Australian gone global
Bluestone Lane has only a hint of their Australian inspiration, but is interesting even so
Ask most Americans about Australian food and you’ll get a jumble of disconnected impressions that have little to do with reality. Top will be “shrimp on a barbie,” a phrase Australians don’t use, because anything big enough to be skewered and grilled will be referred to as a prawn. The bloomin’ onion isn’t an Aussie thing either, it was invented in New Orleans but popularized by a company whose name I can’t remember – I think it’s the Steakback Outhouse, but will have to look it up sometime.
Those who know a bit more may mention kangaroo tail soup, the “hand pie” savory turnovers, and Vegemite, a salty spreadable condiment that you either love or can’t stand. These are all accurate, but represent the Australia of 50 years ago rather than the current day. Like everywhere else, it has become multicultural and more interesting – the hand pies come in vegetarian and Asian inspired versions, and the slipper lobsters known as Balmain bugs are made into sashimi or tossed in risottos instead of just seared on a grill.
When I heard that an Antipodean-inspired coffeehouse called Bluestone Lane had opened in Manhattan Beach, my expectation was that they’d trot out a mix of cliché items along with that continent’s contribution to coffee culture, the flat white. This is basically a latte with the espresso and foam ratio reversed, which I can take or leave, but I hoped to get a decent meat pie or perhaps the Australian burger made with steamed beets rather than tomatoes.
They didn’t have either of those, or the inexplicable Australian sandwich called a spaghetti jaffle, a French roll stuffed with pasta, sauce, and parmesan cheese. The cliché items were missing in food and décor, and the place resembled the hip places I visited in Melbourne on my most recent trip. There were nods to Australia in the names of a few items, but a casual visitor would think of it as a California contemporary restaurant. On my first visit I tried a breakfast burrito and found it merely average, but on subsequent visits I have found much to enjoy.
The lemon ricotta pancakes and gluten-free banana bread were both standouts, the cakes very light and fluffy, topped with delicately tart lemon curd, a mound of sweet whipped ricotta, fresh berries, and an orchid for garnish. It was artfully presented, but the banana bread was even prettier, the two thick slices of bread arranged next to more ricotta and topped with berries, roasted pecans, and drizzles of honey. I’m not generally a big fan of gluten free bread, because it often has either a crumbly or gummy texture, but Bluestone somehow made one that I truly enjoyed. The banana was integrated into the flavor of whatever grain mix they used, and it was very similar to a good freshly baked standard bread. I had looked at the honey and expected it to be overly sweet, but it was very nicely balanced. Sixteen bucks looked like a lot to pay for bread with fruit, cheese, and honey, but this was memorable.
The soft chili scramble with avocado was memorable too, because the very spicy chili sauce took me by surprise. The sauce was a ring of fire around a piece of bread topped by eggs scrambled with shallots, crumbled sheep’s milk feta, half an avocado thickly encrusted with toasted and white sesame seeds, and micro-greens. There were a lot of flavors going on there, and the cool avocado was a good foil for the moments when you got a blast of the chili. If you like a breakfast that has some heat but also well-enhanced natural flavors, this is the thing to get.
The green baked eggs had bold natural flavors without the peppery kick. The eggs were placed atop spinach in an iron skillet, topped with chimichurri sauce, and ringed with cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms before being baked at high heat. The flavors were concentrated and savory, and it’s something I’d order again any time.
I only tried one of their lunch items, the green goddess bowl, which I found to be a slight disappointment. I enjoy green goddess dressing, which began as a mix of tarragon, anchovies, parsley, and chives with lemon and sour cream or mayonnaise. This was wildly popular in 1923, and spawned later versions that added avocado, yoghurt instead of mayo, and various other substitutions. The two things that were consistent through all of them was the green color and the fresh herbal balance in which no single element was dominant. I remember enjoying this dressing at the Velvet Turtle in Redondo as a child and was delighted to find it on a local menu.
The original Green goddess was over chopped romaine, inferior to the salad green mix here, a mix of cucumber, edamame, fennel, and pickled purple onion with feta and an avocado rosette. But the dressing wasn’t remotely close to the green goddess tradition. The server said it was based on fennel, and it had a little of that sharp flavor, but lacked the complexity and brightness that I expected. It wasn’t bad, and I might like it as a sauce on a burger or some other protein, but they might want to change the name to Australian goddess so nobody expects the classic. Some lime vinaigrette was also served with this but I wasn’t a fan of that either, as it was very tart. This was a disappointment, but I will probably try some of the other lunch items on future visits.
I had a flat white, of course, and other coffee items that were well-made. But the most interesting beverage was a hot drink called The Golden, made with turmeric, nutmeg, and cinnamon simmered with oat milk. I almost always start my day with coffee but found this a delightful alternative, spicy, creamy, and complex. If you’re trying to kick caffeine or just want to experiment with a new hot drink, give this a try.
Bluestone Lane uses high quality ingredients and is not cheap – expect to spend $25 to $30 for breakfast or lunch. When this place is on their game, as they were most of the times I dined there, it’s very much worth it.
Bluestone Lane is at 321 Manhattan Beach Boulevard. Open 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily. Wheelchair access good. No alcohol. Vegan friendly. Sound level low. BluestoneLane.com. (718) 374-6858. ER