L.A. Gastronomy gets creative with an eclectic menu of classics and new inventions

By Richard Foss

The Offshore Bowl: A tart and smoky mix of tuna poke, seaweed salad, masago caviar, daikon, scallions and toasted sesame.

Some culinary words are useful yet frustratingly difficult to define. The word “gourmet” started out meaning someone who appreciates fine food, but it’s mutated into an adjective to describe not only food but other experiences. Longtime Westsiders may remember a local magazine about spas and hot tubs that was called “Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing.” This was an extreme extension of the term back in the 1970s, but today it would hardly raise an eyebrow.

Another word undergoing an evolution is “gastronomy,” originally a term for an ultra-serious, almost scholarly attitude toward one’s food preparation and culture. The term gastropub exploded that, and any residual pomposity is deflated by a whimsical café that recently opened by the beach in Marina del Rey.

L.A. Gastronomy is a funky little place with avant-garde décor that includes dazzle-painted walls, a Balinese guardian statue by the door, and a mannequin dressed in lingerie and an army helmet near the counter. This isn’t what you usually think of as a gastronomic environment — and neither is the menu of eclectic bowls, sandwiches and street food. Contrary to expectations, this is not a gastropub: they don’t serve alcohol or the usual upscale bar snacks. In fact, there isn’t a burger or fries on the menu, but you can get items inspired by Ethiopian, Korean and Indian cuisines.

Our first visit was for weekend brunch, when they offer a short but eclectic list that includes a braised short rib and kimchi breakfast burrito, beer-battered chicken over French toast, and vegan biscuits and gravy. These tempted us, but we opted for slightly more conventional items: a dish called Hash 2.0 and an order of vodka-cured salmon toast.

The vodka-cured salmon was a fairly traditional Scandinavian gravlax over freshly baked pumpernickel with pickled red onion and a caper-dill aioli. It was a reminder that one way to be innovative is to go back to heritage recipes, because this was what you might get at any good smorgasbord in Denmark. In Copenhagen it wouldn’t be unusual, but it is here because so few restaurants offer traditional Nordic cuisine.

The Hash 2.0 was just a bit out of the ordinary, as it was made with both braised short rib and bacon instead of the traditional roast beef or corned beef. (You can get it with soyrizo too, and though I have nothing against a good soyrizo I felt like the beef and bacon mix.) The meat was tossed with fried potatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro, covered with cheese and topped with two eggs. The default on those eggs is barely done sunny side up, and I found out that I could have had it hard, poached or scrambled, but had to ask if I didn’t want a runny yolk and translucent white. I find soft-fried eggs edible but not optimal, so I’ll know to ask for it done to my liking next time.

L.A. Gastronomy features espresso drinks, but on this day the kitchen also offered mango lemonade with a touch of grapefruit, which we found very refreshing.

We liked our meal enough that we did something we almost never do: went back for dinner the same day. Once there I was attracted to the kimchi fried rice with braised jackfruit, but I ended up having a Little Ethiopia Bowl because it included one item I had never tasted: a teff cake. Teff is a grain native to Ethiopia most commonly used to make the crepe that is the basis of most Ethiopian meals.

I fell into conversation with chef-owner Matteen Khalifian, who mentioned that he was experimenting with the grain one day and discovered that when boiled it was similar to polenta, and since polenta can be made into cakes and fried, he had to see whether it worked. Turns out it does, and the dense, slightly nutty cake was similar to a mild falafel — and a good anchor for a bowl of mildly spiced green lentils, mushrooms, collard greens and pickled beets. It’s milder than any meal I’ve ever had in an Ethiopian restaurant and I’d have liked the spicing kicked up a bit, but it was an interesting and original idea.

My wife had an Offshore Bowl of tuna poke, seaweed salad, masago caviar, daikon and scallions with toasted sesame over sushi rice. It was an unusually good poke bowl thanks to the daikon and toasted sesame, which gave tart and smoky flavors in good balance. I have had a lot of poke bowls that were decent but unexceptional, and it was a pleasure to have one that had a little something different going on.

So, does L.A. Gastronomy actually live up to its name?

Well, it’s technically outside city limits in unincorporated Marina del Rey, but there is creative interpretation going on here, and some thoughtful experimentation with flavor and form. They’re successful at what they’re doing, and they deliver an inventive meal at a very fair price. If you want to quibble about names, I recommend you do that after you finish a meal here.

L.A. Gastronomy 20 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey (310) 437-0990 lagastronomy.com