Although venturing out to different neighborhoods to try new restaurants used to be a weekly (if not daily) occurrence, my trips outside my apartment have been vastly cut down due to precautions surrounding the pandemic. But a little cafe opened during the thick of the chaos that was too irresistible to not make a pilgrimage to, so yesterday instead of my usual morning walk, I took a quick trip to the heart of West Hollywood — an area I used to visit a lot to practice yoga — to try the summer menu from Strings Of Life (S.O.L.) for myself. Named for a 1987 Derrick May track, my years spent as a music journalist mean the reference is another nice draw.
Based on what I’d already read about the cafe and seen on their Instagram, my expectations were high, but even with I was unprepared for luscious and nourishing the food and the mood of S.O.L proved to be. It’s a difficult balance to make a plate feel decadent and healthy at once, but the freshness of concepts and ingredients seemed effortless here. A big point in the restaurant’s favor is their space had already been laid out to have a good deal of outdoor seating, with bigger tables and small round ones with short stools and long benches that left ample between patrons to make al fresco dining as safe as it can be during the pandemic. Right around the corner from the intersection of Melrose and La Cienga, this cafe offers some much-needed outdoor chill space to a busy area.
After studying the extensive menu for quite some time, I landed on the Green Dream Toast ($11) — a great and generous update of avocado toast — to accompany the real plate I had my eye on, the Everything Crispy Potato Cake ($15), in which a seasoned hash brown patty takes the place of the titular everything bagel. LA foodies have seen this play before, at the now-closed Echo Park cafe, Winsome, where potato rostis came with corned beef, spinach and asparagus, or salmon — and were treated more like benedicts, with two sunny side eggs on top.
Skipping the egg and subbing in cream cheese to make the bagel play feel more real, the plate comes with a generous portion of perfectly salty, tender salmon, a deliciously dressed arugula and dill salad, a radish garnish, and a wedge of lemon to season it all. The potato treatment here is key, with the crispy to soft ratio of the potato cake surpassing the all-time standard of perfection in this category — McDonald’s.
Of course, this hashbrown cake was bigger and more succulent, seasoned to perfection, and didn’t sit like an oily bomb in my stomach like McDonald’s always does, but it evoked the same delight those initial fast food bites always do, but with none of the regret. I hope no one reading this takes it as a bad thing, this is the highest compliment I could give a potato.
Even seasoned like an everything bagel, with sesame seeds and a great spiciness – I think cumin? — I would’ve never given myself permission to put cream cheese on fried potato, much less top that with salmon, but once S.O.L. gave me the set up, I can’t believe I never thought of it myself. This is the best breakfast I’ve had in quarantine by far, and possibly the best breakfast I’d had all year.
And just when the decadence was getting a little much, I’d add in a bite of the salad, radish, or munch on some capers as a palate cleanser. It’s important to note, this potato cake is also available as a breakfast side for a cool $3. Actually, all the pricing for the menu was very affordable and more accessible than this pricey neighborhood’s norm.
Their take on avocado toast is also very much worth mentioning, with fava beans, cornichons, cucumbers and chives rounding out the greenery for a lot of surprising crunch and flavor that added texture to a sometimes overdone dish. And the veggies were topped high, so even though it came on a single slice of bread — gluten-free option available, though I went with sourdough — this dish would’ve been more than enough to satisfy me on a regular day. Sometimes, for the sake of journalism, you have to eat more than you normally would. It’s a hard life, but it’s the life I’ve chosen.
Founded by the husband and wife chef duo Monty and Jaci Koludrovic, and backed by Grant Smillie and David Combes of The Botanical Group (best known for the beloved WeHo spot, E.P. & L.P.), Strings Of Life definitely shows Australian influence, but maintains a decidedly southern California feel. In the hour or so I was there, I heard at least two patrons with thick Aussie accents, meaning it’s already drawing ex-pats from the neighborhood, but there was nothing on the menu that seemed out of place or didn’t make sense to me, as someone with very little Australian knowledge.
The Koludrovics come with plenty of impressive experience in their home country, which was obvious from the little I ate, but even more obvious in their extensive, thoughtful menu. My two menu items, a large order for one person eating, barely even touched on the menu at all. Here are all the sections of their all-day offerings, which are served 7 AM to 4 PM: breakfast, brekkie sides, sandwiches, sides, salads, clip-ons (salad additions), hot sandwiches, plates, and of course, specials. They have all the usual suspects when it comes to staples like a breakfast burrito, breakfast sandwich, BLT, burger, a caesar, and even bucatini.
They also boast a wide variety of pastries, bagel offerings, and more LA-focused healthy morning items like chia pudding. There is literally something here for everyone, from your vegan friend to the most ravenous carnivore. And that’s all to say nothing of their generous coffee and drinks menu, which included darling names like “babyccino” (small cappuccino) and a turmeric and cinnamon laced iced latte, an Ayurvedic golden milk-style drink that’s become increasingly popular.
The restaurant’s inside space is bright and airy, but remains mostly unused for now, and a pickup window for Postmates and other to-go options is thoughtfully separated from those who are ordering in. If and when I can resume my late morning yoga classes, this would be the perfect, casual spot to head after, to sit outside and get a little work done before heading back to the east side or on to other meetings and plans. If I lived in the neighborhood, I would probably head to S.O.L. most days, and even with the current restrictions, I’m already daydreaming about the next time I’m in the neighborhood, and I can justify having another of their perfect potato cakes.
Check out S.O.L.’s menu here.