Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Chef Mark Peel Back on La Brea for Limited Run

Chef Mark Peel tries one of his own sandwiches at 3Twenty while prep chef looks on.
Chef Mark Peel tries one of his own sandwiches at 3Twenty with Chef de Cuisine Christopher Eddy

On a recent Thursday afternoon I trundled along bumpy Wilshire Boulevard and, as I turned onto La Brea Avenue, I told myself that I would not look. Only I did. I sought out the star and anomaly of the campanile. Through the broad windows of 624 South La Brea I saw Campanile Restaurant — home of executive chef and owner Mark Peel for 23 years — now shuttered and in shambles.

But let’s not think about that. This is a happy story.
I drove a few blocks further and was cheered by the site of the La Brea Bakery sign and thought of its new airy, spacious home. It was easy to park. Then, I remembered why. Locals know that to park on La Brea close to 4 pm means either to a). Come out and find your car on a hook being lifted onto a flatbed truck or b). Come out and confront the bewildering vacancy of where your car was and then cry in the cab all the way to the impounded car lot.

But, never mind. This is a happy story.

Edgar Poureshagh, owner of 3Twenty Wine Lounge
Edgar Poureshagh, owner of 3Twenty Wine Lounge

I pulled open the door and entered 3Twenty Wine Lounge. It was nearly abandoned. I was an actress for years; arriving at a restaurant early felt almost exactly like arriving at a theater mid-afternoon on a show night. General disarray. The space is quiet but expectant. It seems to anticipate the arrival of the players. It was just like that here. The only difference was that at the 3Twenty Wine Lounge no one was rolling around on the floor practicing their vowels and fricatives.

On the long table in the small, square space were La Brea Bakery shopping bags. I peeked in at the loaves of sliced bread as soft as pillows, their plastic bags held trapped steam. There were sacks of baby wild arugula lying about and bricks of butter, too. I sat down. I opened my Air. There was only one person there.  Edgar Poureshagh is kind, benign and mustached. If Mr. Poureshagh was perplexed by my presence, he did not say so. He probably supposed that when a star chef agrees to make your restaurant his home for a series of Thursday evenings, there may be a reporter.

Wine“What would you like?” Edgar asked.
I looked around. Enomatic wine dispensers stood on either side of the front door. These state of the art contraptions dispense 1.3 ounces per dose or taste of an array of selected fine wines. The machines are made of chrome, tubes and LEDs. They look alien. Like a relation of R2D2. I felt at a loss.
“How about a latte?” I said.
Edgar nodded. It just so happened he was a master of the espresso machine, he said.  Then, he proved it, and began to talk.
“3Twenty Wine Lounge is a family owned place but I am the one who is always here,” he began. “We are a wine bar but we have a full kitchen and a chef that makes small plates.  Not tapas.  In Spain, if you want something you get a racione.  It means ration.”
His accent is fine. Is he himself from Spain?
“No,” he said and laughed.  “I’m an Angeleno. Born in Downey. My parents though are from a weird, off-the-beaten track culture. Are you familiar with Assyrians? We are indigenous people from Mesopotamia — which is modern day Turkey, Iran, Iraq — only we are Christians.”
latteThe latte was so pretty I took a picture of it. Not bad at all for a classically trained sommelier.
“I am on the wine side of things. All of the wines are sustainably produced, owned by single proprietors.  By a family, not a corporation. Our wines are 60% domestic yet some are from as far off as Australia or South Africa. Our imports are predominantly European though. We tend to look to the originators.”
Outside, a generic white van pulled up — the sort that Carrie and Saul might sit in listening while parked outside Brody’s house in The Beltway.  A man, stocky, fit — probably in his fifties yet decidedly boyish — wearing a gray T-shirt, jeans, work boots, and black framed glasses enters. He’s got a carton of frozen French fries on his shoulder and a couple of egg cartons under his arm. He looks from Edgar to me.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hello, Chef Peel,” Edgar says.
“Call me Mark,” he says and then looks at me quizzically. He knew I would be there. I’d arranged it with his wife, Daphne Brogdon.
“What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I just want to document the return of Mark Peel to La Brea Avenue and the revival, for a month, of your famous Grilled Cheese Thursdays at 3Twenty Wine Lounge.”
“Okay.  Sure,” he said. And the celebrated chef headed down the short corridor to the kitchen.
“One thing I noticed about Chef Peel,” says Edgar, “He has this beautiful focus. Laser-like.”


