Friday, November 28, 2008
Los Angeles: Urth Caffe
Number 84 Gets A Bird.
For many years I've been hearing about Urth Caffe in Santa Monica from coffee friends all over. "Go and visit Urth," they would say. But I never did. Just never did. Until now.
As we were making our way down main street, there it was. And it is huge. I had been expecting some sort of small, funky little coffee joint, not some huge, towering, atrium-esque kind of coffee palace. And it was jam packed.
In the world of specialty coffee, it's still unusual to find places that do the volume that Urth does. The line was easily fifteen deep - and it's the middle of the afternoon. Of course, Urth has been here for years, it's well established and it's a fashionable looking and fashionable place to be seen. Celebrities come and go. Bimmer owners come and go. Typical L.A. dickheads come and go.
In fact, one of those typical L.A. dickheads was there while we were there. Whatever slight the staff may have caused ended up with him shouting at the top of his lungs for a "manager." Evidently, a cake he ordered was missing and he wasn't getting satisfaction.
While I can sympathize with the Dickhead, looking around I can't help wonder why anyone would ever special order anything in a place that's as busy as Urth. It's absolutely crazy in there. The pace looks furious. Oh no, if I needed to special order a cake, I'd go somewhere where it was a little bit saner. Vanilla Bake Shop maybe?
Not feeling very hungry and not really knowing what to order, I went for something "safe": a cappuccino. For here.
At Urth, you fall in line, choose a pastry (if you desire) and tell the staff your order. It's busy enough that there's a guy in the line writing down your order so the cashiers can process it faster. Once paid, you're given a number and proceed to find an open table. Since we're just getting a drink and there's an Italian style bar by the espresso machines, I go there.
Obviously, it's not chic to stand at the bar and drink your coffee here at Urth (and possibly L.A.). The barista tells me that it's okay to find a seat and they'll bring the drink to me. I tell him that I'd prefer to stand (and gawk).
Throughout the restaurant business, Hispanics have been infiltrating the kitchens. Eat just about any cuisine at restaurants across America and chances are that it's being prepared by someone who was born speaking Espanol. Even in suburban Columbia, Maryland there's a kitchen full of La Raza preparing Vietnamese Pho that you'd swear came from some Vietnamese grandmother who lived through the French Occupation and Viet-Cong.
Los Hombres making Gringo Baristas look wimpy.
I've been wondering when we'd start to see Hispanics in the ranks of specialty coffee baristas and at Urth I found them.
Here were two Mexican guys (I'm presuming considering the accent of their Spanish) cranking out really nice espresso drinks on par with those Third Wave Baristas you read so much about in Barista Magazine. The difference with these two were that they were multilingual, dressed nicely, had no tats, didn't put a lot of "flare" in their technique, and didn't base their attitude and service on the amount you tipped or whether they thought you were a democrat or republican. in other words, these guys were professionals, and they were drilling out the drinks like nobody's business.
To be honest, Urth looked like a stylish indie coffeeshop. A coffeeshop built on style not substance. I wasn't expecting noteworthy coffee. I was expecting pretty much what you'd find at coffeeshops all across America. I was expecting dreck, or some form of dreck.
Instead, I was served a tasty cappuccino with latte art that even I couldn't produce. The milk was textured perfectly. The shots looked brilliant and they came together in that proper combination that baristas worldwide seek to create with the perfect milk foam Yin to the espresso crema's Yang.
As he was pouring the milk, the design looked a bit sloshy. Oh well, I thought, everyone messes up their latte art pour every once in a while. What I didn't realize then was that the pour wasn't a mistake, it was by design. And that Pinche Loco Hombre topped my cappuccino off with a fucking bird! Gracias, mi amor.
A bird. damn bird. I've seen birds on the Internet but never in real life. Birds were something that a guy in Japan screws with and puts up a video on YouTube. It's something that these guys do for fun. For show. Something that's done in a lab or afterhours as a party prank or way to show your balls.
Oh, but these guys weren't pouring birds afterhours. No. They were pouring birds ON THE LINE in the middle of service while drilling out hundreds of drinks.
La Raza has finally infiltrated our ranks.
I must recruit them for The Spro.
2327 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405