Restaurant Review: L.A. ROSE CAFE – Filipino Food has never smelled so good!
written by: Allan Roman Reyes
There’s something good going on at the L.A. Rose Cafe. Located on a non-descript little corner on a heavily-travelled bypass street (Fountain Ave. for you Angelenos), I’m sure many have driven by the place countless of times never quite giving it a second thought. But behind those frilly little curtains lies a secret: some of the best home-cooked Filipino food this side of West Covina. The first thing you notice as you enter the door is the place is bigger than you thought; outside, past the simply painted L.A. Rose Cafe signage (‘Filipino’ food strangely missing as a descriptor), the aura is more that of a sidewalk cafe than a restaurant catering to a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Inside, the house is divided into two dining rooms and a foyer where you are greeted by the strangely playful, motherly figure of Lemuel. He makes you feel quite at home with his personality of both stage follower and welcoming host, seating you under bolts of fabric adorning the ceiling. Truly the feel harkens back to an early Los Angeles, one filled with drama and sensitivity, not over-bearing in its current food craze.
The menu itself reflects the philosophy of the establishment. Not just serving Filipino food, there are entries for rib-eye steaks and other continental fare. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Filipino restaurant. This was also mirrored in the clientele; it seemed to be more of a mixed group, both nationally and geographically. But don’t get me wrong, the menu’s strength lay in its roots. The breakfasts spoke of all flavors of the ‘silogs: be it tapa, longonisa, adobo, or fish. They looked ultra-yummy even for our mid-day meal and I would have definitely ordered if it wasn’t for the 11:00AM cut-off time.
For lunch we ordered the adobo (the BEST, the menu boastfully displayed in lights), and the mechado. While waiting, we heard Lumuel work his magic with the patrons. Gliding effortlessly from table to table in that motherly fashion, he checked on his guests with the true eye of one who is pleased to serve good food. Seeing us waiting, he offered to bring us an empanada to stave off the hunger before the meal. What harm can one empanada do, we thought? Little did we know it was the empanada to end all empanadas. Flaking, steaming, moist crust surrounding a pate of chicken, it was an operatic first bite. We looked at each other before dipping into the citrus-infused mustard that complimented the dish and knew we were in for a treat. The next was like falling in love. Both dishes came beautifully arranged; the cupped mound of garlic fried rice that accompanied both dishes was cooked perfectly; al dente to the mouth and garlic not overtly used, the adobo paired with two over-easy eggs and the mechado with grilled vegetables so crispy and fresh, it could have been served as chop suey. The quiet — one brought by an incredible meal — ensued.
Let me whisper some sweet nothings to you: the adobo SWAM in its gravy. Yes, gravy – not sauce, there’s a difference. Sauce accompanies, gravies stick to your insides in a class of its own. I had to sit there and sample the gravy a couple of times to savor the layers of interaction. There’s coconut vinegar there, yes. And something faintly citrusy. Bay leaves, yes, soy sauce, dark and select. Peppercorns of course, present. The proteins of pork and chicken were tender and balanced, though the pork went fast because pork RULES. All in all, adobo that was fine-tuned over time. Healthy, very little oil, and a beautiful golden mahogany color.
The mechado mimicked the artistry of the adobo: swimming in its own devilishly-red tomato sauce, the pieces of beef and potatoes looked wonderful against the whiteness of the plate. All in, we took bites of that sweet tanginess and with eyes wide open knew this was another one for the books. Beef cooked to a tenderness only found in lengua dishes, potatoes not overly done, vegetables grilled to a crisp perfection then hit with accentuating spices, the dish walked away with the pot. We traded courses not knowing which one was gooder, better, best. It was that GOOD.
All this time Lemuel walked around checking his cares, making light conversation about the environs, the cafe, and life in general. As an accompaniment he was the perfect wine, allowing you to slip into that silent space as you eat, where all good things meet, be it food, drink, or small talk to pass the time. He even convinced us to go for dessert. Bombshell number two. I’ll let the picture say it all.
But not without a few accoutrements to spice up the place. Bread pudding. Custard. Caramel. Strawberries. Blueberries. And Raspberries. You’ll have to come in for this one yourself, dear reader. Words fail me now in trying to describe this masterpiece from heaven. Let me just say the caramel was just so right and the caloric content was just so wrong. But in this case, the bread pudding wins hands down. I would sell my mother’s favorite blanket just to taste this again.
And hopefully I will because the L.A. Rose Cafe was unknown to me until recently. It has been around since 1982. Either they need to put up a billboard or I need to hang out in L.A. more. Otherwise, gems like this would go unpublished, quietly seeking their own brand of fame, making small people like you and me happy, one meal at a time.
L.A. Rose Cafe
4749 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
PS: Bombshell #3: when Lemuel found out that my partner was celebrating a birthday that day, he brought over a whole bouquet of empanadas as a present. There is something wonderfully devilish about that. :)
PPS: I never got to taste any of those empanadas :P