At LN2 on Melrose, Executive Chef Chris Robbins creates a menu that truly depicts the flavors he loves. His state-of-the-art, wood-burning pizza oven enhances fresh California ingredients and artistically crafted dishes. Robbins and his wife, Mica Ray, proudly showed my husband and I their famed pizza oven.
“This is the Ferrari of pizza ovens,” Robbins said.
Robbins started as a dishwasher and grew into a chef at Patina Restaurant Group and Parkway Grill in Pasadena. Now, not only does he craft some of the best pizzas in Los Angeles, but he and his staff also experiment with liquid nitrogen to create Instagram-worthy cocktails and desserts. The restaurant’s name, LN2, refers to nitrogen in a liquid state caused by extremely low temperatures.
The main dining room is formal in decor with comfortable velvet chairs. The marble-top bar projects a soothing kaleidoscope of colors. Near the back, a casual open-air patio allows guests to enjoy warm summer nights and al fresco weekend brunches.
On the cocktail menu, we noticed creative drinks with names like “Dream State”, “Summer Fling” and “Blueberry Smash”. The “LN2 Cosmo” is a magical elixir made with vodka, lime, cranberry and hibiscus that emits liquid nitrogen vapors. The full bar also offers a nice selection of beers and ciders, as well as Californian, French, Italian, Spanish and Australian wines.
LN2, however, is much more than artisan pizza. Chef Robbins offers an array of small plates that includes hamachi, popcorn Brussels sprouts and pork belly – cooked sous-vide for 36 hours, so tender that it melts in your mouth, and served with mint leaves and orange sections on top. Accompanying the pork belly is a perfect sphere of fried rice with chopped mint, peas, carrots and a gently cooked egg. Chef Robbins curls cucumbers into spiral cones to give this dish an artistic flair. It’s colorful and appealing with a wonderful balance of flavors and textures.
As I sipped a “Melrosita” made with tequila, Adobo sour syrup, agave and lime, I ordered one of the menu’s three salads. In addition to a Caesar and baby lettuce salad, LN2 offers an cornucopia of ingredients in their chopped salad, made with a butter lettuce base, a mix of sliced olives, chopped avocado, tomatoes, salami, cheese, cucumber, palm hearts, chickpeas and crunchy fried onions. A light buttermilk and basil dressing doesn’t overpower the ingredients.
For our entrées, we ordered the Ora King salmon with foaming Vera Cruz sauce. It’s made with roasted tomatoes and garlic, and served with fennel, potatoes and savory chorizo. The LN2’s signature pizzas range from a margherita topped with semi-soft fior di latte cheese, to a unique caramelized fig pizza with a spread of onion jam and sprinkling of French Saint Agur blue cheese. The latter is topped with a generous handful of arugula, chopped hazelnuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The delicious, Roman-style crust is light and substantial with the perfect amount of color. Other pizzas on the menu include a duck confit with roasted hoisin plum sauce, goat cheese and butternut squash. The Manila clam pizza has sliced potato, bacon and mushrooms, while the pork sausage is sweetened with apricot gastrique, shaved fennel and fontina cheese.
After dinner, we walked up to the liquid nitrogen laboratory counter for a theatrical freezing demonstration. Guests can build their own sundaes starting with one of four flavors – milk and cookies, Madagascar vanilla bean, strawberry chamomile or vegan lemon lavender. Guests then select a plain serving container, waffle bowl or brûléed banana. Choose from six different sauces to add to the liquid nitrogen creation, including chocolate, apricot, caramel, or Bailey’s and whipped cream. Other crumbly treats include Fruity Pebbles, chopped farmers market strawberries, Oreos, sprinkles and aged balsamic pearls.
They also serve brunch with items like avocado toast and a breakfast pizza, topped with housemade bacon, free-range eggs, fontina cheese, potatoes and chives. Other savory fare includes short rib chilaquiles, smoked salmon Benedict and a breakfast brioche sandwich layered with tomato jam, a fried egg, pork sausage and Gruyère cheese.
Chef Robbins and his team at LN2 offer an innovative, playful approach to fine dining and comfort food. If you haven’t been yet, come in and meet one of the nicest couples in town. $$ Dinner service is Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. Weekend brunch is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 7212 Melrose Ave. (323)917-5178.