The Cute Gardener and I tend to make up our own rituals for the holidays that the majority of the Western world otherwise celebrates in unison. It isn’t that we’re not patriotic that makes us eschew Fourth of July fireworks for crab and duck in underground Chinatown restaurants or that makes us ignore the Valentine’s romantic dinner crowds in lieu of our own private cooking sessions, wine tasting and LEGO making evenings at home. It’s just that we’re both inclined to make up our own road together filled with customs created that matter to us and don’t conform to the norm. There’s something special knowing that nobody else is honoring a day in quite the same way we are.
So instead of following the newspaper’s guidance on making gourmet peeps at home or following the crowds to the beaches, churches and parks to partake in colored egg hunts we like to spend Easter morning strolling lazily to some restaurant that we’ve always wanted to try. Today, it was Cora’s Coffee Shop, located a block from the beach in Santa Monica. In true adventurous fashion, we opted for a seat at the bar so we could watch the three cooks in their chaotic line dance of delivering up dishes to a packed crowd. Cora’s is unusual in that it’s one third gourmet egg and breakfast joint, one third upscale coffee shop and one third Italian specialty restaurant gaining inspiration and dishes from its sister property, the pricey Capo Restaurant next door. We didn’t want to shell out the big bucks to Capo for dinner until we tried a few of the Italian items that were being offered for half price or less at Cora’s.
From our position at the counter we gained an appreciation for what makes Cora’s a little offbeat and unique. Pancakes that first looked ordinary and mixed from boxes of Bisquick soon were peppered with organic blueberries, buckwheat or cranberries into high and fluffy disks waiting hot slabs of butter. Eggs poached to perfection were laid on beds of creamed spinach laden brioche slices. A massive, four-inch thick frittata was studded with soft lumps of potato and gleaming slivers of tender carrot. Freshly squeezed orange juice was poured room temperature and tangy into plastic oval cups. Plump tomatoes, bruised and full of character, were chopped in rustic chunks atop toast with large globules of silken burrata. Large tubes of rigatoni were tossed in buttery tomato sauce and strewn with fresh herbs. It was highly entertaining watching the hectic show around the stove and we hardly noticed the large amount of time that passed before our own plates were handed to us across the gleaming case full of flaky croissants, poppy seed muffins and gooey sticky buns. An air of do-it-yourself cuisine peppered with distinctive and special touches lent a favorable hue to our opinion of the place.
The CG ordered polenta with Italian sausage and although the polenta was poured from a Whole Foods-type plastic bag to cook in a pan, the quality burrata that was added made it milky and hearty. My lamb ragu over chunky al dente bucatini was comforting and warm, even if it was smothered in too much truffle oil. I agree with most of the top chefs today who say that truffle oil should be banished from the markets, as it is not the true essence of the miraculous and elusive fungi but a flavored rendition of a trend that overpowers everything in its wake. But despite this small error in execution, our time there was memorable because of the birds-eye view of a bustling kitchen that never stopped and was earnest in its attempt to please the ocean side masses.
Walking home along the water full of pasta was a moment to cherish as the mobs on the sand folded up their pastel colored table cloths and lugged bags full of candy to their cars. It felt good to be on the side of those who make life up as they go.