• A magic Elf spotted on the streets of Echo Park

    February 23rd, 2010mr meanerelf, LA restaurants

    According to legend and folklore, an Elf is a “small, mischievous and magical” being, which probably explains why Elf Cafe in Echo Park is so aptly named:

    Small: Elf Cafe is tiny. There are two rows of cramped tables and a bar with a few high stools, leading to a very intimate dining experience. The tables are also very close together, so you have pretty much no option but to get to know your neighbors, whether you want to or not.

    Mischievous: I’d actually tried to visit Elf on three separate occasions before. Twice it was full with crowds waiting outside so I just walked on by, the third time I arrived at 5:50pm (the restaurant officially opens at 6) so I could be first in line, only to be told that they were running late “as usual” and wouldn’t open until 6:45pm. Also, the menu is different to what’s online, and there’s no reservations policy making Elf one of the more difficult places to eat at in LA. Mischievous Elf!

    Magical: When you do get a table you will be treated to some of the most magical flavors and textures you will ever eat. Every dish is original, and every ingredient fresh (bought that day in most cases) and wonderfully, inventively prepared. Also, the organic environment of stone, wood, exposed brick, flickering candles and new-age style music really does evoke something not of this world.

    elf before the evening crowd

    I’ll start out by saying that Elf is a vegetarian restaurant, catering mainly to vegetarians with what appear to be some menu items that just happen to be vegan. There’s a heavy emphasis on cheese throughout, and all the very best signature dishes are vegetarian rather than vegan. Notwithstanding that, there are some really good vegan items on the menu, I just wish they could optionally make some items vegan – I mean, to substitute a vegan dip for a bleu cheese dip on a particular dish, or make a vegan version of a salad dressing would hardly cause the kitchen to collapse in a morass of disorganization, now would it?

    Anyway, let’s get down to brass tacks. On our visit, we were the first people in the restaurant, glad to take a wonderful two-top table by the window. We were quickly seated, the bottle of wine we brought with us was spirited away to be opened (Elf is BYOB, and more on that later) and we were brought fresh minty water and menus. So far we’d been waited on by two people both of whom were nice and friendly. Once we’d had a chance to review the menu, we began to order.

    As a small appetizer we received complimentary crackers with a delicious chickpea and red bell pepper dip. The crackers were fresh, crispy and crunchy, dusted with some herbs and the dip was cool, smooth and clean tasting. So far, we’d spent nothing (or so we thought) and had some tantalizingly tasty food to whet our gaping appetites.

    The first dish up was the “Cornmeal and Herb Dusted Spicy Oyster Mushrooms” which the menu proudly proclaimed as “Our version of ‘hot wings’ crispy oyster mushrooms”. The dish usually arrives with the decidedly un-vegan “bleu cheese cream reduction”, but our server said they could be prepared sans-reduction so we asked for them that way. We were pleasantly surprised, though, when the mushrooms arrived and the server said “Here’s your spicy mushrooms, and we did a vegan version of our sauce. Hope you enjoy it!”.

    cornmeal and herb dusted spicy oyster mushrooms (made vegan): our version of "hot wings" crispy oyster mushrooms served with marinated celery salad. $10

    Did we ever enjoy it…. this is one dish that everybody has to eat before they pass on to the next world – we’re talking millions of sliced, lightly fried and crispy mushrooms all spiced up to the nines atop a cool pile of sauce, with a few thinly sliced celery pieces. It’s not only incredibly tasty, but getting a mouthful of crispy, steaming hot mushrooms with some cool sauce in your mouth is quite the pleasure. I’m really pleased that Elf was able to figure out a vegan sauce, as it really did make the dish. Hopefully they will add that as an option going forward – I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt them.

    elf salad: mixed greens with dill, avocados, potatoes, olives and green beans. $11

