Having a good bakery-cafe in the neighborhood is a quality-of-life issue just as much as having a serious coffee shop or wine bar. Just as young chefs are moving into far-flung neighborhoods to open their own places, bakers who may have been caterers or pastry chefs at high-end restaurants are venturing out on their own too. Three neighborhoods just lucked out with this newish crop of bakery-cafes from some stellar bakers.
I couldn't believe it. Closed on Mondays. I'd grabbed a shady parking spot, ready to do some work and nosh on owner Na Young Ma's buttery croissants, muffin-shaped financiers or crème fraîche coffee cake. The sweets at this Atwater Village bakery are definitely worth a drive, especially if you've been assigned the dessert for a dinner party and have no time. The other day, you could have picked up a couple of luscious-looking Paris Brest pastries with ruffled ivory cream filling. You can also order whole cakes and tarts (toasted lemon chiffon, chocolate caramel tart). I love the frangipane tart dimpled with muscat grapes. Every other customer, though, seems to be ordering the thick-cut brioche toast with homemade jam. There aren't many bakeries where the coffee could be a destination in itself: Yeekai Lim of Cognoscenti Coffee has set up behind the counter at Proof with his La Marzocco espresso machine from Florence and beans from Four Barrel in San Francisco. Right about now, the iced latte is the thing.
3156 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 664-8633, http://www.proofbakeryla.com. Pastries, $2.75 to $5. Remember, closed Mondays.
Karen and Quinn Hatfield ofHatfield'sshow off their more casual side at the new Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea Avenue. Karen is an immensely talented baker and now has the format to do more than desserts. Case in point: the lavish pecan rolls napped in dark, sticky salted caramel. Is there a better version on the planet? Brown butter and sour cherry scones are textbook-perfect, fluffy and moist as they come. Health nuts should head straight for the quinoa muffins or a slice of oatmeal gingerbread loaf, preferably eaten at an umbrella shaded table on the patio in front, complete with water bowls for any doggies in attendance. Lunch starts at 11 a.m., mostly sandwiches on house-baked bread and heartier salads, including the "Farmhouse Chop" with Persian cucumbers, avocado, fingerlings, celery and radish in an herb-yogurt vinaigrette. Starting in August, breakfast and a terrific-sounding brunch that leads off with house-cured Tasmanian ocean trout and an eggs Benedict made with glazed pork belly. The coffee comes from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore.
143 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 939-0151, http://www.thesycamorekitchen.com. Pastries, cakes, tarts and cookies $1.50 to $4; breakfast items (coming soon), $7 to $10; sandwiches and salads, $9 to $12.
Once you have a successful catering company, the next step is brick and mortar, at least for Leslie Danelian, food stylist, cake designer and owner of Sweet Somethings catering company. Her Sherman Oaks cafe, Sweet Butter, supplies the sugar fix to a great swath of the Valley. Don't be put off by the kitschy website, Sweet Butter is a lovely oasis on Ventura Boulevard with comfy outdoor sofas and black and caramel woven bistro chairs set out under a broad awning that wraps around the corner. Lining up to order in the cramped indoor "market" could be tweaked, but the baked goods are flat-out delicious. Generously sized muffins — fresh peach or cinnamon sugar, fluffy scones (ginger lavender, olive oil and herband the usual croissants and brownies. The menu offers much more, though, including a terrific breakfast sandwich with sunnyside-up farm egg, thick-cut bacon, tomato and aioli on good country bread. Oh, and the coffee is from Intelligentsia. Small wonder the place is packed all day long.
13824 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 788-2832, http://www.sweetbutterkitchen.com. Morning pastries, $2 to $6; breakfast items (most served all day), $5.50 to $12.95; sandwiches and salads, $7.95 to $13.95.
—S. Irene Virbila