre space in Santa Monica.
The address is on Wilshire Boulevard, but as soon as you go down the hall and enter the courtyard it feels like not just another town but another era. Crooked trees and old vines festoon the space between narrow buildings almost a century old, and the brick-and-wood interior has nooks and crannies that were once bedrooms and closets. The menu is contemporary rather than retro, and includes items with South American influences — a sign of Chef Richie Lopez’s time at Peruvian sushi bar Paiche.
We visited for brunch and decided to try two of the more outré items: a pork belly and beet hash, and chicken and waffles with a Peruvian yellow chili sauce. The narrow courtyard that is hectic at night is serene by day, and bouncy pop music creates a feeling of good cheer. Then again, the expertly made cocktails also might have had something to do with it. The Air Mail cocktail of rum, lime, honey and sparkling wine was very good. The grapefruit sour was divine — the drink had the perfect balance of sugar, citrus and bitters.
The place wasn’t very busy when we arrived and our food was out within 15 minutes, chicken hot from the fryer and waffle still crisp. I had asked for the Peruvian aji amarillo gravy on the side, fearing that they might be over-exuberant with the virulent yellow peppers, but I didn’t need to worry — there was enough heat to be interesting but not to obscure the other flavors. The waffle also comes with a drizzle of lucuma syrup, made from a South American fruit that has an unusual flavor like a fruity molasses. I’d recommend requesting both the yellow chili and the syrup on the side because it’s interesting to mix and match the flavors. The chicken was fried with a coarse-grained breading on the outside rather than a batter, and the portion was a single airline breast (boneless except for the first wing joint). I prefer dark meat bone-in because that part of the chicken is more flavorful and juicy, but though the portion looked on the small side it made a satisfying breakfast.
We ate the pork belly, beet and onion hash while debating whether it really should be called a hash. We couldn’t come up with a better catchy term for those ingredients sautéed together, but it certainly isn’t the usual breakfast hash. Standard hash is usually at least a bit crisp and involves potato, while this was meaty, with both vegetable sweetness and a nice little tang of onion. The frisee on top added a bit of color, texture and interest, as did the poached egg. Note that they poach eggs very lightly unless requested otherwise — it arrived barely cooked, which some people like and others don’t.
Our cocktails finished, we ordered coffees: a cup of Honduran and a cup of Ethiopian, both made to order. It took a few minutes but that gave us time to nibble the house-made bacon, which was thick-cut and had a slight spice crust. Many places that make their own bacon go overboard with smokiness and saltiness, a tendency avoided here. Two of the three pieces were on the fatty side even for bacon, but we teased the meat away and enjoyed it.
The coffee was worth waiting for; I preferred the berryish Ethiopian to the Honduran, but both were very good and cut through the bacon richness. We sipped our brews while admiring the environment, and were surprised when co-owner Josh Goldman stopped by to say hello. I hadn’t expected him to be present on a Saturday morning, figuring that if he was there at all it would be in the busier evenings, but he confirmed that he is indeed managing the place on a day-to-day basis. It’s a sign, if one was needed, that the duo who have started so many other restaurants are lavishing time on their own.
Brunch at Brilliantshine ran $60, fine for a meal of character in pleasant surroundings. The place has been getting critical raves and is packed most evenings, but those who want
to experience a leisurely, genteel side of the place should drop in on weekends and savor a new
Brilliantshine’s kitchen is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays as well as for brunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Street parking only. Menu online.
Brilliantshine, 522 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 451-0045 thebrilliantshine.com