Jessica Koslow was already known for masterfully preserving local ingredients and making jams with fruit from her favorite California farms. She's earned a reputation for her creative flavor pairings and discerning palate. Lucky for the rest of us, in early October Koslow revealed that she had another trick up her sleeve: her kitchen became restaurant.
The small but mighty menu goes well beyond jams and rotates market driven dishes made to order by the kitchen staff, which is just Koslow and colleague Ria Wilson. They serve toast topped with Sqirl jam and house-made nut butters, sure, but the savory toast option comes with eggs and lacto-fermented hot sauce. Rice porridge made with Kukoho rice can be ordered hot or cold. Bowls of rice come topped with a poached egg, feta cheese, and sorrel pesto. For beverages, Koslow makes fresh juice; she's also teamed up with barista champions Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski of G&B, who approach making coffee as seriously as Koslow chooses and prepares dishes.
Now the Sqirl kitchen opens every morning (except for Wednesdays, when Koslow goes to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market) with G&B brewing up some pretty spectacular coffees and tea. While plating dishes, Koslow shared her thoughts on opening the café, developing the menu, and working with Glanville and Babinski.
Julie: You have been making jams and other products in this space for a while, how did the idea of adding a menu come about?
Jessica: There was always the idea that I would open the kitchen and make it a more café style place, but it was all about when. If I was going to add coffee and tea and things like that I would need it to be as specific as the jams that I make. Charles and Kyle told me they were leaving Intelligentsia and starting their own thing. We talked about doing a project together and collaborating. We seem like a nice marriage. That's how I got the confidence I would say to do a café. I don't think I would have started it without them.
Julie: Were you already a coffee person?
Jessica: Yes, but when I met them and started talking to them I realized I don't really know anything about coffee. I like to drink it, but they are as specific about how they brew and how they source as I am about how I make my jams or how I choose my fruit. It made sense for us to be together in the same environment. The energy is really great. We fuel off of each other.
Julie: How did you develop the menu and decide what to serve?
Jessica: I make jams and am also a trained pastry chef. Sqirl is not just about jam, it's about preservation. I make everything under the sun with preservation techniques. Preserved meyer lemons. Anything lacto fermented. Pickling. These are all techniques that I bring into the food. A lot of the menu has items that I pull in from my preserving world and experience. It adds more flavor. It adds nuance. I wanted the menu to be really small and about what we can get at the market at the peak of its season.
Julie: What is your new favorite ingredient you discovered recently?
Jessica: We are using the Jimmy Nardello peppers, which is a sweet pepper from Windrose Farm. We fermented some of it to make a sweet hot sauce. We also use it raw in our crispy rice salad. Every week we find cool things at the market.
Julie: How much of the menu development takes into consideration the coffee and tea? Did you have flavor ideas of what to serve with espressos and coffees?
Jessica: For us the main thing was toast and jam and a cup of coffee, what a great way to start your morning. That was the initial idea. The rest fo the menu stemmed from that. How can we use some of this stuff that we have at our fingertips with a base like the brioche from Proof. Or a base of the Kokuho rice from Koda Farms.
Julie: You haven't been open long. What has been the response so far?
Jessica: It's hard to explain what this is and what kind of food we are doing. It's market driven. We come in here every day and we try to do something different. We try to explore ingredients. I feel like people are really enjoying it. I just want every day to be like this. It's a humble little 800 square foot restaurant and you walk inside and it is a surprising experience. The thing we all want as cooks and chefs is to explore our craft and come to the table every day and try something new and see if it works. We are really lucky - we are getting to use the most interesting ingredients. It makes it even more fun for us.
Julie: Along with the coffee and teas that Kyle and Charles are serving you are making juices.
Jessica: We make a pink lemonade. I love pink lemonade. We make the pink part out of a concentrate from rhubarb. One farm has rhubarb all year round. We also make an apple and tarragon juice.
Julie: Charles, what do you recommend people order for the quintessential Sqirl G&B pairing?
Charles: Toast jam, cup of coffee. Just explaining that to someone. You walk in, you belly up to the bar you get a cup of coffee, toast with some awesome apricot jam. Spectacular things should not be challenging. We have spectacular coffees that are the best in the world. People should immediately be able to understand how great it is. When people come in they should not have to go through any ordeals to appreciate what we have. The simple pleasure of a cup of coffee and a piece of brioche with mind boggling delicious jam is a true experience. This is what we do.
720 North Virgil Avenue, #4, 90029