For years, the West End of Long Beach was known more for drinks than food. That has changed.
Chef-owner Alexis Trolf contributes to the transition with Lost & Found, his quirky, highly personal spot. Trolf ran Caffe Laguna, the New American-Italian restaurant shut by superstorm Sandy. What he's found is sharper than what he lost.
Lost & Found already has a devoted following, filling about 30 seats from the opening minute. Call for a same-day reservation: expect 9:30 p.m. For a larger group, the besieged maitresse d' may suggest requesting at least a week in advance. Lost & Found accepts walk-ins, though the odds are better for a Milwaukee-Oakland World Series.
There's a communal table for nine, a counter with stools for another six, and tight tables for two to handle the rest. Sharing is the general idea, for space and for small plates. You'll see Trolf at work in the compact, open kitchen. A couple of seats are a drizzle of aioli away.
Above the cooking quarter is a set of longhorns. A wild boar's head and a cowboy hat add to the eclectic decor, which also includes some framed artwork, shelves for staff backpacks and a well-used copy of Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" cookbook, the great chef's testimonial to family-style, American comfort food.
But uncork a BYO Gavi and sample Trolf's vitello tonnato, his play on the Piedmontese classic, here sheaves of chilled veal finished with tangy, tuna-sparked mayo, plus a bit of Basque piperade sauce and mache salad. Or try the refreshing hillock of shaved carrots entwined with matchsticks of Honeycrisp apple, and yogurt visited by Indian spices.
Warm asparagus spears arrive molto al dente, with crushed hazelnuts and a "bagna càuda" coverlet spicier than any dipping sauce you'll find in Piedmont. Frisée salad becomes a cross-border curiosity, free of lardons, but with striplets of leberkäse, the German meat loaf similar to bologna. You're better off with the roasted beets, accented with spiced pistachios, chicory and chives; truffled potatoes with aioli; or charred octopus.
Two larger plates stand out from a recent menu: the juicy, chile-lime roasted chicken and a tender, dry-aged rib-eye steak.
Sweets trail, a metallic lemon tart competing with a modest peach clafoutis, a vanilla pot-de-crème with a chocolate panna cotta. Bring a dessert wine, too.