LOS ANGELES — Behind the dark gray wall with the floral mural on busy Melrose Avenue, Ronan’s wood-fired ovens are baking a different kind of dough. Pungent zaatar flavors and the slightly charred smell of a bread along with the tanginess of cured meat make an unprecedented debut in this Italian pizzeria run by chef-couple Daniel and Caitlin Cutler. For one time only, on November 27, the restaurant serves two different menus – the original Ronan menu and a special one, featuring the Armenian diaspora inspired dishes curated by a guest chef, Daniel’s longtime friend and colleague, Kristel Arabian. This fundraising dinner with the promising title “We Knead Your Dough” is a project which was “thirteen years in the making,” as Kristel says.
Kristel and Daniel used to work together more than a decade ago in several local restaurants. Later, Kristel opened her own business recruiting chefs and other employees for the food industry while Daniel opened Ronan. Today, many years later, they cook together again and donate all proceeds to the All for Armenia organization. The goal is to help the 120,000 Armenians from Artsakh who were forcefully displaced as a result of a long-lasting conflict with Azerbaijan.
“Kristel is my oldest friend in Los Angeles, and when she asked me to do this to support Armenians, it was a no brainer. It’s important. I love literally every single dish on this menu. Kristel says that this is what the Armenian community normally eats at home. That’s the kind of food we make here, so it makes sense for us too,” says Daniel.
The first appetizers on the menu are pieces of pita with caviar bumps paired with Armenian sparkling wine, “Keush.” Simple vegetable salad spiced with sumac is followed by a basturma (cured meat) charcuterie plate and concludes with manti, crispy, spiced, bitesize beef dumplings covered with yogurt sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds right from Kristel’s backyard highlighting the Armenian flavor combination. The entree is a manaeesh-sourdough spread with za’atar paste served with lebni, cucumber and olives, creating a perfect balance of piquancy and acidity on a hot piece of bread right from the oven.
The dessert tells the story of Armenian migration through the centuries filled with the flavors of the Middle East and Europe. Armenian Sundae is an orange blossom water ice cream artistically covered with baklava crunches and preserved walnuts, ensuring the right amount of sweetness to awaken all the taste buds during this cultural journey to Armenian history. Bartenders pour wine made from indigenous grapes Areni and Voskehat and mix cocktails with brandy, apricot juice and rose syrup.
“To me it was very important to develop a menu that felt like my heritage. A lot of this is what we eat in my house,” explains Kristel. “I thought of the sujukh “pizza” where I incorporate many things that are present on our tables all the time. I thought of tel-panir (string cheese) and mozzarella and the fire that touches the crust a little bit; it gets a little burnt. I took my childhood and brought it to Ronan.”