“California cuisine” has come a long way since the early 1980s, when salads were composed of iceberg lettuce and doused with some sort of Italian, Ranch or — gasp! — Thousand Island dressing. Kale was not yet part of the daily vocabulary and avocado toast was not a thing. Since then, California cuisine has evolved to encompass a number of recent culinary trends including local, organic, foraged, fusion, chef-driven and artisanal. At Kali, a restaurant aptly named for the Golden State, you’ll find the best of what’s in season on Chef Kevin Meehan’s plate.
Meehan honed his skills in the kitchens of Ludo Lefebvre’s L’Orangerie, Bastide and Citrine before joining the Patina group, all while refining his take on modern California cuisine. In 2012, he left the fine dining restaurant scene to start a weekly pop-up with a tasting menu focused on all local ingredients. This laid the groundwork for the concept at Kali, which opened in January in its permanent home on Melrose Avenue. The restaurant’s fresh, seasonal local fare is a welcome addition to the more established restaurant scene around Larchmont. If you didn’t make it to the farmers market this week, a visit to Kali will tell you what’s in season now.
If you’re stopping by for lunch or dinner, one thing to note is that Kali breaks from the small plate concept in favor of appetizers and entrées. When LA Times food writer Jonathan Gold dined there, he sung the praises of the ridgeback prawn crudo from Santa Barbara with kumquats. Yellowtail has since replaced the ridgeback prawns. It is served in a chilled melon broth with cubes of compressed honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, along with mandoline-sliced Persian cucumber rolls, pickled cucamelons, a cilantro microgreen garnish and crackly flakes of roasted yellowtail skin. Menu offerings like the charred avocado salad may vary from week to week too, depending on what is available at the Santa Monica and Hollywood farmers markets. If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to avocados from JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch that are halved and glazed with local avocado honey before Chef Meehan sears them on the grill. The caramelized avocados are served with baby kale, nasturtium greens, carrot and radish shavings, crushed pistachios and herbal ash. Find his recipe here.
Jonathan also recommends ordering Meehan’s risotto, an umami-rich dish of barley simmered in fermented black garlic broth that is topped with a round crisp of black garlic-infused Fiscalini cheddar from Modesto, parsley and a colorful splash of nasturtium petals. It’s certainly not what one expects in a risotto. All of the bright flavors and textural contrasts of Meehan’s summer menu are complemented with a collection of dry Rieslings curated by the wine director and co-owner of Kali, Drew Langley, who was formerly at Providence.
Recommendations: Try the ridgeback prawn crudo, charred avocado salad and black barley risotto with a summer Riesling.
Location: 5722 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038 | (323) 871-4160
Find more of Jonathan Gold’s restaurant recommendations here.
Above: Toasted meringue gelato photo by Rachel Jacobson/Kali.