But it was only a few restaurants…the culture of the neighborhood bistro was largely non-existent in the 80′s, according to Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food. 27 years ago Kleiman opened Angeli Caffé on Melrose as akin of experiment, trying to bring consistent, good, fresh food at a reasonable price point. In the beginning she was wildly successful. She knew what she was doing. The Italian menu has some spectacular entries and does the basics remarkably well. But more about the food in a moment.
At the time, LA was sponsoring a nascent movement in architecture. Frank Gehry was young, Eric Moss was getting going and Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne had Morphosis on the map. It was Morphosis that Kleiman selected to design Angeli. The small space on Melrose became an important realization of a publicly accessible project pushing a strong design agenda.
When I came to LA Angeli quickly became a staple of my limited restaurant budget. The penne all’arrabiata is the best I’ve ever had. The pizza’s were the only pizza in LA I could eat for a long time. And somewhere along the line I discovered the Ricotta Gnocchi. Perhaps one of the most sublime things I have ever eaten. Magical…as much as I like to cook and am reasonably comfortable in the kitchen, they are not replicable. Going to Angeli was for the young architect a perfect combination of environment and nourishment.
In 1996 I did enroll at SCI-Arc. By this time Evan had opened two other Angeli restaurants and operated the SCI-Arc café. So for about $2.50 (crazy cheap even in 1996) I was fed daily with a variety of panini on the famous Angeli pizza bread. I don’t know how influential it was, but my interest in food and the food movement and now Project Food LA all somehow goes back to the basic elements of eating and perhaps the simple notion of baking bread…literally. I have always been moved by good bread…and the Angeli pizza bread is seminal in that regard. The idea of pulling out a steamy, chewy, crusty hunk of bread out of a fire is so primal.
In my second semester at SCI-Arc, I worked with an architect named Michele Saee. He was working at Morphosis and led the project…his first such responsibility. Michele had a big influence on me as well…he spoke about architecture in a way that was so spiritual. Food, wine, friends…he valued those primal things too.
About four years ago as Director of the Community Design Program at SCI-Arc, I hatched an idea to investigate the relationship of urban infrastructure and the food system. I wanted to know how urban design and architecture could facilitate the movement of healthy food through the city. I implemented a multi-year program on the issue. It was there that Project Food LA was born.
In the hatching of this group, I reached out to Evan. She reached back. She was very generous with her time not just with PFLA, but even more so with the entire Los Angeles food movement and Roots of Change in particular.
So just a few weeks ago, Evan announced the closing of Angeli, and tonight is the last night. In the last week I’ve had the chance to go twice…once with my wife and once with some core members of PFLA. It was a chance to say goodbye to the ricotta gnocchi, the pizza, the bread, the penne, the space, and Angeli. We won’t say goodbye to Evan…she’s here and bound to do something amazing. She was one of the first, if not the first to create this model in LA. it works so well and now there’s competition.
I recall when Mozza opened, many said ‘finally real pizza in LA,’ but many of us said at the time that we were forgetting about the small fire burning at Angeli where the oven was producing pretty spectacular pizza’s. So this is the restaurant business…so many options…so many new, hyped places…and a population in search of the new thing. 27 years! Congratulations Evan on a remarkable run. Thank you for your support and thanks to your amazing staff…some of whom I have been seeing for 19 years. Thanks for feeding us all…in so many ways!