Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Taste test: Elf Cafe

I went to Elf Cafe a month or two ago, but just now got around to writing about it. Here's some of my review from the Los Feliz Ledger.
Out front on Sunset Blvd., a punked-out young couple enjoy a leisurely dinner while their infant slumbers away in a designer stroller. Several parties show up with wine bottles in hand, taking advantage of the $5 corkage and quickly filling the restaurant's nine tables.
Right now, Elf is the quintessential Echo Park restaurant: no sign in front, deer line drawings on the front of the organic menu, no reservations, cash only. The owners also have a band, Eastern music-meets-electropop act Viva K. Despite the rather precious trappings, the service is genuinely friendly and attentive and the food is clearly made with care as well. Chef Timothy Maloof, who also runs a packaged raw food business out of the space, is from a Lebanese background, but the menu ranges beyond the Middle East to a few Greek-inspired dishes, Moroccan vegetable tagine and French vegetable tarts. It's homey food, like you might have whipped up in your kitchen if you had all morning to spend at the farmer's market. Some dishes have a hint of hippie cooking, like a sturdy brown rice pilaf with the roasted fennel and beet plate. Others are light and modern, like the cool Greek cucumber and dill-laced yogurt soup that helps cool off a warm summer night. Elf's Greek white lasagna, a version of pastitsio, is satisfying with garbanzo beans and potatoes standing in for the usual ground lamb, a good choice for those used to meaty dishes. Confirmed greens lovers will like the kale salad with avocado, hemp seeds and a bright citrus dressing, although it might be easier to eat with smaller pieces of kale. As the restaurant evolves, the chef might try varying the ingredients more with the seasons (an autumnal pear tart stays on the menu even in prime summer fruit season) and creating some more imaginative presentations, but for now it's enough just to have a pleasant restaurant in the neighborhood. And it couldn't be more adorable, from the elfin band member/servers to the pierced parents on the sidewalk.
Dinner for two with two starters, two mains and one dessert ran about $60, reasonable enough for the organic origins and attentive service.
Elf Cafe, 2135 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park (no phone)

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