I visited LA MILL on its first day of paying business - work precluded my visiting on the freebie day - and I left with a less-than-favorable impression. The espresso drinks were miniscule, the pastries were boring, the breakfast options were paltry, and the whole affair seemed labored and over-the-top, especially at the exorbitant price tag. No one in my party (or the Yelpers at the table next to me) was particularly impressed. I planned to try it again later in the day to sample the lunch dishes, but I didn't plan on doing so anytime soon. Of course, the apoplectic fits of delight coming from local critics also make me wonder just what I missed, so I finally caved today and went for lunch at LA MILL.
Service seems more relaxed this time than the fussiness I previously encountered. No one is tediously arranging spoons just so, and, as I predicted, those silly wooden chargers for the coffee saucers have been dispensed with. The room just seems more relaxed. I ordered a siphon of the Ethiopian coffee from the daily selection. Unfortunately, my server at the bar wasn't too helpful with the choice as she said she'd only been there two weeks and wasn't too well versed in the coffee's characteristics. That was a huge strike against LA MILL in my book; I can't imagine ever getting that answer at Intelligentsia, even from someone who had only worked there a fortnight. Watching the siphon was fun, but the coffee itself was less-than-amazing. The Chemex coffee I have had at Intelligentsia and LA MILL is far superior. It was definitely not worth $16, nor is a Chemex worth $15; it starts at nearly a third the price at Intelligentsia. The flavor lacked the crispness of a Chemex; it struck me as muddier, like a French press. It was less-than-satisfying.
But the ABLT panini was amazing. I cannot think of a better sandwich in all of Los Angeles. The pork melted between the two crisp pieces of toasted bread. I have read some complaints of the dish's being oversalted by the black bean, but mine was perfectly balanced without too much black bean at all. The fat was at the perfect consistency, almost giving the impression of melted cheese. It tasted of the very best Chinese barbecue pork. The pickled onion and olives were great palate cleansers, and the Yukon gold chips were great. It was a complete meal, perfect in every respect. I would have a hard time ordering a different dish if I went back, really, because the ABLT is so tempting. The $16 price tag is entirely warranted, I think.
I was completely sated after the panini, but, not sure when I would return, I decided to try a dessert. I decided to go for the milk chocolate-coffee panna cotta. The Bailey's ice cream was rather bland, with only a hint of Bailey's, sitting atop a crumble of some sort of chocolate cookie. The coconut ravioli was a coconut liquid with a sort of skin on it - interesting, and a bit odd. But the main attraction, the panna cotta, was really boring. The texture was not much different than standard pudding, and the flavor wasn't far off, either. It was tasty enough, but the $9 price tag turns the small dessert from slightly interesting to slightly disappointing. I think the only way I would indulge in LA MILL's quirky but miniscule desserts again is in the dessert sampler, which delivers five desserts for $27 after 5:00 P.M.
There were lots of happy Silverlakistas chatting away over their bowls of soup and paninis; they clearly were into the vibe of the place. They get it. An older lady came in while I was having lunch, sat at the bar, ordered a cappuccino and asked for some sort of fruit tart. The server proffered the menu and mentioned they have a strawberry dessert that's good, so she said she'd take that. The tiny strawberry dessert came out to join her tiny cappuccino, and she finished it and paid the bill. She told the server, somewhat tersely, "I didn't realize it was this expensive," and left unceremoniously. I know a lot of people who would feel the same way, and I would never steer them toward LA MILL.
So my impression of LA MILL now? Well, the main dishes seem really good, better than the dry pastries and weird, tiny egg dishes on offer my first visit. The biggest weakness in my mind should be LA MILL's biggest strength: I just don't think they do coffee that well. I'm not sure that, on future visits, I'll need to order any coffee at LA MILL. I really do feel, as I did last time, that Intelligentsia does coffee better. The food really is the draw, and I think the main dishes are perfectly good deals. The desserts, well, they seem to be a few dollars too expensive for their petite size. The $5 or so price in the dessert tasting is more what I would want to pay. So it's a mixed bag. I see myself going back occasionally, but it don't see it ranking with my favorite places in the city. Would I recommend it to friends? Only conditionally, to people I was sure would be able to fit in with the restaurant's vibe and not be put off by the level of service or price points. On my first visit, I just thought LA MILL was really absurd and over-the-top. Now that the shock of the silly chandelier and the fussy service (which has been pulled back, thankfully) are gone, I feel I can judge LA MILL more fairly and decide how I feel. LA MILL is still over-the-top, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Unfortunately, sometimes the over-the-top is in places it doesn't need to be (prices), and sometimes it doesn't go over-the-top where it needs to (coffee quality).
As much part of me wants to, I can't bring myself to hate LA MILL. But as much as another part of me wants to, I can't bring myself to love LA MILL, either.