Someone’s in the kitchen already.

Christopher Eddy is Peel’s Chef de Cuisine. Tonight, and formerly at Campanile.
I ask what Chef Eddy what that means.
“It means I am the chef in charge of all of the food.”
Right. Right now, Chef Eddy is expertly chopping ordinary onions.
Peel checks out the kitchen. Two tiny rooms. He opens a refrigerator.
“Holy cow,” he says. Eddy asks if maybe he ought to make up ice baths?  These are, I am told, a chef’s makeshift solution to a shortage of refrigerator space.
Peel says no and takes quick stock of the pots on the stove.  Apples and onions simmer… Eddy cannot open the lid of a jumbo jar of sauerkraut. Peel takes it and spends about five minutes trying to get the darn jar open and I get tense. His van is on La Brea and it’s almost 4:00. In LA, we bond over a shared fear and loathing of parking enforcement people.
It opens at last. The chefs have a consult — about cumin, about chives.
“We need to set up the sandwich station,” Peel says, and then leaves to move his van.


Mark Peel taking on the ham
Mark Peel takes on the ham.

When Peel returns, it is only an hour and a half till showtime. The doors open at 5:30. He pulls off his t-shirt and shoves his arms into a white chef’s jacket. It is double breasted, with long sleeves. His name is embroidered in green.He has six loaves of sliced La Brea Bakery Country White and two of Corn Rye. He sets up a few loaves in a large hotel pan.
“Now I am going to butter some bread,” he announces. “I have spent a lifetime working up to this.” The celebrity chef smiles; he has worked at Spago, Moulin de Mougins and Chez Panisse, among others. “It’s good to be back on my street. This is going to be fun. La Brea is my street.”

He remembers the origins of Grilled Cheese night.

“We started this a long time ago — a dozen years or more, at Campanile. Nancy Silverton, my ex-wife, is a pastry chef.  We had a grilled press at the bar.   Nancy would go through the kitchen and see what was there. A grilled cheese is a platform for a lot of different things. Something open face, something closed face — something classic, something new age or new wave…”
His voice trails off as he drags the buttered knife over the bread. Maybe he is thinking of the Buratta Open Face on the menu this evening. Chef Peel butters bread just like you or I, but there is nothing ordinary about how he handles brisket.
“One of my favorites is the Rueben. I make the pastrami myself.”
Peel marinades it for days and then drains it and dries it, packs it with pepper to create a crust, then chills it, then smokes it with cedar planks in the Weber grill in his backyard. Then he braises it. Now it’s steaming on the stove.
“How’s that brisket coming?” He asks after it about as often as a new mother asks about the baby sleeping in the crib.
“Good. Going good,” Chef Eddy answers.
“How can I be of assistance?” Edgar asks.  Peel cannot think of anything.
“Mind if I steal a slice?”
None of us can help ourselves. The fresh bread just makes your mouth water.  Edgar grabs a wedge and so do I.
“How is Campanile @ LAX? coming along,” I ask, gnawing.
“Great. We just broke ground. Construction began last week. We are slated to open in early July. It will have a lot of the same finishings we had at Campanile. It makes me happy — and nostalgic. Campanile will survive in the airport.”
The restaurant will be inside the American Airlines terminal.
Chef Peel counts slices.  He has buttered the outside of 130 pieces of Country White and 22 of Corn Rye.
“Okay, one hour from showtime!”
Margeurite Rangel and Philip Miller.

He flips on the two panini presses. One of them is unstable and tips. The other does not tip but will not make ridges.

