Z: Opened in June 2015 on Vine Street just two doors south of DeLongpre Avenue, Chavela was inspired by brothers Jorge, Walter, and Eduardo Rodriguez, who own the restaurant next-door, Los Balcones, featuring traditional Peruvian cuisine. Their aim was to create a vegan restaurant with Peruvian-Pan-Latin-inspired dishes. They turned to Chef Rachel Carr, formerly of Cru and SunCafe restaurants, to create the menu.
R: Fortunately for Angelenos, Chef Rachel had just returned to California from a stint in Connecticut and took on the Chavella challenge. She's masterful with seasonings and applied her talent to dishes like Chili Relleno and Mole Verde Enchilada that may sound typically Mexican, but, instead, deliver some delicious and uniquely different surprises with a Latin flair.
Z. The restaurant is small, long, and narrow, yet well-designed by Spacecraft to use the space fully and offer comfortable dining in an ambience of warmth and intimacy. Spacecraft also designed Mohawk Bend in the Silver Lake area. Here they crafted a sleek-looking room with clean lines and great use of light-colored woods, stag horn ferns and succulents, and brushed aluminum seating.
R: Sophia, our server, welcomed us with a warm greeting and told us about the three Peruvian style sangrias called chavellas. Each one sounded exceptional, but with Sophia's help we decided on a carafe of Chavela Rosa made with hibiscus liqueur, aperol (a citrus-flavored spirit with an alcohol content of 11%), silver rum, lemon, and rose. This chavela arrived wearing a delicate rose hue and was attractively garnished with a lemon wedge and a tall sprig of thyme. For sure, it's a lively cocktail with a delicious blend of sweet, tangy, and pungent flavors, along with the alcoholic kick.
Z: The menu is small and appealing and features exceptional food and flavor pairings that stirred our curiosity. For our Entradas, or starters, we decided on the Chicharron de Hongo y Coliflor and the Barbacoa Portobello Tacos. To emulate chicharonnes, Chef Rachel presented a cluster of deep-fried cauliflower florets and chunks of Portobello mushrooms and placed them on one end of a long, white, rectangular dish. The other end held two tiny square bowls of well-seasoned dipping sauces--Tartar and Salsa Guera. Both sauces are tasty accompaniments for Chicharron dipping.
R: There was only a moment's pause before our three little Barbacoa Portobello Tacos arrived with an array of colorful veggies heaped high on mini corn tortillas. The medley of flavors and textures were a delicious departure from the familiar Mexican tacos. These tacos contained chopped grilled portobellos, curtido, a Salvadorian inspired fermented cabbage made from shredded hearts of Savoy cabbage, lime cashew crema, chunks of avocado, pico de gallo, and sliced radishes.
Z: Because these little babies are heaped so high on the soft tortillas, they set us up for a fun challenge--to eat them without messy fingers. We lost the challenge, but licked a few fingers when no one was looking. No worries, though. Our large, white, cloth napkins came to the rescue multiple times. Blame the irresistible, tangy and savory lime cashew crema, but it sure added the perfect touch to the taco seasoning.
R: My Mole Verde Enchilada arrived looking so stunning I almost hesitated to rip into it. It truly warranted pausing a few moments to appreciate its composition of multi-layers and colorful ingredients. While most people would expect an enchilada to be wrapped in a corn tortilla, we were surprised to find these two covered with Savoy cabbage leaves and stuffed with mushrooms, corn, and sweet potatoes.
Z: Yes, definitely unique yet those are ingredients typically grown in Peru and surrounding countries in South America. These two enchiladas rested on a bed of black beans and quinoa and were topped with finely shredded Savoy cabbage and sliced radishes. I suspect the pleasantly light touch of spice might have come from a jalapeno contributing to the ambrosial complexity of flavors. And if that weren't enough, the enchiladas were splashed with a mouth-watering cashew nacho cheese next to a pool of tomatillo salsa. This was a feast of amazing flavors on one dish!
R: Offering a zestier hit of spice was the Chile Relleno looking just as photogenic as the enchilada. This sassy little charred poblano also took a left turn from the familiar and was generously stuffed with lentils and new potatoes. Golden drizzles of succulent cashew nacho sauce added the perfect finishing touch.
Z: Not to be sidelined was the spectacular two-inch tall rectangle of sweet potato gratin accompanying the relleno. The gratin was creatively assembled with layers of thinly sliced sweet potatoes with a generous measure of cashew cream spooned between each layer. It's amazing how exceptional sweet potatoes can become so tender, creamy and succulent in the hands of a talented chef.
R: We took a little time to relax and sip our chavella while pondering dessert. Of course, we simply couldn't leave without dessert, because the Chili Chocolate Ganache was too tempting to leave behind. And we're so glad we didn't.
Z: Yes, this eye-popping raw dessert is a gem from its visual presentation to the last nibble on the plate. Looking perky and standing about two inches tall was a gorgeous wedge of chocolate one might call mousse pie or chocolate cheesecake. Chef Rachel has named it perfectly--Chili Chocolate Ganache.
R: The base is formed with pistachios and dates and eaten alone has a slightly salty edge, while the tall ganache is sweet and has a firm, ultra-creamy, mousse-like texture made of avocado, agave nectar, cocoa, and chile. The top has a row of sliced fresh strawberries drizzled with chocolate sauce that cascades down the sides and pools onto the dish along with strawberry sauce.
Z: Maybe it's because I'm such a chocolate lover, but I rarely encounter a chocolate dessert as delicious as this one. It's good we shared one piece, although two would have been perfectly indulgent.
R: It was a fabulous meal enjoyed in a charming ambience with excellent service. We know Chavela will soon gain many fans that will want to come for those extra special times or for a delightful date night. And since the Pantages and the Arclight theaters are nearby, the restaurant would make an ideal dining spot before the show. Diners can take advantage of free 2-hour parking on Vine Street behind FedEx and K & L Wine Merchants.
Z: We commend the Rodriguez brothers for their dedication to organic produce locally sourced and the high quality of food and service. The only non-local produce is the choclo, a special variety of corn imported from Peru and used in the Mole Verde Enchilada and Fresh Corn and Quinoa Polenta. It's apparent these and all the dishes on the menu are hecha con amor (made with love.)
R: While Los Angeles enjoys many vegan eateries offering wholesome food at very reasonable prices, Chavela is a step above, offering exceptional Pan- Latin style cuisine and outstanding service. Entradas or Starters range from $4 to $9, Platos Principales or Main Dishes $14 to $16, Postres or Desserts $9, Chavelas or Sangrias from $10 for a glass to $22 for a carafe. Also available are unique exotic cocktails $12, Wine and Beer.
Reviewed September 2015