Is it possible that it’s only been four years since the invention of the cronut?
The flaky hybrid pastry drove customers including Leonardo Di Caprio and Hugh Jackman to stand in line for hours at the Dominique Ansel bakery in New York and spawned a thousand imitators, not to mention some obsessive fans. Wedding proposals have been orchestrated in the line. At the bakery’s Tokyo opening, pastry fanatics lined up 24 hours before the doors opened.
Now the French pastry innovator brings his first Los Angeles outpost to the two-story Grove space that previously housed Morel’s French Steakhouse, and it’s a stunner. Opening for dinner Saturday, Ansel’s first-ever full service restaurant, 189 by Dominique Ansel, is upstairs with a marble bar at the center, an open kitchen, and a spacious patio.
Downstairs, the pastry counter holds a selection of Ansel’s sweet creations — cronuts of every variety, of course, chocolate chip cookie shots, and the most popular item, the DKA kouign amann pastry, similar to a round croissant with a caramelized glaze and gooey center. Ansel’s version has a bit less sugar than the traditional version. “I eat one every morning,” Ansel says. Coffee, sandwiches and salads are also served in the bakery.
After spending the past several years deep in the pastry trenches, Ansel was ready to try something bigger with the bakery-189 restaurant combo. Though he specialized in pastry at his previous gigs at Fauchon in Paris and Daniel in New York, he was also trained in savory — that is, the non-dessert portion of the meal.
Ansel was familiar with the Grove after a pop-up proved wildly popular a few years ago. He says the new bakery is “A natural fit do do something with a beautiful space like this one.”
“The L.A. food scene is amazing right now, the ingredients, the chefs — we’re excited to be a part of it now,” he says.
Each location of the bakery offers different pastries, and Ansel says he was inspired by the food scene, the weather and Cali culture in general to create some of the new items at the Grove location. The California roll is a sushi-inspired cube of avocado mousse, vanilla lime mousse, and honey gelee on an olive oil biscuit, while the made-to-order avocado toast ice cream sandwich combines avocado olive ice cream, ricotta mascarpone ice cream atop a shortbread cookie topped with dragon fruit.
Though he continues innovating with new ideas, Ansel doesn’t even mind that most people know his work mainly because of the insane media craze the invention of the cronut unleashed, just at the dawn of the Instagram age. “It opened so many doors for us,” he says. “Since then, we’ve created hundreds of pastries. But it only happens once in a lifetime.”
For his first full restaurant, Ansel is hoping to emphasize “food that people will remember” rather than a specific style. Executive chef Hyun Lee is Korean, so the chili-rubbed rotisserie chicken is inspired both by Ansel’s memories of buying freshly-roasted chickens growing up in France, and by the deeply chickeny flavor of Korean soup, with Korean-style scallion salad and black garlic rice on the side. “That’s the dish I’m excited about, it’s super crispy, super juicy and tender,” he says.
Imaginative desserts at 189 reference chefs’ techniques like Knife Skills, which approaches apples using five different cuts, and Trimmings, a chocolate, peanut and caramel creation that focuses on bakers’ penchants for nibbling the leftover edges of cakes.
Living part-time in Los Angeles, Ansel is avidly exploring the city, from Pink’s hotdogs to Ludo Lefevbre’s Trois Mec, Koreatown hotspot Here’s Looking at You and all the bounty of Koreatown and Little Tokyo, just for a start. But for the next few weeks at least, keeping the pastry case well-stocked is likely to be a more-than full-time job.
By Pat Saperstein