I normally do not review restaurants, and leave that to the Pete Wells and Ruth Bourdains of the world.
But I do eat, and I review TV and other things for a living. So the good people of the ROFL Cafe, L.A.’s newest bistro playah on Melrose in Los Angeles, invited me to dinner to sample the culinary vision of local Gastro- hero Govind Armstrong.
First, the location data: “ROFL” aka Republic of Laughter Cafe, open daily 7:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. at 7661 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood. 323-951-1536.
Initial reaction walking in for me was how inviting it was set and dressed up off Melrose Avenue, underscored by the fragrance of waffles hitting you like a ton of bricks in a great way. Like you’re home.
The space was designed with tasteful botanical framed art under cheery words, in a cozy yet spacious layout replete with flattering diffused lighting, and it was very clean. I liked it immediately.
The back story:
Business partners Alex Vasilkin and Peter Silkin are a couple of twenty-somethings with a shared vision, some dough, and now two joined-at-the-hip restaurants in Moscow and West Hollywood.
These Russian fellows apparently live in both cities, and are enamored of Japanese entrepreneur and new age expert Masaru Emoto’s contentions that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water. We humans are 70% water, ergo expressions and intentions deeply matter, especially that of love and friendship.
Vasilkin and Silkin have tweaked their cafe concept to meet the expectations of each city, recruiting local chefs to help with menus. The ROFL Cafe is a wholly unique dining experience for LA: Cheap and cheerful. Filled with positivity and kindness.
Tea is my drink, and they serve up- Art of Tea choices that made my head spin as soon as I opened a menu. Ordered the Roobios Chai, and my wingman opted for the Coconut Cream Tea. They also serve Intelligensia coffee. French press carafes are how the tea comes, allowing multiple steepings.
Let’s dig in.
We began with
Mussels with Hand Cut Fries
Nine bucks for a plate of Moules Frites! I was in.
Pros: The mussels were plump and fresh and the sauce was rich and saffron-buttery. It was unusual and deeply satisfying.
Cons: The Fries were under a huge cap of aioli, which is a fancy word for mayonnaise, my condiment nemesis. Warning – order them dry with the sauce on the side unless you love the white stuff.
Pastrami Spiced Kurobuta Pork Ribs
Mustard BBQ sauce glazed ribs, caraway roasted cabbage, carmelized sweet potato ($18)
Pros: Really tasty and ultra tender. Meat falls off the bone. Nice flavors marry well, you taste the slow cooked love. Reduction Mustard sauce was brilliant. Quite satisfying.
Cons: If salt is an issue, order something else.
Baked Tomato Salad:
Olive oil braised chickpeas, frisee, feta, olives, cucumber, fennel, red onion, red wine vinaigrette ($11.50)
Pros: Perfection. This Greece-meets-France salad is dressed so beautifully, every bite is a flavor explosion of fresh and amazing produce and fabulous understated dressing. We want to know who supplies them! The tomatoes were better than my garden tomatoes, and the shaved red onion and fennel were stunning together. The feta cheese was creamy and dense, tasting nothing like the salty crumble-y stuff you buy in the grocery store. This was a stand-out dish.
Oven dried tomato, olive oil and lemon ($5)
Pros: Perfectly grilled fresh asparagus in light dressing, the flavors were intense. So good. They have excellent produce vendors supplying them.
Short Rib Grilled Cheese
Onion marmalade, Bel Paise Cheese and Short Rib meat ($11)
Pros: Melt-y comfort food and a badass pickle and salad accompanies. The cheese is mild. Really decadent and filling. Great multi-grain bread buttered and grilled just right.
Cons: Felt it needed some pickles inside the sandwich, something to give it some zip.
Four Cheese Thin Crust Pizza
Crushed tomato, three cheese, tomato slices, grana, basil ($12)
Pros: The produce vendors supply them the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Great flavors, and the cheese was perfect, the sauce was not too overboard with garlic, a nice clarity to the tomato flavors and herbs.
Cons: We ordered thin crust, which was not enough to support these delicious toppings. The sog factor towards the center was immediate. Order this Neapolitan style, as the flavor was great, but the wet toppings too heavy for a super thin crust (the thickness of lavash bread).
These are slightly denser and chewier than your average waffle.
Pros: Comfort food dessert, comes with a white chocolate chantilly or choice of chocolate ganache, caramel or fruit. Smells great while it’s being made.
Cons: The other dessert choice was Cheesecake. Waffles and cheesecake are two things I am not into as dessert options. I know, I’m a weirdo. But my wingman thought it had late night nosh craving mega-potential.
Pros: They make them fresh there at the cafe, and it was one of my favorite finds of the whole meal. Dill-y, garlicky, crispy, I instantly had vivid childhood flashbacks of Wolfie’s Delicatessen and their ice-cold pickle buckets back in South Beach, Miami during the pre-Scarface days! Love, love, loved them.
Cons: They are located in WeHo and I am in Calabasas.
The bill was ridiculously cheap for all that food we ordered, and we ate like champs.
The price range is $3 to $5 for vegetable plates, $6-$12 for small plates, and $10 to $17 for sandwiches and entrees. ROFL Cafe is quite affordable and provides a lovely ambience with an attentive and friendly waitstaff. Looks to be family friendly too.
If you are visiting LA, make a pit stop, and do try the pickles.