Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brunch at Campanile: How to Escape LA

I pulled my pink Motorola Razr from my bag and studied the text message from my friend.

"I got lost without GPS. Be there in a minute." It said.

I'd already been sitting at our table for ten minutes, but her message didn't faze me. I was perfectly content to enjoy a few moments of tranquility in the midst of all the chaos a large city like Los Angeles can engender upon its harried inhabitants. Compared to my regular brunch spots that often come with an overwhelming dose of hungover "Hollywood" types who possess a penchant for discussing their ill-conceived hook-ups, the sun-kissed space of Nancy Silverton's first restaurant was refreshing - a glass of iced tea on a hot day. If I closed my eyes, I imagined I might be transported to an open-air cafe in some far away land where coffee is sipped, chocolate is savored and conversation exists as a hum rather than a clatter.

As I waited for my friend to arrive, I began taking notice of the parties around me. The young man and woman to my right who were so busy catching up that they couldn't be bothered to look at their menus, the two men armed with papers and inscrutable expressions on their hardened faces, and the family seated in front who was gleefully digging into their $15 basket of La Brea bakery pastries. I smiled at the young boy carefully licking the top of his chocolate cupcake. He too seemed to understand that brunch at Campanile is a special experience.

When my blonde-haired brunching partner breezed through the front door ten minutes later, I was completely drunk with love for the restaurant at mid-day. While I had been there thrice before for the famed "Grilled Cheese Night," it was different at this hour -- like I was cheating on LA to be so relaxed in the middle of a Sunday. Shouldn't I be out grocery shopping? Cleaning the apartment? Or pretending to write in some dimly-lit coffee shop?

Perhaps, but I ignored my nagging sensation of guilt and let my world stand still for the next hour.

While the prices on the one-page menu were near-blinding to my eyes that are accustomed to impossibly high stacks of pancakes for less than $10, I couldn't help but admire the tantalizing offerings. Tender poached eggs delicately laid over prosciutto and arugula flirted with me from a nearby table, crepe-like sourdough pancakes beckoned me with their haughty refinement, and a braised lamb grilled cheese sandwich toyed with my emotions as I watched a sturdy male patron devour it across the room. I wanted it all, but was ultimately won over by the vegetable quiche served with a heaping serving of tangy balsamic-dressed field greens, and pan de mie toast with homemade strawberry jam.

The decadently creamy quiche enveloped my mouth like a warm kiss, and was perfectly complimented by the fresh greens and impossibly good toast. As I slathered the jam over the crisp bread, I felt absurdly happy -- like I really was the chic lady I pretend to be when I'm not wearing sweat pants and watching reruns of "How I Met Your Mother." My friend's sourdough French toast, served with lush blueberry compote, was as refined as I've ever seen the egg-soaked bread, and seems to be the go-to dish for those who desire a sweet vs. savory meal.

After the check had been paid, and our last drops of tea were gone, I was nearly overwhelmed by my reluctance to leave the restaurant. I didn't want to go back to the real Los Angeles. And I didn't want to go back to the girl who spends her Sundays clipping coupons, planning the week's menus and organizing her sock drawer. (She's not nearly as much fun as the girl who eats quiche.)


The Blonde Duck said...

I LOVE quiche! Besides, you won't remember clipping coupons in ten years, but you will remember brunch with a friend!

Esi said...

Grilled cheese night is calling my name! But the poached egg over prosciutto and arugula sounds amazing too!!! Adding it to the list.

Sara said...

I just got back from LA, ate at The Bazaar (Jose Andres) and Osteria Mozza. I LOVE Campanile, I even have the cookbook!

Diana said...

Duckie - So true! Bring on the eggs and pastries! :)

Esi - Grilled cheese night is a MUST! It makes me so very very happy!

Sara - GREAT restaurant choices! I've heard amazing things about The Bazaar and LOVE LOVE LOVE Osteria Mozza. I wish they'd put out a cookbook!

Alessandra said...

That french toast looks delicious! We need to put this place on the list for my next LA visit!

The Duo Dishes said...

The French toast looks so great. Nothing like the norm.

Apples and Butter said...

Isn't Mark Peel's food great? (I think he got the restaurant and Nancy kept the Bakery in the divorce - or something like that). I have never been to Campanile for brunch just a few lunches. I will definitely have to check it out!

Heather said...

this place sounds so wonderful and relaxing! and your brunch looks so yummy! i am a big fan of quiche!

Erica said...

This place looks and sounds incredible. I love restaurants that can instantly put you at ease!

Diana said...

Ali - You get the plane ticket, I'll get the reservation. ;)

Duo - Normally French toast is my go-to order -- it's so much more exciting than pancakes!

Apples - Yes, love Mark Peel! That's interesting about the whole divorce drama... I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even know they'd split!

Heather - I only recently discovered I like quiche! I want to try to make it one of these days. Wish I could find a healthier crust recipe...

Erica - Totally agree - it makes going out so much more fun!