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Rustic French Cuisine Coming to York Boulevard

New Restaurant will be neighbor to Elsa's Bakery.

York Boulevard's culinary landscape, currently dominated by pizza joints,  food-trucks and pop-up eateries of dubious legality, might seem a poor fit for rustic, French style cuisine.

However, when James Graham's latest restaurant endeavor, BÁ, opens at the corner of Ave. 51 and York, he won't be the first classically trained chef to ply his trade in the neighborhood.

Graham will be setting up shop in the former storage and shipping room of  Elsa's Bakery, a York Boulevard fixture,  whose owner Manuel Vargas studied French baking techniques on the west side of Los Angeles as a young man.

"He can cook baguettes better than anybody," said Graham, who has formed a friendship with the bakery's owner over the last year.

"Over the last 10 years, business has slowed down so much that he doesn't use that [storage] space anymore," Graham said.  "I was walking around the neighborhood and accidentally found his place and we just started chatting with Mr. Vargas. It was his idea to make that space available."

Graham said that BÁ's menu will feature "old-school french country food. A lot of cassoulets, a lot of really hearty stock based soups, a lot of delicate greens and a lot of roasts."

By design, BÁ won't have any walk in coolers or freezers, meaning all the meat and produce that's served will have been purchased from local sources on the same day, Graham said.

Baguette's, baked next door at Elsa's, will also be on the menu.

"The reason we chose to work out of this space was because of them, we've become really great friends," Graham said. "They really liked my concept and they gave us a really great offer, which included benefits like them making my bread."

Graham, who lives at Ave. 54 and Rangeview, brings with him an extensive culinary resume. In the 1970s, He completed an apprenticeship at the Four Seasons Restaurant inside the Seagram's building in New York City. He also opened the critically acclaimed restaurant "The Grill" in downtown Tucson, which he sold in the early 2000s.

He's also spent time in Los Angeles' kitchens, working under Scotter Kanfer at "The House," on Melrose Place.

Graham said he's excited to be launching a new restaurant in Highland Park. He thinks the neighborhood is ready for what he's serving, and he likes the idea of being able to walk to work.

"We like York Blvd. better than Colorado Blvd.," Graham said. "The people aren't quite in the child-rearing stage yet. They're more willing to go out for a late dinner."

Graham said he plans to serve dinner from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., with light appetizer and snack service continuing until 1 p.m.

Graham's wife, Julia Latané, an installation artist, will be handling their interior design.

The plans call for 12 table tops that will run in four columns of six, with an aisle down the center. Large curtains will hang from ceiling, which will separate the dining room from the front door and the reception area.

The kitchen will be visible through a glass window.

"The space itself is very small and Julia has designed a very cozy restaurant," Graham said.

Even taking into account the cost of using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and the small size of BÁ, Graham said he is still confident he can turn the restaurant into a successful business.

"I work for cheap," Graham said. "You don't make a lot of money in food, but it's really exciting and it's a lot of fun. I'm confident I can making a living off this place and create four or five part time jobs."

Last Wednesday, Graham went before the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council's land use committee to seek their support in his application in receiving a liquor license for BÁ.

Janet Dodson said their was some trepidation among community members about the number of liquor licenses that had already been handed out in the area, but she said she was willing to support Graham's endeavor because he wouldn't be selling alcohol exclusively.

Graham said that as a resident of Highland Park, he understood the community's concern over the number of liquor stores in the neighborhood.

"I am grateful for the difficulty of getting liquor licenses, because I don't what them handing out liquor licenses right around the corner from me," he said.

However, Graham said the ability to sell beer and wine with meals at BÁ would go a long way in ensuring its financial success.

"You're margins are always slim in the food business," he said. "So, I'm really hoping beer and wine will be able to lubricate the pain of that."

Last Thursday afternoon, Graham and Mr. Vargas grandson, also named Manuel, were working inside the hollowed out shell of Elsa's former storage room, preparing it for the eight weeks of construction that will follow. If all goes according to plan, Graham said he is hoping that BÁ will open by the end of the summer. 


