15 in Echo Park to become Allston Yacht Club after all
Just when L.A. chef Alex Eusebio is about to become a national TV star ("Top Chef," which he scored a spot on, premieres on Bravo tomorrow night), fans of his Echo Park restaurant, 15, will not be able to find him there.
Eater L.A. reported last month that 15 had been sold to new owners and that the new restaurant was going to be called Allston Yacht Club. Sure enough, 15 closed for five days for a minor remodel and reopened on Halloween. However at that point it was still being operated under the name 15.
That's going to change in several weeks, though, says co-owner Charles Kelly. He and his business partner William Didonna both hail from Boston and used to live in the Allston neighborhood (and say that it could have used a yacht club). They never intended to keep 15 as a name; they just had to use it to ensure a smooth transition. When all of the paperwork has been finalized the name will change.
Kelly says he did not know about Alex Eusebio and "Top Chef" when he bought the spot, he was just looking for a functional restaurant with all of its permits in place in a location near his Silver Lake home. As an added bonus, he and Didonna were able to purchase 15's plush leather chairs and nice wooden tables as well.
Kelly and Didonna did very little to change the appearance of the restaurant. They made the bar at the back of the space a bit more roomy and brightened up the color scheme by painting the walls yellow and red. The menu, however, is completely different. Food is served small-plates style, with the 15 or so items on the menu all priced at $4 to $8.
"The concept has a lot to do with stuff that we've eaten in the past and have been unable to forget," Kelly says. "The menu is an international hodgepodge of things that lingered in our memories." As an example he cites the arancine. It's a dish he used to enjoy in Boston's North End years ago and although it has become quite popular in L.A., he says that for years there was only one place in town where he could find a really good version.
Also on the menu: rich brandade with tender roasted tomatoes, juicy ribs, Vietnamese chicken skewers, fries with chimichurri, and cedar-planked salmon. On a recent Wednesday night Kelly and Didonna gathered with a friendly group of neighborhood customers to test their recipes for hand-crafted specialty cocktails. Gin and vodka flowed liberally and the vibe was relaxed and intimate.
15 catered to a neighborhood crowd as well, but the vibe was always very cool and cosmopolitan. The soon-to-be Allston Yacht Club reminds me of a place I used to eat at in Boston (Somerville, actually) when I was in college. It was called Eat and it was located in a tight-knit, mixed-income neighborhood and run by a guy named Charlie who bartended for years at the chic Newbury Street spot Sonsie.
Eat was about comfort and conversation and it had a small-town feel despite its very urban locale. That's a long way of saying that despite what some readers might think of the new, slightly odd name Allston Yacht Club, I think it's appropriate to the unique atmosphere the restaurant is crafting.
Will diners who enjoyed 15 appreciate Allston Yacht Club? The restaurant still occupies a unique niche in Echo Park and the location is prime. Kelly says that the former popularity of 15 and its chef posed a unique challenge that has slowly morphed into opportunity.
"It was kind of a joke in the beginning because we were getting more walk-outs than walk-ins, and we had a lot of explaining to do," he says. "But lately there's been a buzz and more and more people are coming in."
15 / Allston Yacht Club, 1320 Echo Park Ave., (213) 481-0454.
Photo of 15 / Allston Yacht Club by Charles Kelly.