    Next up we went for the basic sounding “Elf Salad”, a veritable cornucopia of fresh green leaves, cabbage, dill, avocados and a bunch of other stuff including green beans and potatoes. We were blown away by the volume and quality of this salad so much that we had to force ourselves to stop eating it as there were another two dishes on their way shortly afterwards.

    roasted flatbread shawarma: similar to a shawarma sandwich served open-faced with crispy oyster mushrooms, spicy hummus, and savory cabbage salad. $12

    For one entree we rewound to the starters menu and opted for the “Roasted Flatbread Shawarma”, a mile-high serving of cabbage and spicy hummus piled on a fresh pita bread topped off with crispy and light mushrooms. This thing was really tasty – a real mix of flavors and textures that are tough to pull off and get right – we respect what the chefs did to make this, and would heartily recommend it as a very unusual and enjoyable dish. Seriously, one of the highlights of the evening.

    moroccan vegetable tagine: moroccan vegetable stew served over red quinoa with a side of spicy homemade harissa. $16

    Talking of highlights, the “Moroccan Vegetable Tagine” is probably the most under-described dish I’ve ever had on a menu. Don’t you usually find that menus talk up the items such that you’re bound to be overtly disappointed when they arrive? Not here, and not now. The entire description is somewhat pedestrian, almost boring: “Moroccan vegetable stew served over red quinoa with a side of spicy homemade harissa”.

    Let me fucking tell you that this thing off the planet. I’m talking about at least ten different vegetables, all embarrassingly fresh, clearly organic (brussels sprouts, potatoes, cauliflower, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, beets, green beans, carrots, etc. etc.) and all cooked for what tasted like hours in the most amazing red beet sauce then plopped down over crunchy red quinoa, and served with a side dish of some spicy harissa that (frankly) was as good as the main dish itself, despite its diminutive size. Grab a spoon, dip it in the harissa, scoop up some vegetables and sauce, rinse and repeat until you pass out. You won’t be sorry.

    we ended up getting much of the food to-go!

    We were way too stuffed to even consider desert, but there are always a couple of vegan options available.

    There are few places I’ve eaten where every course has been as astounding as the last, but all ain’t completely rosy in the world of Elf. Let’s haterize for a moment.

    One thing you have to know about Elf is that it’s incredibly trendy. Perhaps not as much now as it used to be a year or so ago, but it’s still very much regarded as a place one has to go and “be seen”. The clientele were all very much Eastside hip (I’d say hipsters, but that can be insulting I’ve been told) but all super nice and friendly. I could feel the creative juices flowing into me from the table of artists next to me. One guy even had a fury pirate hat and cape on, I guess just so he could stand out. See if you can spot him in the picture at the bottom of the post.

    I’d probably be 100% gushing about the place were it not for the sneaky $2.50 per person corkage fee, which wasn’t disclosed anywhere on the menu or by the server when she so gleefully took our bottle of wine away to be opened. After paying top dollar for our food we were punished with an additional $5 charge on the bill. I believe that it’s actually illegal to insist on such optional, non-advertised charges, so I recommend everybody refuse to pay it until they put it on the menu or tell you when they pick up your bottle.

    All in all, though, Elf really lives up to its namesake mythical being: Compact, kinda troublesome yet completely magical. I’ll be back soon, as I’m sure that most people who go there regularly will.

    2135 W Sunset Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90026
    (213) 484-6829
    weds-sun: 6:30ish?-11pm

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29 responses to “A magic Elf spotted on the streets of Echo Park” RSS icon

  • @mr meaner: a $5 corkage fee is not that bad!!!!!! TONS of BYOB places charge that! here is a list of BYOB fees: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/484258

    also, those mushrooms are the best thing i’ve eaten in a forever.

    lastly, the pirate hat dude was awesome!

  • I am so glad you finally reviewed Elf! This is one of my favorite restaurants. You should add it to the top 5 list.

    Also, be sure to get there by 7 unless you want to wait for hours.

