Croft Alley

CROFT ALLEY
8428 Melrose Place
No telephone number


My obsession with Croft Alley started when I saw a post on Instagram of a bowl of creamy-white house-made yogurt that was artfully drizzled with pure chlorophyll and decorated with glistening berries. Then I saw a picture of their baby kale & mint salad with perilla leaves and crispy shallots in a coconut dressing. These were just the kind of simple yet inspiring dishes that I always find myself drawn to! 

Needless to say, I quickly became a "regular", stopping in every chance I had when visiting L.A. from the ranch. I adore the staff there and now call Phuong, chef and co-owner, a dear friend. (They have this thing where they all say, very loudly, "Jessica DaaaAAAaang!" when I show up. Never gets old!)

This place is a challenge to find as there are no signs to point it out. It's literally tucked into an alley behind the more visible Alfred Coffee & Tea and therefore completely hidden from the famed storefronts of Melrose Place. But, of course, this is all part of its insider-y charm.

It's nothing short of a miracle what they can pull off in their tiny kitchen, which contains only induction burners and convection ovens! Everything on their well-edited menu is executed flawlessly, from the custardy French scrambled eggs to the golden-crisped tuna melt. (Believe it or not, they also serve pho on Tuesdays.) For those who are gluten-free and vegan, there are plenty of options that thankfully never taste like hippie food. 

Real food and real people. Gotta love that.

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*Croft Alley also holds private speakeasy dinners and provides catering. I had a small birthday dinner here last year and everyone loved it. We had miniature steamed Vietnamese rice cakes, heirloom tomato salad, kale & mint salad, prime rib roast, grilled broccolini, celeriac purée and panna cotta.

 

Nutritional Yeast

If you need motivation to eat more salads, all you have to do is sprinkle nutritional yeast on top and you'll be hooked on salads. The name doesn't sound very appetizing, unfortunately. I learned that it's also known as "hippie dust" or simply as "nooch" amongst inner vegan circles, which isn't any better, but it has a remarkably appealing nutty and cheesy flavor–sort of like the toasted version of Parmesan cheese. As you can see from the pic above, I sprinkle it very liberally on top of my salads (in addition to a simple vinaigrette), and, let me tell you, I cannot stop eating salads! Aside from it's addictive flavor, it's also a source of protein and vitamin B-12 which aids in forming healthy red blood cells and boosting your body's metabolism. I order the 8 oz. bag from Bob's Red Mill which I keep in a glass Mason jar on the kitchen counter so that I can readily access it!

Jessica's Special Chicken Salad

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I'm the queen of making chicken salads. And tuna salads. And regular salads–you know, with lettuce and salad stuff. I once made a salad with nothing more than greens and herbs, Maldon sea salt, a turn of freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, and my dinner guest kept asking what else I put in the salad. To me, making a salad is an art form. It's about balance, proportions, and harmony. When all of this is aligned, you've created a masterpiece! With this chicken salad, it's about how thinly the chicken is shredded, how finely the onion is chopped, what herbs I use, how creamy the consistency is... But rather than measurements, it's guided by my eyes and my intuition. Below are the broad strokes on how to make it. You can take care of the details!


1 cooked chicken breast (can also use leftover rotisserie chicken)
Mayonnaise
Dijon mustard
Cornichons (or capers)
Half of a small red onion
Fresh herbs (any or all of the following: scallions, dill, curly parsley, chives, tarragon)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Celery seeds
Smoked paprika

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1. Shred the chicken breast into a large bowl. I like to pull the shreds into thin strips.

2. Finely chop the red onion, cornichons, and fresh herbs and add to the chicken. Set aside a little bit of the chopped herbs as garnish.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the bowl to start. Mix well until incorporated. Add more if desired. 

4. Season with celery seeds, sea salt, and black pepper to taste. 

5. Before serving, sprinkle with a pinch of smoked paprika and herb garnish.

*This salad tastes delicious on top of a toasted and buttered English muffin for lunch!

Rainbow Swiss Chard Salad with Almonds, Roquefort & Blueberries

I learned how to make this salad from our Danish intern Stefani. Not only are the colors gorgeous, the flavors are incredible. The fragrant sweetness of the blueberries tame the pungent nature of Roquefort cheese, and the almonds add a nutty bent and a good crunch. I've never thought to put blueberries into a salad before, but they do wonders. 


4 large leaves of rainbow swiss chard
A small handful of roasted almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons of Roquefort cheese, crumbled
A handful of blueberries

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1. Clean the rainbow swiss chard leaves and pat dry. Tear them up into smaller pieces. Place in a bowl.

2. Add the almonds, Roquefort cheese crumbles, and blueberries. Toss.

3. Drizzle with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Bresaola with Lettuce Leaves & Cucumber "Fries"

After a succession of great meals, I often find myself "food-ed" out. Roasted veal with chanterelles and garlic chips, which may have sounded like poetry the night before, suddenly becomes a meal I could do without. Not only does it seem like overkill for my stomach, it's a thought that's even too much for my mind to bear. But that doesn't mean that I don't want to eat at all. It's just that, during these phases, I prefer something more pared down. Pared down, down, down, stripped away of everything. 

For me, I could fare well with just a bed of lettuce leaves with a few slices of bresaola draped on top. (Believe it or not, this Italian air-dried salted beef is 98% fat free.) I like to add a few sprigs of dill for a bit of aromatics and tiny pinch of sea salt and pepper—skip the dressing. Not even a drop of olive oil. On the side, I'll have what I lovingly call "cucumber fries," which is made by cutting a couple of miniature cucumbers into long thin strips. Unlike french fries, they're refreshing and clean. On the other hand, like french fries, they're nice and crunchy!