Four Café in Eagle Rock feels a little like walking into a pal's kitchen. (OK, if your pal had a glass dessert case and a cash register right by the kitchen door.) The vibe is friendly and relaxed and the locavore food is worth lingering over.
The neighborhood eatery does put a sliver of space between its half-dozen or so inside tables, but it feels more like communal dining. This is not the place to have a private discussion. But the wall of reclaimed wood slats, the modern paintings, polished concrete floors and gorgeous blown-glass ceiling lamps put you in the mood to share your egg salad, if not all your secrets, with your neighbor. Or you could go sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk outside.
It's nearly impossible to imagine that this space used to house a Coldwell Banker branch before chef Michelle Wilton and her husband and co-owner, artist Corey Wilton, transformed the space. Michelle Wilton has worked at Patina, L'Orangerie and Sona and her sensibilities shine in this neighborhood joint.
Soups here are soul-satisfying, whether hearty or light. The carrot-ginger soup is a gorgeous color hiding the flush-inducing bite of the ginger. It's made more complex with chili butter, and the bits of softened, chopped cashews floating in the orange smoothness add a nice textural twist. The red lentil soup, a vegetarian option, has its own carrot flourish along with the mild warmth of tandoori spicing and a cilantro yogurt swirl.
Four Cafe, which frequents local farmers' markets for its ingredients, offers several side salads. The fruit salad (though a friend argued that pieces of fruit do not a salad make) on one visit included blackberries, pomegranate seeds and sweet orange sections.
The couscous salad mixes Israeli couscous with kalamata olives, mint, cucumber, yellow cherry tomatoes and tiny crumbles, feta cheese and, in a nice surprise, black-eyed peas. The much-underused little peas add an earthy taste and almost meaty texture to the grain salad. The potato salad tastes like spring, with sliced sugar snap peas, radishes, white and purple fingerling potatoes (for some reason, on one visit the purple tubers seemed a little mushy) and pickled green onions, tossed in a nicely grainy mustard vinaigrette.
Where: 2122 1/2 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: Starters, soups and sides, $4-$8.50; salads, $7-$17.75; sandwiches, $8-$13; kids' menu, $4-$7.50, desserts, $2-$6.
More info: (323) 550-1988, fourcafe.net
One of two starters, the asparagus tart is a gorgeously flaky puff pastry covered with ricotta and asparagus and Gruyere. I'd order just about anything if it came on that pastry.
Four Café's grilled fish burger is tender and flavorful mahi mahi on a brioche bun with cheddar cheese, picked red onion and a thick, tangy house-made tartar sauce. The French onion soup grilled cheese is a nice take on the sandwich. Served on country white bread, the mixture of gruyere, sweet and smoky caramelized onions, thyme and a hint of beef stock is a find.
The roasted asparagus sandwich (yes, you read that right) just may become your new favorite. It's hard-boiled egg and roasted asparagus with arugula, pickled onions and a dill-dijon aioli on a soft baguette. It's really more of an egg salad topped with asparagus, but it's a welcome addition to the menu, for those of us who loved the egg salad on sourdough from the winter menu.
Salads come in half or full sizes, and even the half sizes are pretty large. You can add chicken, steak, salmon or tofu to your salad for an additional charge, but even without the added protein, the salads satisfy. One favorite is the barbecued chickpea salad. It's romaine lettuce, green beans, arugula, red onion and a generous helping of avocado chunks and goat cheese tossed with a slightly over-sweet buttermilk dressing and, of course, chickpeas.
The café's winter menu offers a kids' section. No chicken fingers here. There's the ubiquitous pbj (crustless), grilled cheese, mac and cheese, chicken and cheddar sandwich and bowtie pasta. (Though if I was a kid, I think I'd be angling for the soupified grilled cheese.) And the café concocts its own sodas. Grapefruit and lemon ginger starred on the winter menu and now mint mojito and strawberry are the spring sodas. What kids wouldn't want that? Though they may be expecting a syrupy Fanta-like fruit drink, the sparkling soda with a hint of fresh strawberry flavor might just win them over.
And then there are the desserts. The case is full of temptations like homemade pop tarts, vegan raw cheezecake, pot de creme, and the homey cookies. The Mexican hot chocolate cookies and brown butter lavender cookies are delicious and different. But the chocolate chip cookies and gingersnaps are in another league. It's like your pal left cookies out to cool on his kitchen counter and you just couldn't help but snatch a couple on your way out the door.
REBECCA BRYANT is a Marquee dining critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.