The server asks the two of us about coffee. We look at each other knowing there's no question -- we're going with the siphon, a Japanese contraption for brewing coffee that looks straight out of a chemistry lab. I love the magic-show of it, the moment when the server turns on the butane burner and the water begins to bubble in the spherical glass globe at the bottom, and then slowly rises up the stem and floods the chamber above where the coffee, coarsely ground, awaits. She stirs the muddy mix with a spatula -- slowly, carefully.
When almost all the water has done its rising act, she turns off the flame and the brewed coffee falls into the bottom chamber. She pours us each a cup of dark, fragrant coffee, which seems to hold all the richness of the bean in each sip.
LA Mill Coffee Boutique, the new coffeehouse in Silver Lake from the Alhambra roaster LA Mill, coffee-making is performed with ceremony. The options are dizzying: an espresso drink, French press or Chemex performed for the table; a single cup brewed in an $11,000 Clover machine; or a cup of strawberry essence layered with donut-infused milk and topped with espresso.
To someone not much into coffee, this might seem well over the top. Yet none of it comes off as pretentious, just delightful. In its attention to detail, LA Mill feels more like a chic Paris tea salon than the usual coffee cafe.
In fact, there's nothing usual about the place. As an adjunct to its coffee and teas, LA Mill serves food that outclasses any other cafe in town.
SANDWICHES? We're not talking tuna fish or egg salad. Michael Cimarusti, the extraordinary chef behind Providence in L.A., devised the menu for LA Mill owner Craig Min. The deceptively casual food he's come up with makes LA Mill a destination not just for the exceptional coffee, but also for breakfast, lunch and, very recently, dinner.
At breakfast, you can have vegetarian-fed-hen eggs soft-scrambled or cooked in earthenware cocottes (little casseroles). Soft-scrambled huevos Blanchet with smoked salmon, asparagus tips and loads of chives makes a perfect start to a lazy weekend morning. Or have your eggs coddled with sautéed wild mushrooms and Niman Ranch apple wood-smoked bacon.
There's also a wonderful house-cured Tasmanian sea trout laid out on the plate like carpaccio and scattered with a confetti of tiny rice crackers and wasabi "peas" scribbled over with wasabi crème fraîche.
Morning pastries, though, are mostly unimpressive. Croissants are tough and not as flaky as they should be. The tall coffee cake has a lovely filigree of spices, but the texture is too dense. The blueberry muffin, loaded with berries, is the best.
Like the elegant desserts here, these are from Providence's talented pastry chef, Adrian Vasquez. Traditional baking must not be his forte.
Nevermind, you can always order Not Quite French Toast, a sophisticated rendition of childhood's cinnamon toast, made with great cinnamon and caramelized vanilla sugar on buttery brioche toast. For just $4.50, it's a brilliant petit déjeuner with a cup of joe.
At breakfast I like to sit at the counter and watch the baristas in training work the espresso machine. They don't always get it right yet. The comfy upholstered stools swivel, all the better to take in what's going on in this chic cafe, which belies Silver Lake's scruffy self-image.
Take the elegantly dressed woman staring into the screen of her MacBook Air, or the Silver Lake bohemian with Pre-Raphaelite hair, a fringed leather bag and the world's skinniest jeans.
In the corner, two fledgling entrepreneurs go over their business plan, while mommies getting out for some caffeine pull fancy baby carriages around their table like wagons around the campfire.
THE DÉCOR, by Scott Mangan at Rubbish Interiors across the street, practically defines the word eclectic. A hand-painted neoclassical wallpaper mural covers two walls, and an extravagant brass chandelier hangs in the main room. Mid-20th century armchairs are covered in the colorful leathers you'd expect on handbags.
Every single item, from the heavy paper napkins to the stainless steel creamer and stylish porcelain, has been selected for its design. And as of Tuesday, some of the coffee and tea paraphernalia (as well as coffee beans and teas) is available next door at LA Mill's retail shop.
Leeks and clams