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15 in Echo Park to become Allston Yacht Club after all

Allstonyachtclub_2 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.

--Jessica Gelt

Photo of 15 / Allston Yacht Club by Charles Kelly.

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I usually don’t get excited enough about a restaurant to write my own review, but had to make an exception with AYC. We had such a great dinner the other night! I absolutely love small plates for sharing with a couple of friends or a group, and AYC has nailed the concept. All the plates were fabulous. Special kudos go to the mushroom soup, and shamefully amazing French fries. Can’t remember everything we ate – but we kept getting recommendations and loved everything we tried. The owners helped us with a very diverse wine menu (and what great suggestions!). The wait staff were attentive and friendly. The bartender was GREAT (what is that martini again??).

We used to go to the old 15 but decided to give the new place a try because we live in the neighborhood and I'm very glad we did. The food was great especially the brandade and the ribs and the service while maybe not super polished was very friendly. The small plates thing works well I think, you can get what you want and stop when you're full. We had maybe 10 dishes and almost every one of them was delicious, except for the octopus which was pretty chewy. Also they have a much better wine selection than the old place ever did.

As locals from up the street, we regularly ate at Restaurant 15. We recently ate off the new menu under the new owners and were very disappointed at the transition. Not only has the value declined (the small plates are really, really small), the food was not prepared with the careful attention that Restaurant 15 dedicated to each dish. Too many of our dishes came out too quickly and were either overcooked or oversauced or simply uninspiring. Each member of our five person party had eaten at Restaurant 15 previously and all of us were disappointed. Hopefully, they get their act together soon.

I ate there about a week after the changeover. We chose to go there based primarily on the reviews for 15 and had no idea it was no longer serving the burgers we'd read so much about. Instead is was a small menu of small plates (zzz - does anyone want to serve a full meal anymore?). They offered some tasty cocktails but most of the plates were a little bland (exceptions being the frico and the miso butter on the enoki). We did have a lot to drink, but the $300 bill still felt quite high for what little good food we'd been served.


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