“When you are working in a restaurant or kitchen you don’t know, you come across things you don’t expect.” Sometimes it feels a little like a show night without the benefit of rehearsal. The phones are ringing.
“Philip and  Marguerite are coming, Chef Peel.”
“Fantastic! They’ve been friends for years!”
“How did you this evening come about?” I ask.
“Daphne had the idea,” Peel says. “Daphne and Edgar. I love this place. It is such a boon to the neighborhood.  A refuge.”
Now it’s time to ready the ham. Peel starts up the silver slicer.  The rattle and whirl make it hard to hear him.
Peel opens a corrugated fiber glass case with aluminum edges. His traveling case of knives. He selects one, slits the plastic encasing the ham, easily cuts the ham in half, fits it into the slicer and begins.
“All right,” he says, when he gets the width of the ham just so.  “That’ll do, that’ll definitely do.”
Peel gets into a rhythm of slicing, collecting the folds and placing these into a hotel dish. Other players have started to appear.  Yet nothing disturbs the concentration of Chef Peel — not the hostess making calls to confirm reservations,  nor the waiter setting up tables on the patio noisily shoving chairs.
At one point, Peel asks, “Did the lights just go down?”
“No,” says Edgar.
The sudden dimness in the room is not a variance in electrical power.  It’s caused by the pausing or the passing of the big orange bus on La Brea. When it comes by, the place goes dark and Chef Peel cannot see.
“I can turn more lights on,” Edgar says.
Now there’s the problem of the tipping panini press.  Chef Eddy comes out for a consult.
“Do you need anything, Chef Peel?” Edgar asks. “If you do, just bark it out.”
Only Mark Peel is not a barker. His exchanges with Chef Eddy are monosyllabic murmurs.  A reporter is lucky to hear bits —  white wine or Heinz. Nor is he a delegator.  He executes even the most menial tasks. Finished with the ham, Peel carefully smothers it in cellophane and takes it into the kitchen. Then he rushes back to the dining area.
“Now, the cheese!”
The quarter-wheel of cave-aged Gruyere from Switzerland weighs 18.82 lbs.  Peel goes back to the case, considers the knives and selects one.
The finished product.
The finished product.

“I am using a boning knife or fish knife. It’s really sharp and thin and a little bit flexible.”

Wet towel over his shoulder, Peel attempts to cut the cheese in half.  It is like a dense cake.  It resists the knife. Finally, Peel snaps it in two by hand. I am amazed at just how physically demanding it is to be a chef.  Now he cuts more, trying to rid it of its rind. All around him there is a wordless bustle — the bartender polishes glasses, the busboy sets down candles, the hostess slips menus into frames, the waitress checks herself in the gigantic mirror hung at an angle — yet Peel never looks up from his work. I mean, it’s as serious as if it were surgery.  He applies tremendous pressure and, inch by inch, shaves the skin.

At one point, a knife he is not using drops. Reflectively I jump to prevent it from falling, I feel the cut.
“Did you hurt yourself?” Peel asks.  “Did you get cut?”

“No,” I said, lying. My finger barely braised it and there’s a smudge of blood. These are very sharp knives. Being a chef is dangerous.

“That’s enough, sir,” says Edgar. “We need to start up.”

“Showtime,” says Peel, wiping down the cutting board.  Someone turns the music on loud….


Three hours later, every table is full. Chef Peel and Chef Eddy have crafted over 60 sandwiches, and the evening is hardly over.  Philip Miller and Marguerite Rangel are just leaving.  They rave about the buratta. They rave about the Reuben. Chef Peel stands by the tables in a tete a tete with a guest. Daphne Brogdon sits at the long table surrounded by friends. Chef Eddy is finally sitting down and considering ordering a beer. Edgar finishes explaining the machines to a guest, he smiles.

“Everyone is happy to see Mark back on the street,” says Edgar.  “This has been perfect. It just sort of worked out.”

Like I said, this is a happy story.



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Devon O'Brien
Devon O'Brien
Devon O’Brien is a Larchmont resident and writer who has had her work appear in Vogue, the Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times and the Larchmont Buzz. Next month her play, “American Portraits” will be presented at the National Portrait Gallery in London. She currently holds a regular Wednesday workshop “Five Nights Five Tarts” which combines a weekly writing retreat with the eating of delicious tarts.

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  1. This is a happy story. Grilled Cheese night is back! At least for a short run on Thursday nights will Chef Mark Peel at 3 Twenty Wine Lounge. Such great news- mercury in retrograde is truly over! Just love Edgar and have always thought his staple lamb sandwich was inspired by Campanile’s Grilled Cheese night. What a brilliant corner of our community exposed. Would so love to see a regular column here by Devon O’Brien. She is an amazingly talented writer, and such a find for Larchmont Buzz!

  2. Tears of joy,. tears of love of fresh food & rich wine, great foodies & expert artisans of cuisine, right there on & slightly off La Brea!
    As I wipe away tears from
    words joy, so elegantly arranged perfect just like we were all there together! Thanks again Devon, not only for your strength in prose for what I truly miss(ed, still missing) yet the warm tender knowing of just how good it all was to have it too miss, lovingly!


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