When a beloved neighborhood restaurant is full and humming at top volume by 5:30 p.m., chances are it's on a weekend, or maybe a Thursday. On the occasional Monday, however, not only is Canelé in Atwater Village doing business on the day when the restaurant is usually shuttered, but it's jam-packed with customers. And everyone -- including many young families at that hour -- is there because of Closed on Mondays, a dinner series organized by three women who resourcefully harness goodwill, strong appetites and available resources to help aid local grassroots food organizations.
Coordinated by the trio of chef Aliza Miner, graphic designer Savita Ostendorf and non-profit campaign strategist Marjory Garrison, the dinners are scheduled every few weeks -- it would be a stretch to describe Closed on Mondays as a regular monthly event -- featuring a selection of dishes prepared by Miner and a small crew culled from the restaurant staff. Miner, a Chicago native, served as the sous chef at AOC and spent time behind the stoves at Canelé establishing the now-lauded brunch menu. (She and Canelé executive chef/co-owner Corina Weibel come from the ever-growing stable of Suzanne Goin alumni.) Salt's Cure has also welcomed Closed on Mondays for a meal, too, although that technically fell on a Tuesday on the night when the West Hollywood restaurant is dark.
Occasionally other food pros will pitch in, such as backyard bread maker Mark Stambler and artisan candy maker Max Lesser of Morning Glory Confections. In April, Lesser's strawberry shortcakes and chocolate caramel pudding tart followed Miner's savory dishes that included braised leeks and asparagus vinaigrette; spring lasagna with peas, spring onions and green garlic; braised lamb with flageolet beans al forno; and saucy meatballs on garlic toast (see recipe below).
The food itself reflects the rustic, market-driven philosophy of the restaurant and the chef, and helps transmit the message that ingredients of this quality should be more widely accessible. Dishes are hearty, soulful and highly seasonal, not precious or cerebral. "There's one thing that will anchor the menu, or something I'm dying to make," Miner says.
Closed on Mondays takes other practical considerations into account in order to get the most out of each one-shot night. There's always a to-go item, and for the most recent Closed on Mondays dinner, the first two courses were condensed into one and desserts were boxed up for the Happy (Kids) Hour early birds. Seed packets were offered as parting gifts, while jars of preserved lemons made by Larchmont Charter School students as part of the Edible Schoolyards curriculum were for sale.
All these elements add up to a win-win strategy. "It's just plain fun to throw these dinner parties. The place is packed with friends and familiar faces," says Garrison. "By now we have regulars who we love to see keep coming back. We eat well and at the end of the night we've raised some money for an organization we know is going to keep contributing to making our food, our kids and our community better." Word seems to be getting out, since some organizations have approached Closed on Mondays about collaborating, rather than the other way around.
Miner has provided the following recipe for all-beef meatballs, which was among the entrée options at the last Closed on Mondays dinner. "I like the all beef flavor," Miner explains. "Stock makes the sauce a little rounder, not so sharp." It's enough for a crowd of your own and ideally suited for relaxed weekend cooking. And you can enjoy the leftovers any day of the week, including Monday.
Closed on Mondays' Saucy Meatballs on Garlic Toast
For the meatballs:
4 pounds beef chuck or ground beef
3 cups fresh bread crumbs (see instructions below)
1/2 cup cream
4 egg yolks
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan
Chef's note: Meatballs are best made by grinding fresh meat and the cream-soaked crumbs together. Otherwise it can be hard to evenly distribute the crumbs without over-mixing the meat. If you use ground meat, be careful not to overwork the mixture.
Cut off the crust from a stale crusty loaf, and tear into small pieces and pulse in a food processor. Bread pieces do not have to be too small or uniform. Soak crumbs in the cream. Combine egg yolks, seasoning, Parmesan and minced onion in a large bowl. Add the meat and soaked bread to this mixture and combine. Form into balls and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Colder balls are easier to sear without falling apart.) Sear the balls in olive oil or neutral high temperature oil (canola, corn etc.). Cover with sauce and bake for an hour. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat in sauce (see below) when ready to serve.
For the sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 arbol chilies
8 garlic cloves
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes passed through a food mill
3 cups beef or veal stock
chunk of Parmesan rind
Heat oil and chili over medium heat. Add garlic and cook to infuse the oil, remove after no more than 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, stock and Parmesan and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least 45 minutes.
Toast bread that is well suited to being sliced in half for hearty open-face style sandwiches, such as ciabatta, and brush it with olive oil or butter. Rub a raw garlic clove on toasted bread. Top with meatballs and sauce. Garnish with basil chiffonade and shaved Parmesan.
Photos by Amy Tierney.