Named for Ada May Sharpless, the woman whose The Lady of the Lake sculpture watches over Echo Park, Adamae is everything a neighborhood restaurant should be.
Dishes traverse the globe but remain firmly Los Angeles; the cooking is down to earth but elevated; and cocktails are as approachable as the boho-chic vibe. There’s something for everyone — mushroom al pastor, harissa roast chicken, steak with roasted green chiles — but the menu isn’t too large, and it doesn’t feel like every other restaurant around Los Angeles. That’s thanks to executive chef Matt Cheek, who pulls from his culinary experiences, and for Resy’s Off Menu Week (Feb. 24-Mar. 1), that means tapping into his past gigs working in Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok empire.
“We celebrate what makes L.A. unique as a dining city,” says Cheek. “We draw upon all these cultural populations here, what you can achieve by eating around the city. We don’t want to come up against the borders between things, but instead show the dynamic sense of place we are fortunate to be in.”
Before restaurants, Cheek was working on a degree in 19th century German philosophy at Occidental College in Eagle Rock (true story). His first food job was at the original Scoops ice cream shop, and from there he landed a job with a vegan cheesecake company. But it wasn’t until he returned to Portland that it all clicked.
“The food scene there was lightning hot at the time,” he recalls. “My brother was a chef at Pok Pok, so I got a job there. I didn’t think I had the skills, but I staged and worked as a line cook. Everything changed. I realized I could see the bigger picture and details of how a kitchen runs, my mathematical way of thinking. It was this beautiful cocktail of emotions and feelings and work that I fell in love with.”
Cheek worked on the expansion of Pok Pok for Ricker, helping to open restaurants in Portland, New York and Los Angeles. He credits that experience for giving him the base of everything he does now, from employee training to the menu itself.
When Thai flavors normally pop-up at Adamae, they’re more subtle than straightforward. That’s why Cheek’s Off Menu Week specials stand out: He’s serving muu ping (coconut pork skewers), som tum mamuang (green mango salad), and khao phat (Thai fried rice).
But he’s particularly proud of his sweet green curry special, which is made from scratch and served with mussels, rice vermicelli, and shaved vegetables.
“I make it with a mortar and pestle, and spent years and years trying to perfect it. I’m still not done” says Cheek. “Thai food is near and dear to me. Los Angeles has the best offerings of Thai food outside of Thailand, and I want to celebrate that. I don’t use premade curry pastes, just high-quality, market-driven ingredients. This is just my take.”
Cheek helps oversee the smaller menus for two other concepts in the same building — Lowboy, a casual neighborhood hideaway, and Bar Flores, a more elevated cocktail experience — but he likes to think of Adamae as an extension of someone’s own home. It’s meant to be convivial, casual, energetic, and fun; to feel like a party without any pretension.
“I want people to be satisfied,” he says. “It starts with a community cooking and eating together, not just my version of what I’m cooking. We share ideas; there’s back and forth.”