Sqirl Launches a Virgil Awakening
VIRGIL AVENUE—Sqirl has received an outsized amount of attention for such a tiny place. Started in late 2012 as a way to showcase owner Jessica Koslow’s homemade jams, the breakfast and lunch cafe brought the artisanal toast craze to Los Angeles and brought a new wave of businesses to Virgil Avenue that now includes a wine shop and several boutiques.
With the L.A. Weekly saying it serves “some of the best food in L.A.” and Jonathan Gold advising, “it may well be your favorite place in the city,” Sqirl has a lot to live up to, and it nearly always succeeds.
Like any uber-popular spot in the heart of a big city, there will inevitably be a line to order and the layout inside is exceedingly cramped.
The menu, too, is not always obvious at first glance—breakfast dishes depart from the familiar into rice salad, porridge and sunchoke hash, while drinks like “turmeric tonic” might sound exotic.
First-timers might want to start with jam and toast, since that’s what launched the cafe. Choose a jam of the day, like strawberry rose geranium, blueberry rhubarb or deeply-flavored apricot to top thick brioche toast; almond butter or ricotta can be added for a more substantial breakfast. (A whole grain option might be a nice addition). Add chocolate ganache, and it becomes dessert. It’s too rich for an everyday breakfast, but a welcome morning indulgence paired with a cappuccino. Coffee comes from rotating suppliers including Phil & Sebastian and Ritual.
Housemade granola ($5.50) is chewy and packed with a variety of seeds, while crispy rice salad topped with an egg and optional sausage is tar and well-balanced, making for an unaccustomed brunch.
One of the most popular breakfast dishes is Kokuho California-grown brown rice with sorrel pesto, preserved Meyer lemon, poached egg and lacto-fermented, homemade hot sauce ($7.50).
At lunch, simple baguette sandwiches of proscuitto or ricotta get gussied up with uncommon garnishes like fennel and cherimoya.
Wonderfully fresh and colorful vegetables are the stars of both breakfast and lunch dishes like kale salad with sumac, aleppo pepper and puffed rice. More complex lunch main dishes are in the $14 range, with choices like a Santa Barbara snow crab salad, uni spaghetti or a fairly bland pork noodle dish. When we tweeted that we enjoyed our lunch aside from the pork, the restaurant was quick to reply that they’ve fixed the dish.
Koslow trained as a baker, and the cakes and cookies are not to be missed, especially the intense toffee ginger cake and anything with fruit.
Some see Sqirl as an unwelcome sign of elitist coffee and gentrification, while others love its careful sourcing and exquisitely prepared, surprising food. We’re leaning towards the love side, hoping they can serve the problem of servers bumping into people waiting in line and relaxing the coffee rules a bit.
Sqirl, 720 N. Virgil Ave., (323) 284-8147
Pat Saperstein blogs about L.A. restaurants at EatingLA.com
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