I remember telling Kevin Eats, a prolific and high-faluten blogger of Falstaffian ambitions, that Canele was my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. This was 2008, the height of the blogger boom, an era before Instagram and Snapchat and maybe even Facebook took hold of everyone’s consciousness. I started a blog around that time just covering my basic musings, the beginnings really of my thoughts about food in Los Angeles, though I’d been dining out with my family since I was quite young.
Canele was the first restaurant I ever cared about. It closed yesterday after ten years in business. The food was pure comfort, familiar, but fresh and delightful. Vaguely French but all California. It was a tiny place, with a dark feel that felt adult and mature. It reminded me heavily of something you’d find in Berkeley, and you could see chef Corina Weibel’s influence coming from the school of Alice Waters. I loved every part of Canele, from the menu design to the large chalkboard that greeted you upon walking in to the energy of the open kitchen. I never really befriended anyone that worked there because I was too timid, though partner Jane Choi always said goodbye with a large smile whenever I left.
By the time I told Kevin about the place, he’d gone there and done up a whole review of the place. Reading it felt like a judgment of someone I had a crush on in school. But then I soon forgot about it because Canele transcended any judgment or review. It was a place that I liked to call home because every single thing I ate gave me a heavy dose of relief and joy.
I can still taste that branzino. The pommes anna, arguably the classiest damn potato side dish ever. The beef bourguignon, portioned to some platonic ideal. I remember trying dandelion greens for the first time ever, paving the way for my love of bitter greens before tender age of 25 (and well before kale was cool). The menu rarely changed. The specials were always delicious. And the actual caneles were usually...not very tasty, though they improved in flavor and texture later on. I didn’t complain because I was always stuffed, and the button-sized caneles were free mignardises on your way out. But it was that little touch, the freebie sweet (and the namesake one too), that made me feel special (though everyone got one).
Later I discovered the brunch, and Canele to this day still makes the greatest French toast in the entire God-created universe. I’ve seen them make it so many times I can practically tell you how they cooked the dish. They use nice plush country bread and cut them into thick nearly three-inch pieces. They dip the sponge-like slices into sweet egg wash and slowly baste them in butter while roasting in the oven in cast iron. They obtain a gorgeous browned edge and taste like souffles doused in maple syrup. With a side of house made jam or preserves and some whipped cream, it was the ultimate decadent brunch dish.
What I admire about Weibel’s restaurant is that it lived a ten year life, a solid stretch in Atwater Village, a neighborhood that constantly changes in subtle ways but manages to keep its character like a small town in a big city. She called it quits at the right time, when she was on top. The place turns into Journeyman next.
And now, we only remember Canele as what once was the most perfect neighborhood restaurant in LA’s modern dining history. Fin.