  • elf is great, and it’s not the $5 corkage that people complain about, more that it’s not on the menu anywhere. $5 for doing nothing? there’s no justification for that.

  • I’ve been dining at Elf basically since it opened. The place does have great food, but you really do have to fight to get it. If you don’t feel like eating at 6pm or midnight it’s really necessary to dedicate an entire evening to the experience as the waiting list is chaotic (I’ve been skipped several times, and it seems like regulars and friends of the management have some secret way of getting to the top of the line).

    Finally on the corkage fee my advice for any hidden charge that you object to: don’t pay it. You don’t have to and you shouldn’t. If, though, you think it’s fair then pay it. I would, and it’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things really.

  • I think if you figure out which night is their “slow” night its a fantastic place to bring a veg date. I wouldn’t go too hard on them for corkage fees. They definitely should write it on the menu, but just one of those laundry list of things to find out when making a reservation or prepping to go to any dietary needs special restaurant. I’ve yet to go there w/o seeing everyone lugging multiple bottles of wine. I felt nude w/o one of my own!

  • Sweet neckerchief.

  • Look at those fucking hipsters.

  • if i wasn’t so unhappy with my first visit you might have persuaded me to go back. did you get super lucky or was i super unlucky? i was served warm perrier and then asked if i wanted ice because they had none chilled. why would i put tap ice on my sparkling water? my vegan plate of food was some mediocre sauteed vegetables and grains. pretty much flavorless and unseasoned. i was literally wedged in a corner and it disrupted the entire row of tables when i had to get up to go to the bathroom.

  • hmmm… Id be curious to check it out. Probably a late night dinner and just hope for a table. I actually think $5 corkage is cheap. Alcove cafe has a $15 corkage. Yikes.

    Must check out Elf… 🙂

  • I have eaten here twice, both times with a mixed group of near-vegans, non-committal flexitarians and devoted meat eaters, and each time we have all left completely and utterly satisfied and delighted with our food. It is definitely a little chaotic getting in and seated, but it’s Silverlake, so everything’s going to come with some hipster awkwardness. I love the tiny open kitchen and being able to watch each plate from start to service. It’s a favorite birthday place for me!

  • I love Elf!

  • “i was served warm perrier and then asked if i wanted ice because they had none chilled. why would i put tap ice on my sparkling water?”

    Oh, LA, home of Water Snobs.

  • Elf serves filtered water and filtered ice, no tap water.

  • haa haa haa!!! did i start my first qg fight?! yeayaaa!!! these bickering back and forth comments are why i visit this blog. clearly, it’s not because i have similar taste in food as the writers. i was not aware that the water and ice was filtered. but still…it’s similar to; “oh your soup is cold? would you like me to microwave it?”

  • The guy with the bandana was about to pull it up over his face to rob the place (and gallop off on his horse.) But you captured his face on film, causing him to rethink his plan. You saved the day!

    Alex Brown Church (Sea Wolf) in the foreground reaches for his sunglasses after he notices the pap with the camera.

  • Thanks for another thorough and mouth-watering review.
    I don’t think $2.50 pp is anything to scoff at, especially if you have the means to eat at Elf-suck it up. When you byo, the restaurant likely takes a hit on some non-alcoholic beverage you might have otherwise ordered if you didn’t have wine. Or think of how they might gouge the prices if they did offer wine for sale; $2.50 would be a drop in the bucket. Also, @Polack; they’re not doing nothing: they’re letting you bring your choice of beverage into their establishment, providing stemware (which undoubtedly needs replacing from time to time as pieces break), opening and pouring it for you, bussing and washing your wine glasses, anyway it all adds up to, in my opinion, a downright cheap price to pay for service and convenience. This is L.A., people, what do you expect? I agree they should make patrons aware of the charge, but it seems like the place, despite delivering what looks like fantastic fare, has that frazzled, harried vibe which causes things like corkage-fee postings to fall by the way. What a nice thing it would be if rather than bitching about what mf’ers they are for charging $2.50, someone crafted and offered at no cost a small but lovely placard stating something like “you are welcome to bring wine or beer to enjoy while dining; a $2.50 fee per person will be applied” which the restaurant could display in a discreet location of its choice.

