While working as an aerospace engineer in the early aughts, chef Mònica Angelats decompressed from the rigorous grind by throwing elaborate Spanish dinner parties for friends. Growing up in Barcelona, she learned to cook from her grandparents, who lived next door. Church on Sundays was followed by animated lunches with a dozen family members and tables brimming with braised rabbit with samfaina, hearty pans of fideuà, and iron-seared crema Catalana. Those meals would later inspire the countless four-course dinners she created, prepared, and served for friends from her Southland apartment. Looking back on it now, it’s hard to say who benefited more from these feasts: the attendees treated to an extravagant supper, or the would-be chef who found her calling in the kitchen.
Now, after refining her craft for more than a decade, Angelats is ready to host the biggest dinner party of her life when Flor y Solera opens in the Arts District on Friday, March 3. As the restaurant’s executive chef, Angelats’s unabashedly Catalan point of view will finally be available to all of Los Angeles in familiar platters of arroz negro and lesser-known dishes like mandonguilles amb sèpia (pork meatballs with cuttlefish and almonds). A dedicated bar serving sherries by the glass and flight completes the experience.
While Angelats always felt at ease around food, a parallel interest in aerospace engineering led her to college at Ohio State University in 1992 and graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder after that. In 2001 with a Ph.D. in hand, Angelats headed to Paris for a postdoc before landing at UCLA as a researcher in 2003. “There’s inertia — you keep going because this is what you’ve been doing — you don’t question it,” says Angelats. “I just started realizing — not that I was not happy, but that I was happier doing something else.”
With encouragement from friends, some personal introspection, and a bit of luck, Angelats walked away from the world of aerospace engineering and into the commercial kitchen in 2007. “I’ve never been too shy of trying new things,” she says. “I am happy when I’m cooking for friends, so I decided to give it a try thinking no one’s going to take away that degree and all that stuff. I still have it.”
Angelats’s first culinary gig was making desserts at the Italian restaurant All ‘Angelo on Melrose Avenue. The precision required to prepare intricate recipes mirrored the rigor of her prior training, and she found the transition from engineer to pastry cook nearly seamless. Angelats continued to develop her savory skills by lending a hand at different stations whenever the kitchen was short-staffed. When All ‘Angelo closed in 2009, Angelats took on the pastry chef role at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, preparing Italian desserts like panna cotta, semifreddo, and zeppole. She climbed the hotel’s ranks to sous chef before moving to Brera Ristorante in 2016, where she most recently served as the chef de cuisine.
Angelats was offered the space for Flor y Solera by the founders of Factory Place Hospitality Group, Matteo Ferdinandi and chef Angelo Auriana. (The restaurant group owns Brera Ristorante and previously operated the pizzeria Sixth+Mill in the space.) Together, the trio named the restaurant Flor y Solera as a nod to Spain’s centuries-old sherry production process. (Flor is the layer of yeast that forms atop aged sherry, while solera refers to the complex system of maturation using casks and fractional blending.)
During her dinner party days, Angelats kept a tidy binder filled with menus and various notes on food and beverages. While the initial purpose of the file was to avoid serving a guest the same dish twice, she adapted many ideas born from those informal gatherings for the menu at Flor y Solera. “When you tell somebody that you’re going to open a Spanish place, the first thing they say is ‘paella, paella,’” says Angelats. “But there’s a lot more to Spain than paella and sangria. I want to stray away from the stereotypical. I want to do more of an encompassing thing, from the north and from the south, the islands.”
The chef suggests that the best way to experience Flor y Solera is to arrive early before one’s reservation. Linger at the bar with a chilled glass of txakoli while nibbling on a few tapas, like gildas (olive, anchovy, and guindilla pepper skewers), croquettas, and tortillas de patata. For dinner, share a big pan of fideus rossejats before delving into the grilled Iberico pork that’s so naturally juicy and marbled that it only needs salt and pepper. There are churros, of course, and a chocolate and olive oil dessert inspired by the rations necessitated during the Spanish Civil War. “I make the olive oil into ice cream and then make a chocolate cremeux. It’s my take on my mom’s childhood experience,” says Angelats. All the while, sip on wines, beers, sherries, and gins meticulously sourced from Spain by beverage director Francine Diamond Ferdinandi.
The dining room, designed by Ana Henton Architecture, is full of reds and blues and features thoughtful Spanish touches throughout, including photos of Spain taken by the chef. A bold crimson banquette runs the length of the dining room, bringing together two- and four-top tables along exposed brick and azure walls. The color red represents the land, while blue speaks to the ocean, says Angelats. “But anybody who comes from Spain, the first thing they see is soccer colors [for] Barcelona, which was not on purpose, but I’m not complaining.” Ornate tiles emulating Barcelona’s hydraulic mosaics accent the open kitchen, sherry bar, and dining room, while the convivial space is filled with Spanish music.
“There’s a lot of [Spanish cuisine] that you don’t see [in LA] because people are stuck with paella, sangria, octopus,” says Angelats. “I really think that if [diners] try other items of our cuisine, they’ll get to love them too, so that’s my goal here.”
Flor y Solera is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.