Last night, we finally had an occasion to try out the new restaurant right in our neighborhood, simply called "15" (apparently a lucky number for the owners). The place used to be a pupuseria, and we enjoyed the food there, but it was definitely a dive, with uncomfortable plastic picnic-bench-style tables and a couple of video games for ambience. When the pupuseria closed, we wondered what would become of the space, and after a while, we noticed that it had been spruced up, given a nice paint job, and a few simple but nice accents put on the building. When we stepped inside, well, wow, this is so not the pupuseria anymore. The interior space is simple, but elegant, with red teak tables, comfortable black chairs, hardwood floors, and a classic bar along the back. As we perused the menu, I was quite impressed with the sophistication of the choices. There is some simpler family fare here, like mac and cheese, and burgers (though kobe beef with Maytag blue cheese, mind you, or portabello mushroom). But there was also quail stuffed with pears, salmon on a white bean puree, pork loin on turnip mash, and more. The meal that ensued lived up to the promise of the menu, in quality of ingredients (lots of fresh local produce here), skill of preparation, and class of service.
The proceedings started with a small thing that impressed me greatly. I asked about their whisky offerings, of which they had five or six, the usual popular choices, including Macallan and the Glenlivet single malts. When I asked for a glass of Macallan, our server asked if I wanted it neat, which I affirmed. I then overhead him discussing with the barman how a single malt is properly taken neat, and shouldn't be marred by ice. That’s absolutely correct, and yet so many places assume that you'll be wanting ice in your scotch. And then, as if I weren't already impressed enough, he brings with the glass of whisky a small pitcher of water, as he said, "for manners". True whisky connoisseurs know that just a little splash of water can improve the drink, not to water it down, but just enough to open up the oils. None of this was pretentiously done, it was just a simple touch, yet in my mind, this put them a notch above even the venerable Dining Room at the Huntington Ritz as far as knowing their whisky.
Both George and I were drawn to a roasted beet salad for our starter, a lovely plate of arrugula lightly dressed, with pieces of red and gold beets, topped with toasted goat cheese. The beets were delicately seasoned with a touch of citrus (ponzu?), something I'd never heard of before, but it worked perfectly. The goat cheese was coated in panko crumbs, and toasted, so it had a bit of crunch on the outside, but was very soft on the inside. (The panko didn't work for George's gluten allergy, but they were able to redo the salad for him with feta cheese.)
For mains, I went for the quail, which was absolutely delicious. The bird was perfectly cooked, with a nice crisp on the skin, moist meat, and the mild game flavor nicely complimented by the pear stuffing. The quail was partly filleted, "airline" cut, giving the nice presentation of a nearly-whole bird (as is customary with smaller game birds), but with surprisingly few bones to fuss with. (A truly whole game bird can require surgical dexterity with knife and fork.) It was served with a lovely smattering of lightly sauteed fresh vegetables, including baby asparagus, green and yellow summer squash, and brussels sprouts. George seemed similarly pleased with his pan-grilled salmon on white bean puree (which was but one of many gluten-free options he had to choose from).
We didn't get a chance to stay for dessert, as we were heading off to the theatre, but we definitely look forward to returning to 15 again. It has a comfortable neighborhood feel: we saw other neighbors in there, and we saw other diners recognizing other people who came in, giving it that very neighborhood feel (enhanced by being a single space, where most tables are in view of most other tables). The service was professional and classy without being at all stiff or pretentious. And the prices on the menu were very reasonable, especially for the quality being served. (Many entrees were $12-16, and we had a two-course meal for two with drinks for $60.) We're delighted to see a place like this come into Echo Park, and doing well. (15 is found at 1320 Echo Park Ave., just a half block north of Sunset.)