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In Praise of the Established

Whatever gnocchi they're making at Angeli, you want to order.

Whatever gnocchi the kitchen is making at Angeli, you want to order.

I tell you, being a member of the food media can get wearying. There’s a constant pressure to report on the new, the upcoming, the happening. And apparently no one got the memo about the Great Recession and its 12.2% unemployment rate, because new places are opening across L.A. at the rate of about one per minute.

So here is an appreciation for the old. Last night my husband and I returned to a favorite spot, the Groundlings, where we used to visit and laugh regularly but haven’t been in a few years. We went with old and new friends, so the three teenage actors we share between us could experience L.A.’s most famous improv and sketch comedy theater.

We wanted to eat first, so of course it was Angeli Caffé, across the street from Groundlings. For a moment I felt guilty. I should be checking out some new Hollywood hot spot instead of a Melrose Italian that’s significantly older than our teenagers. But we used to eat at Angeli as often as we went to the Groundlings, and it meant parking just once, so that’s where we went. And boy, we were happy.

There’s a reason Angeli has been on Melrose for 25 years. It’s a great place. Its mix of modern architecture with rustic wooden furniture still works. It’s casual and affordable enough for people to bring their toddlers, quiet enough for a business lunch, and cool enough for a date-night dinner. The staff is smart and friendly. As for owner/chef Evan Kleiman‘s food, it’s just wonderful. The robustly flavorful pastas, salads, pizzas and Italian entrees are made with care from quality farmers’ market ingredients, and while they’re not the talk of the town like they were in the ’80s, when Angeli was a leader in America’s discovery of “real” Italian food, they’re every bit as good as they were back then. Actually, they’re better — Kleiman has continued to grow as a chef and restaurateur, and Angeli bears witness to the wisdom and skill gained with maturity.

The same proved true at the Groundlings. You hear more buzz these days about the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Acme Comedy Theater and Second City’s L.A. outpost. But the Groundlings’ mix of well-honed sketch comedy and masterful improv continues to set the L.A. standard. Which means it’s hilarious.

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