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Food

Weekend Brunch: Murano

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Brunchtime is one of life's great ironies. You want to go out, relax, enjoy the company of other people, eat enough to fill you up two meals' worth, sip your beverage slowly, and take your time. And because you are not alone in this pursuit, you tend to go where lots of people go, because they want the same thing. But all those people means all that waiting. But what happens when you find a great a brunch, with great food, but the restaurant is empty? Do you tell everyone you know, and hope they'll fill it up...and steal your secret? Or do you think "what's wrong with this picture?" and put your name on the waiting list at the joint down the road where the crowd spills out on the sidewalk, anxiously checking their watches?

This is the predicament of West Hollywood's Murano, tucked along the softer side of Melrose at Doheny, far from the maddening crowds. Recently LAist was invited to check out their new brunch menu, and never one to say no to a chance to have the aforementioned leisurely Sunday morning brunching experience, we said yes.

The atmosphere inside Murano is elegant and chic, although the coolness is somewhat off-putting. Glass chandeliers of Murano glass (of course!) in vibrant jewel tones dangle precariously from the ceiling, and juxtapose the mod-deco white and black geometric accents. It's a little bit like a germaphobe with OCD opened a whorehouse; both garish and reserved, the message is mixed. Is there such a thing as indulgently tidy?

But the sunlight streams in from the massive glass front windows, and the chairs are super comfy. Would we like to start off with mimosas? Yes, of course, we would. The mimosas at Murano are refillable, although the caveat would be you might have to remind the server she'd offered you more. We were told beforehand that Murano had a signature Bloody Mary at brunchtime, but it was neither on the menu nor offered to us. Ah, well, mimosas it shall be.

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The menu is simple, tempting, and surprisingly affordable. Brunch items range from $7-$15, and encapsulate the spectrum of the expected with applaudable twists. The french toast is brioche, the apple-cinnamon pancake baked, there's shaved truffle on your Benedict. We began with the apple-cinnamon pancake ($10), which filled an entire plate and was criss-crossed with a drizzled grid of vanilla creme fraiche. It was pleasantly spiced and, although sweet and dense enough to sit in as breakfast pastry, quite light. What didn't go was the garnish of kaiwarena, which are Daikon radish sprouts. Pretty, yes, but like errant strands of hair they get stuck and tangled in the dish, and add a peppery tang which is most unwelcome.

Executive Chef Kristi Ritchey, who got her chops all over California from Napa to Palm Springs under the wings of the Patina Group, has composed a clever and enticing menu that is overall well-executed. Small things, like the omnipresent kaiwarena, however, make the dishes less than perfect. We moved on to the egg dishes, and sampled the frittata and the omlette of the day. The frittata ($10) had roasted peppers, spinach, caramelized onions and sofrito, and was a pretty picture with its baked basil leaves on top. It was tasty, although a touch on the dry side--the risk with any frittata. The omlette of the day ($12) had swiss cheese, broccolini, and cippolini onions, and was a plump bundle of fresh flavors well-combined, although, in contrast to the frittata, was just the slightest bit undercooked. Both came with savory potatoes that were just the perfect texture, size, and free-from the grease that is trademark of breakfast spuds. For the toast, the jam offering was a marvelous fig spread, which was a nice balance to the cheese and veggie of the egg dishes.

Because we were guests of Murano, we were easy marks for ordering up some desserts. Already full to the gills and looking forward to that refill of our mimosa, we couldn't turn down offers to taste three of their dessert items. Here is where we fell in love with the food here, and here is why we'd come back. We tried first the Zeppole, which are Italian doughnut balls (usually pizza dough, but Ritchey makes them with a yeast-based dough) rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and accompanied by three sauces, the most noteworthy and utterly unforgettable was the honey mascarpone. Next we dug deep into the rich tangle of brioche and chocolate oozing with vanilla sauce that was the bread pudding--their top dessert seller, with just cause. Lastly, we finished on a gentle sweet and tangy note with the Meyer lemon pudding cake, which had a refreshing clean finish and melted in the mouth.

So back to the original question about the brunch catch-22... Murano was empty as a tomb the day we were there, having arrived at 11:30 a.m. and only noticing people coming in about an hour after we'd been seated. The downside to having an empty restaurant, also, is having unoccupied waitstaff, who tend to gather around the hostess' station like bees in a hive, unabashedly engaging in furtive chatter, which did not escape our attention. Attention also seemed to escape our server, who was perfunctory but cool (only showing warmth and personality when she punctuated our chat with the Chef by offering the info that they both hailed from the same home state) and seemed a bit annoyed to be there. The busboys were an absolute dream, however, as they presented the food with flair and enthusiasm, were exceptionally attentive to our needs, and made my day when they started to do a little dance to the swanky standards piped in on the sound system. (We really hope they tip-share at Murano!)

It was a trip to the ladies' room that made me realize how best to enjoy Murano's killer desserts--in the dark and candlelit lounge area, with cozy seats and bar. A blatant contrast to the starkly white and bright main area (hard to adjust the eyes to the plunging darkness of the restroom) the room seemed inviting and the perfect place to sip cocktails and indulge. We would be curious to see how things flowed in the evening here--and to taste their homemade pastas and non-sweet and non-breakfast fare--and to see if service picked up when the tables were full.

Murano's brunch is affordable, tasty, and has the air of elegance to it, but lacks the bustle and warmth you might be drawn to at your current favorite spot. It's going to be up to you to resolve the irony for yourself; go where no one is going, or miss out.

Murano
9010 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood
310.246.9118