  • The guy with the bandana was not about to ‘rob the place.’ He was about to continue standing around, sucking his cheeks in and posing like the self-regarding, preening cock-about-town that he surely is.

    Besides, the Vice bible said that tinker chic isn’t cool anymore, so he’d better go find another carefully affected ‘style’ to co opt.


  • Looks cool, I will stop by one day.

  • Peach: It’s not about the price, it’s the fact that it’s undisclosed on the menu. It’s a hidden charge, and that’s bad. Also, restaurants already clean my plates, bus my table and open my drinks as part of an included food cost and tip. Why a corkage fee is even legitimate amazes me (80% of the minimum hourly wage just to open a bottle? Come ON!) and the fact that it’s not disclosed is downright dishonest.

    I always ask for hidden costs to be removed, and if they refuse I deduct it from the tip.

    Also, why should I make the restaurant a sign? You’ll be expecting me to make the menus and cook the freakin’ food next!

  • I am so so sorry! When I made the 2010 menu I forgot to add the corkage fee at the bottom like usual. Please forgive me everyone!
    LOVE, Astara

  • also… Its a a $5 flat fee for corkage not $2.50 per person

  • @David: LOL, Of course I don’t think you should cook the food; my idea was more a rhetorical suggestion to act with a generous spirit, rather than with the whiny bitterness that is unfortunately so stereotypically vegan and which might cause someone to deduct the corkage fee from some poor sap’s tip.

    I guess as I explained in my comment, I perceive that the establishment (not the waiter) does more than “just open the bottle”; it’s more of a way for the restaurant to re-coup the cost of serving an outside product than it is the cost of a few seconds of a waiter’s time. I did and still do think it should be advertised, but it appears in this case to have been an accidental omission that it wasn’t in the first place.

    Some yummy Elf and some sunny weather of my hometown both sound great right now; I’m in PA with some WF 365 pb in a jar and a spoon, on my couch watching giant flakes of snow float sideways past the window (not too bad either 😉 ).

  • “but still…it’s similar to; “oh your soup is cold? would you like me to microwave it?””

    Wait, how is that not an acceptable solution? Would it not solve the problem? I’m not going out of my way to single you out, but you sound like a Nightmare Customer.

    (I can’t stop associating the avatar with the monocle with your text, it’s not helping, heh)

  • of course it would solve the problem. but how about do shit right the first time? and imo a restaurant that uses microwaves is fast food (not exactly what i would call a restaurant).
    i do understand that things may not be perfect it was just a combination of multiple slightly off things that made my experience yuck.

  • Elf has never used a microwave in it’s life, are you insane? It’s called an OVEN. Jesus people!

  • i am insane outta control losing my mind!!! wooooohoooo!!!

    i did not mean to imply that there is even the presence of a microwave oven at elf. in my earlier post by saying “it’s similar to” i was trying to show a similar occurrence (which did not happen at elf)

    okay bye byyeeee i’m gonna go take my crazeee pills now. weeeeeeeeeeeeee

  • Miranda Megill of Flore

    I love you Astara… and Elf… and QG 🙂

  • what did he ever do to you?

    poor dude w/ a bandana. you people are bitter.

  • “I always ask for hidden costs to be removed, and if they refuse I deduct it from the tip.”

    That’s awesome. It’s totally the waiter/waitress’ fault that a restaurant didn’t disclose the fee. And if the food was cold, or you didn’t like it, you should deduct from the tip as well, because your server had direct control over the quality of the food and should definitely be penalized for that.

    You’ve clearly never waited tables, or you would know that’s the kind of jackass move that makes the job so miserable.

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