The Real Story of Silver Lake’s Eszett, as Told in Five Dishes
When Eszett debuted in Silver Lake back in December 2019 — just a few months before the pandemic shuttered restaurants around the globe — local food media billed it as an Austrian restaurant.
It is not.
Yes, the name hails from the German letter “ß” which is pronounced as a sharp “s.” And, yes, the wine list had — and still has — a strong focus on Austrian wines, partly inspired by co-owner Sabrina Bezaire’s Austrian heritage and partly driven by their ability to pair well with the restaurant’s boldly flavored food. Chef Spencer Bezaire (co-owner, and husband of Sabrina) infuses several dishes with pumpkin seed oil sourced from Styria, Austria, the region from which his wife’s family hails.
But the food at Eszett is more Angeleno than Austrian, combining seasonal farmers market produce with far-reaching international influences, inspired by their cultural backgrounds and childhoods in L.A.
Spencer, whose background is Japanese, German, and French, grew up eating sushi and gyoza next to pasta salad, Greek dolmas, and fried rice at family gatherings. At his restaurant, he wanted to serve a similarly diverse menu. “I grew up not seeing the lines between different styles,” he says. “It’s indicative of L.A., a melting pot of different cultures, where you can get any type of food whenever you want.”
If there is a focal point of the restaurant, it’s the charcoal oven — over which nearly everything is grilled. While the menu changes according to what’s available at the market, the pandemic forced the couple to change tactics to keep the fledgling restaurant afloat. Most of Eszett’s potential customers received their first impressions via takeout, so the couple tried their best to create menu items that would represent their seasonal, coal-fired cuisine and would also travel well in a box. A handful of those dishes proved so popular that they remain on the menu today.
Here’s how the Eszett menu shows off Bezaire’s love of charcoal grilling and flavors of Los Angeles, in five dishes.
1. Charcoal Grilled Chicken Wings
“The charcoal grilled chicken wings have been on the menu since the beginning. I love chicken wings, and there’s nothing better than chicken grilled over charcoal. We marinate the wings in a koji mixture that’s salty and sugary, and helps tenderize the meat. The marinade helps them crisp up really nicely in the charcoal oven. When they’re done, we toss them in salsa macha, a medium-spicy chili crisp sauce. They’re crunchy, smoky, spicy, garlicky, and messy. We serve them with Wet Naps. I’m really into getting people to eat with their hands, which was kind of a stretch during the pandemic. I think that hands-on approach helps people get immersed in the food — I want the restaurant to have a casual feel but not a casual taste. This dish is essentially the way we eat at home: Everything goes on the grill, gets put on a sheet pan, and is eaten straight off of it with our hands.”
2. Shrimp Toast
“The most-ordered dish on our menu is the shrimp toast, which is sweet, spicy, and crunchy. This is a relatively new item but has kind of become a ‘thing’ and will probably stay on the menu for quite some time. It’s our take on American Chinese food. Traditionally, shrimp toast is made with emulsified shrimp meat on white bread and deep-fried — it’s delicious. I can’t really speak to where it came from, but it’s on our menu because it’s the perfect little starter, with little pieces of Bub and Grandma’s baguette smeared with rock shrimp farce, deep-fried and served with the Sbez chili hot sauce we make in-house, and scallions.”
3. Mushroom French Dip
“I never really thought we would be selling sandwiches at the restaurant, but once we pivoted into more takeout we had to create dishes that could be transported in a box without getting soggy and gross when you opened it 20 minutes later. We wanted a sandwich on the menu, and a vegan item, that also happens to be delicious. The mushroom ‘French Dip’ was our version of a vegan French Dip, with caramelized onions, roasted cabbage, and vegan garlic spread on a baguette served with a burnt leek au jus to dip. It’s very meaty, with a big flavor.”
4. Bagna Càuda
“Along with new pandemic-influenced menu items we still had some dishes from the before times that we brought back once we had a full staff to help with prep. One of these continues to be one of our most-ordered dishes, the bagna cauda, which is a half-raw, half-grilled salad of sorts with a smoky anchovy and garlic dressing. Currently, it has grilled carrots, romanesco, broccoli, raw pea tendrils, radishes, pickled celery, anchovy, and Meyer lemon. It was a way to use a bunch of farmers market produce that was really exciting to me when we didn’t have room for everything on the menu. I love having hot charcoal burnt items along with fresh crisp vegetables — two extremes on the same plate. The charcoal flavor is hot and smoky, but also raw, crisp, and bright.”
5. Basque Cheesecake
“During the pandemic we needed a dessert that was easy enough to make for one person prepping the entire menu, that was also tasty and would travel well. We serve this cheesecake with stewed seasonal fruit. Right now it’s blackberries. It’s not a super-sweet dessert, and it has some of that same dichotomy as the bagna càuda, where it’s basically bitter and burnt on the outside, and luscious, creamy, and sweet inside — maybe that’s the theme of our restaurant.”