Having already received positive reviews from Jonathan Gold and LA Weekly, Kali has been on our radar for quite some time. Somehow straddling the line between casual and fine dining, Chef Kevin Meehan's new venture is a polished, modern spot that sits just west of Larchmont. The beautiful, minimal decor is an immediate nod to the restaurant's pared-down, refined cuisine that reflect the Chef's background in white-tablecloth kitchens. Focusing on locally sourced, California ingredients, Kali's product-driven menu is deceptively simple and eschews the small, shared plates model that seems to dominate every other spot in the city (however, our group still ordered an assortment of dishes and split them).
Though the wine list is curated by Meehan's longtime friend, Drew Langley (the former Wine Director at the Michelin-starred Providence), I decided to go for a cocktail after hearing such wonderful things about the "New Pad Thai." And oddly enough, it does taste like Pad Thai...in drink form. Made with St. George Green Chili Vodka, Aqua Perfecta, Lime, and Coconut Ice, the drink resembles a spicy, fresh, alcoholic pho broth; the flavor is rich and layered, while the bean sprouts add even more of that Pad That feel.
The menu is divided into first and second courses, with the first courses highlighting ingredients like Asparagus Tips, Charred Avocado, or Beet Tartare. We decided to go with the Berries and Tomatoes, which was served on burrata with pistachio and vine oil. Just as every dish that came after it, it was presented beautifully and delicately balanced. The sweet berries mingled nicely with the acidic pops of tomato, while the creamy burrata provided a lovely base for both. With a bit of crunch from the pistachio, it was a really nice and well thought out dish to begin with.
Next, we decided to go with the Yellowtail dish, in which cubes of the fish were disguised amongst cubes of different types of melon and cucumbers. Like the first dish, it was light and subtle, with well balanced flavors and just enough sweetness, acidity, and salt.
Next, we decided to go with one of the most popular dishes on the menu, the Wheatberry Risotto. The grain is cooked in a garlic broth, making it rich in umami flavor, while the grain itself is a bit more al dente than a typically soft risotto. A crispy cheese wafer sits atop the dish, added some needed crunch. The dish has a subtle richness to it, but maintains a lightness that is difficult to find in many risottos; it's one of the less "beautiful" dishes on the menu, but easily one of the most complex.
To cap off the savory portion of the meal, we ordered the Duck Breast, which was served beneath heaps of shaved carrots and lightly dressed greens. The duck itself was cooked nicely and was really flavorful, the meaty-ness offset by the light and acidic accoutrements. Definitely a solid entree.
For dessert, we ordered a yogurt dish with crackers, honey, and fruit. Not too sweet, it was a light and delicate way to finish off a light and delicate meal, and definitely one of my favorite bites.
Overall, the meal was really enjoyable. Every dish was subtle, complex, well-balanced, and well-thought out, demonstrating a precision in the cooking itself and the conception of the menu. The meal was certainly one of the lighter and more refreshing than I've had of late, and definitely reflected Kali's mission of highlighting contemporary California cuisine and local, seasonal ingredients.