Vargas, 21, said he's excited for what's to come of the space.

"I've never seen the door to this place opened, I've never seen the window opened," he said. "I'm excited to try some new stuff."

bellref May 09, 2011 at 08:44 PM
When is the grand opening? Looking forward to it. We'll come from South Pasadena and bring our friends. We used to go to the French restaurant in Alhambra but it isn't there anymore.
Margaret H. May 09, 2011 at 09:29 PM
I will be there regularly! Live in Mt. Washington and LOVE french country cooking.
Ernest King May 09, 2011 at 11:15 PM
Looking forward to a French rustic restaurant in Highland Park and close to Mt.Washington neighborhoods.
David Fonseca (Editor) May 10, 2011 at 12:26 AM
Hi Serena, there's no set date for a grand opening yet. But we'll be the first to let you know when there is one!
Nimby pimp May 10, 2011 at 07:57 AM
Very exciting news. I'll be there with friends on opening night.
elsie May 10, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I am beyond excited to have a new resto opening up in walking distance to my house!! yay! So looking forward to it. THANK YOU to James Graham for considering York! Now, if only someone would open up a ramen noodle shop ... it would be heavenly. anyone? ;)
Milla Goldenberg May 10, 2011 at 04:52 PM
soooo looking forward to this as well! now if we could only get a decent sushi restaurant in HLP...
PizzaTurbo2000 May 10, 2011 at 08:27 PM
This is fantastic, fantastic news! I get the neighborhood's reservations with liquor licenses, but they have to understand that a business like this attracts entirely different customers than a run of the mill liquor store. And here's hoping Fig gets some new eateries soon as well.
Rhea Borja May 10, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Although no opening date has been set yet, it would be helpful to note within the story an an estimate on when BA will be open to the public. Four months? Six months?
David Fonseca (Editor) May 10, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Hi Rhea, I've updated the story. Graham said he is shooting for late summer. Thanks for reading!
Linda Folsom May 11, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Can't wait to enjoy a late evening dinner of rustic French food! Now I travel to Toluca Lake to relive my days in Paris - I'm looking forward to having it closer to home! Excellent for the community!
Amanda Penalosa May 11, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Can't wait! And being able to walk there will be a huge bonus. :)
RJ BAIRD May 11, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I think this is outstanding, and cannot wait. We think you would attract more locals with a 5 pm dinner time, upon which we usually base our restaurant selection. Good luck.
Yong Lee May 12, 2011 at 05:28 AM
Exciting news. Can't wait.
james May 12, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Thanks! Great write up David, I am flattered. Thank you all for the support. The project is on track to opent his summer. The name of the restaurant is just: Ba. Lower case a, no accent. I will tell you what that means when you come in for dinner! I'll keep you posted on the progress. James Graham
Tina Gulotta-Miller June 13, 2011 at 06:43 PM
James.....really excited about your new venture. My husband and I are looking forward to patronize your place when it opens. Tina Gulotta-Miller
Arline DeSanctis July 04, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Ever since my daughter and I went to Paris, we have loved French food. We are eager for it to open. Wine is a must with French food !! We live on Mt. Washington, and you have our support. Arline DeSanctis
Mitzi July 14, 2011 at 09:47 PM
I can't wait! I'm also telling everyone I know about it, and asking them to spread the word. We must support local businesses in HP if we want to help upgrade the neighborhood. The menu looks fantastic! Thank you James, for taking a chance in this neighborhood. Hopefully more young entrepreneurs will follow...
STARCHY February 01, 2012 at 01:43 AM
"nimby pimp??.... table of one?...."
RK February 11, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Too bad we can't afford to eat there... Lame.
HappyinHP May 02, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I was really excited to see it was now open. I plan to go there this weekend.
HappyinHP May 10, 2012 at 03:41 PM
so are they officially open???

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