With Campanile winding down to next week's end of its almost-25 year run on La Brea, Emily Green writes at the LA Weekly's food blog Squid Ink that the restaurant launched by Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel "has stood as proof that Los Angeles has a native-born food culture on par with anyone's. It introduced us to the glories of trattoria cooking and reintroduced us to American classics. Its bread did justice to grain, the wines had subtlety and verve." Yes, she was a fan and a regular. Green's piece remembers the history and the lasting influence.
For fans of Silverton and Peel, this is the most painful moment since news of their 2005 separation splintered what had always been a family restaurant. Seven years later, for those who love Campanile, its closure begs the cliché "end of an era," except it's more personal than that. It's the kind of loss that forces one to question if any of it was ever real? If it was, where did it go?
It was real. Look at the family tree of California cooks and it's clear that from the beginning that Campanile hybridized the strongest lines of the Golden State's much vaunted food revolution. In the 1970s, a young Peel was taken under Wolfgang Puck's wing at Ma Maison. He met Silverton after joining Michael's in Santa Monica in 1979. Peel then went to Chez Panisse in Berkeley before returning to Los Angeles and helping Puck open Spago in Beverly Hills.
Silverton, who had trained at the French pastry school of Gaston Lenôtre, joined Spago to run the dessert station and also worked at Puck's Chinois on Main before producing nothing short of a masterpiece in the 1986 book Desserts. Fast-forward past a short stint the couple spent cooking in New York and by 1987, Silverton's mother was pointing her and Peel toward a run-down 1920s Spanish style commercial building on La Brea Avenue....
Kitted out with a bakery, bar, atrium, semi-open kitchen and string of dining rooms, Campanile soon meant something that had nothing to do with bells. It had confidence in its own taste. It was suddenly as if it was the most natural thing in the world to have a world-class restaurant skirting the borders of Nate Holden's notorious 10th District. But of course Angelenos preferred rapini to supermarket broccoli! That L.A. had a sourdough baguette to rival anything served in San Francisco became a preening point. We may have been raised on Marie Callender pies, but suddenly we preferred brioche tarts with nectarines and peaches and finished with sabayon sauce. Your child having a birthday party? How about a tower of profiteroles instead of a cake?
Don't forget also that the now-ubiquitous supermarket brand La Brea Bakery refers to the front shop at Campanile. And as Green writes, "a measure of any restaurant is how many good cooks it trains. Campanile's record in this regard may be unrivaled."
Green, who writes now about water issues and gardens at her blog, Chance of Rain, was restaurant critic for the U.K. Independent from 1989-95, then a food writer for the British New Statesman and the Los Angeles Times.