MID-CITY NEIGHBORHOOD HANG
I can’t stop singing the praises about all the improvements along La Brea Avenue these days, and while big name chefs opening new spots are generating tons of buzz, good ol’ reliable Rascal has been leading the way since it opened back in August of 2011. There wasn’t much on La Brea back then and the cozy sandwich and wine bar quickly became a Mid City neighborhood favorite focusing on comfort, classic American fare, and casual.
From husband and wife team Sandy and Rebecca Clark, self-described as sandwich mavens, now comes a revamped Rascal with the addition of new chef Andy Lee, formerly of Wilshire, Rustic Canyon, the Lazy Ox Canteen and Café Del Rey.
“When we first opened Rascal, it was a very casual place and our menu consisted primarily of grilled sandwiches,” recalls Rebecca Clark. “The neighborhood really embraced us, and our clientele were people that lived or worked in the neighborhood. But as with all restaurants, the time came to look at where we started, and make decisions on where to go next. We wanted to grow, to be better, and to offer more to our dedicated clientele.”
While Rascal has always offered delicious yet simple food, this Rascal 2.0 has definitely stepped up its game.
“I think most chefs dream to take on a smaller place where they can touch everything, taste everything and know everything that’s going out of the kitchen – that way you’re not compromising your integrity or the food, because it’s a smaller environment and that allows you to be more creative and lets you pay attention to the little things,” Lee explains. “Rascal is a great neighborhood space – it’s L.A., but with a rounded California atmosphere and everyone who comes here knows each other. We have guests who come in three to four times per week, and I love that. I love having that kind of connection to the clientele where I know their name and they know mine. And I love making approachable food that’s simple and delicious. That’s the kind of food I like to cook – and eat.”
Chef describes his cuisine, a modern approach to American classics, as “humble food” but filled with his own flare and spice.
“When we had our first tasting with Andy, he wowed us with everything he made,” Rebecca says. “We love his farm-to-table seasonal philosophy and he’s very much into making things from scratch in-house, like the house-cured duck prosciutto on our new Charcuterie Plate.”
“The food now matches the ambiance,” Sandy Clark proudly adds.
During our recent visit for dinner, we walked into a busy and buzzing Rascal and dived right into its creative and mouthwatering menu.
We started with the Fried Chicken & Gravy—think buttermilk marinated boneless chicken served with apple wood smoked bacon gravy. This dish has become the Happy Hour staple. The chicken itself is so delicious it hardly even needs the gravy—and come on, who can resist smoked bacon gravy?
The Salmon Tartare, in a citrus poppy seed reduction with avocado mousse prepared with shallots, olive tapenade, French breakfast radish, and crostini, is light and fresh and another wonderful starter item.
Rascal, for now, is a wine and beer bar. Sandy Clark was formerly the beverage director at Chaya so he knows good beers and wines and will not point you in the wrong direction. Trust in Sandy! I’m forever in his debt for introducing me to my new favorite red wine, Rhiannon—a fantastic California blend.
If you’re looking for something a little heartier, the Red Wine & Tomato Braised Short Ribs with tater tots, arugula, and grana parmesan is the way to go. This dish is savory and filling and those damn tater tots are like crack (not that I’m into crack, but I’m sure they’re just as addicting!).
Looking for something delish but maybe not as filling? Get the Panzenella—think Sicilian bread salad with Burrata cheese, Castelvetrano olives, house cured duck prosciutto, and tomato vin. Bread salad you may scoff? Well, I did but then ate those words and then some. This was the sneaky, surprising dish that is now a new fave item. You’ve got your greens, your bread, your cheese and frickin’ cured duck prosciutto. You have it all!
I didn’t have the Burger (with beer-deglazed caramelized onions, cheddar, arugula, vine ripe tomato, herb remoulade, served with a mixed green salad) this night, but I’ve had it before and it’s a beast. We did share the Roasted Pork French Dip Sandwich, made with pork that has been slow roasted all day long and is served with horseradish spread, fresh bread, red wine au jus and house pickles. It was so tasty and yet not too much to handle. It’s a good choice if you’re not looking to roll down La Brea Avenue after a heavy, boozy dinner.
Sandy does get creative with his spirits and even ventures into “mixed drink” territory with his White Port – Wiese & Krohn on the rocks with a twist. It’s nice but with his impressive selections of beers and wines, why stray?
Desserts come courtesy of Top Chef Just Desserts alum and finalist Danielle Keene and we relished the Chocolate Crunch Cake—Devil’s Food Cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate pearls, and Italian meringue—which Sandy paired with the White Chocolate, a Telegraph and chocolate sombrero mixed beer. Now that’s livin’ right.
Rascal’s Happy Hour is an institution along La Brea Avenue. It’s from 5 to 7pm everyday and all night long on Mondays, which is really one of the best deals you’ll find in the area where items, including the Fried Chicken & Gravy, and the Burger, along with selected beers, wines and wine cocktails are only $6 each. As good as La Brea is becoming these days, you have to give it up to the O.G. on the block.
Rascal is located at 801 S La Brea Ave. Hours: Mon-Sat 5pm to 11pm; Sunday 5pm to 10pm. Call 323-933-3229.
By: Jose Martinez.
Photography courtesy of: Rascal