Chef Kevin Meehan remembers the moment he realized he could no longer work in someone else’s kitchen. He’d been called in to interview with a top restaurant in town, and as the meeting unfolded, everything just felt incredibly wrong. “I thought, ‘Why am I going to work six days a week, 14 hours a day just for somebody else?'” he says.
At the time, Meehan was fresh off a seven-year tenure with the Patina Group (where he’d served as chef de cuisine at Patina and executive chef of Café Pinot), and the thought of embarking on another long-term gig was suffocating. “I felt like I was on the rebound,” says Meehan. “I wasn’t ready to get back into a relationship.” But, without the capital needed to open his own restaurant—an idea that he’d always considered a long shot—he decided to go the pop-up route.
The underground venture, which Meehan called Kali Dining, was initially promoted (via emails Meehan wrote himself) as a “dinner party series” that operated out of the chef’s house, private residential homes from Marina del Rey to Downtown, and restaurants like Bestia and Scratch Bar. “I started doing it, and it got a little traction,” he says. “I was fortunate to get some small press, then it turned into something.”
Riding on that success, after three years of living the pop-up lifestyle, Meehan is now venturing back into the stationary restaurant world with his partner Drew Langley. The duo, who met 15 years ago while working at L’Orangerie, recently opened Kali in the Larchmont section of Melrose Avenue, right next door to Osteria Mamma. “I knew it would be a little bit challenging to transform from pop-up to the brick-and-mortar, but when anybody asks about it, we just say its an expansion of that idea,” says Langley, the former wine director at Providence, who is now running the wine program at Kali.
The restaurant’s menu specializes in the the cuisine Meehan is known for, meticulously plated contemporary California cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients. The tuna crudo is accented with citrus and nasturtium, celery root bisque comes with mussels, and the squab, claws still attached, is topped with lavender twigs. Of all the dishes, Meehan says he’s most excited about his beef tenderloin and a toasted meringue gelato dessert with sugar-cured egg yolks, which he describes as an unexpected “hit song on the album.”
Despite Meehan’s desire to turn out elevated cuisine, the owners want the vibe to be casual. “I’m trying to tap into the neighborhood,” says Meehan, who thinks Kali complements the offerings of nearby spots like The Larchmont and Cafe Gratitude. “Those restaurants are doing great. Why not us?” The goal, he says, is to become a mainstay among local residents while also maintaining his Kali Dining regulars.
The wine list, according to Langley, is also designed to be accessible. He’s focusing on the Central Coast, a departure from his list at Providence, which showcases European niche imports. “I kind of want to get back to what I didn’t necessarily ignore, but was not as fully aware of, like Paso Robles, Monterrey,” Langley says. Currently, he’s partial to a Caraccioli Cellars sparkling wine that comes from the California’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
Kali,5722 Melrose Ave.,323-871-4160