Should I Stay or Should I Go? Quandary at Literati Café
Ben Calderwood Color-mixing: Literati's Eggs Florentine
You might not expect such an astutely poached egg atop your Benedict at a commonplace all-day café like Literati, but that's what you get. Tender, uniform capsules of golden yolk that flood your artisan roll the moment you prod the whites with your fork. The sweetness of the grilled veggies in your quesadilla special--something of an outlier on the California cuisine menu--is unanticipated, red peppers, summer squash and Texas onions whisked from the stove when they are just flecked with caramel char. There is something called the Turkey Asparagus Affair, an illicit commingling of turkey breast, crisp asparagus spears and Swiss tucked between thick slices of multi-grain bread. The sandwich is basted in dairy-free pesto, notoriously easy to over-garlic when you omit the cheese. Not here.
This is the dilemma of Literati Café. You really want to eat their food, more so than at Coral Tree or Bread and Porridge or sometimes even Amandine. The turnover is fast, there is nary a dessicated leaf in the requisite organic greens, and you can have linguine with herbed shrimp and a glass of lemony table white for dinner. Literati's kitchen has a knack for elevating routine bistro fare, an aspiration to outdo the competition that flanks the Brentwood stretches of Wilshire and San Vicente Boulevards. That Literati's full-service brother, the linen and flatware Literati2, sprung from the café and not vice-versa speaks volumes. But you don't want to eat at Literati.
This is a restaurant on spin-cycle, so crowded with laptop-wielding wannabe screenwriters that there is a strict 45-minute limit during peak hours and you wonder if the staff checks your hard drive for a non-pirated copy of Final Draft before permitting entry. No one really reads anything, despite the perplexing displays of hardbound books sunk in plaster and the black and white portraits of everyone from Picasso and Vonnegut to Jerry Garcia and the Dalai Lama lining the walls. It's like dining inside a special issue of Rolling Stone. There are open ceilings, natural wood tables featuring sternly worded notices about organic coffee and wi-fi consumption and shelf upon shelf of Aqua Panna water. The interior is so on the nose, the clientele so well-cast and free of color that you start plotting a detour to the Garment District for an under-the-grill bacon-wrapped hot dog.
Ben Calderwood The false library
What to do? You want to savor Literati Café's ambitious cuisine even as its atmosphere corrupts. There is always take-out, but when you get your espresso to go, the barista will sneak latte art under the lid to make you regret your escape.
Café: 12081 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025; (310) 231-7484.