Down an ally, behind a red wooden fence and under a blue tent — that’s where you’ll find Chef Aaron Ziegler on some Sunday mornings. It’s his backyard and it doubles as the setting for his Brunch By The Beach by Bull & Dragon. Ziegler has transformed his cute Los Angeles backyard into the home of one of the city’s best brunch experiences, and elevated the late-morning meal to a whole new level.
Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to brunch (and yes, if done right, brunch is a verb) in Ziegler’s yard. Ziegler sets up one table for eight guests, ensuring an intimate environment and a chance to meet some new friends. For Ziegler, eating isn’t a chore, it’s an experience, and he embraces the entire process — from getting to know the ranchers who raise the cow, to the presentation of the food on the plate. The young chef prides himself on getting the freshest products that are organic and raised ethically with consideration to sustainability. His food isn’t just the result of several hours in the kitchen; it is the byproduct of years of creating relationships with farmers, and months of preparing produce in his garden. The freshness of everything was second to none.
The three-course meal kicked off with a beautifully prepared Asparagus Deviled Egg. A touch of garnished paprika on asparagus tips brought the flavor to life and set the bar high for the rest of the meal.
Guests had the option to choose one of four entrées and there was no bad choice. I selected the Avocado Bruschetta, a grilled piece of bread spread lightly with a lush layer of avocado and topped with marinated heirloom tomatoes and herbs from the garden I was sitting next to. The baby tomatoes on top oozed with freshness and their bright colors reminded me that a good meal engages all the senses.
I also got to taste another entrée (I said it was an intimate environment, right?). My neighbor kindly shared his Halibut Ceviche with me. I’m usually not one for fish in the morning, but I’ve since revised my rules. Ziegler prepared fresh-line caught halibut and marinated it with citrus herb, fresh corn and cucumber. This was outstanding — not fishy at all and just the right amount of sweetness from the marinade. A side of sweet potato chips gave it a little crunch, too, a good wakeup call after a long Saturday night.
The other two entrées were the B&D Benny and the Fire Roasted Short Rib Ropa Vieja. The former featured a homemade ciabatta topped with house-cured and smoked bacon, sous vide eggs and hollandaise sauce accompanied by a house salad. The short ribs were homemade fresh tortillas loaded with roasted peppers, onions, quick pickled green beans, slow pit-roasted Martin Sun Farms short rib and sous vide eggs. I had to save room for the third round so I didn’t get to bite into these two, but judging by the faces of the guests who did order these (and by the number of Snapchats one man took of the ribs), they were both hits.
But Zeigler saved the best for last. For dessert: Stuffed French Toast. If they serve brunch in heaven, this is what is highlighted on the menu. Zeigler baked the Pain de Champagne bread himself a week earlier, let it stale, and then soaked it in egg with spices and Grand Marnier. And I’m not done yet. The French toast is stuffed with orange blossom mascarpone and served with maple syrup. If thinking about this doesn’t make you smile, you live a sad and sorry life. I consider myself a certain kind of expert on sweet foods and this is the sort of delicacy that dentists around the world frown upon, but I never liked the dentist, so indulge.
If you’re looking for a more exciting dining experience or just need a reason to get out of bed on a Sunday, Chef Aaron Ziegler is a must. He has completely reimagined brunch, combining an intimate atmosphere with an out-of-this-world menu. It’s like going to your best friend’s place for brunch — that is, if your best friend is an exceptional chef.