While we may not know her personally, we feel a little bit like Akasha Richmond is an old, dear friend of ours. Throughout our years in Culver City, she’s always been there, in a beautiful brick building on the corner of Washington and Watseka, ready to serve up breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee, or dinner. Her food is both delicious and healthful, with plenty of options no matter what your current dietary restriction might be. Akasha is a mainstay in the ever-changing landscape of the Culver City restaurant scene - even if the place you were planning to try suddenly closed, or if that other place that your coworkers were talking about has a line out the door, Akasha is there for you, and her food’s probably better than that place with the line, anyway.
So when your old friend Akasha opens up a new eatery just a stone’s throw from the original, there’s cause for celebration. Such was the case when Sambar, Akasha’s upscale take on Indian food, opened up shop. With fun, funky cocktails, wildly flavorful sauces, and a pillowy turmeric naan that could knock your socks off, the celebration was real. But in just over a year, Sambar caught the dreaded Culver City restaurant flu and disappeared. Fortunately, the morning period was brief, because just as soon as Sambar disappeared, AR Cucina materialized, swapping masala for margharita. At first glance, not much had changed (it underwent a very minor makeover in which some of its quirky Indian decor was swapped out for a more rustic, Italian look), and the restaurant’s biggest draws remained in tact - a spacious covered outdoor patio for an al fresco happy hour, a massive bar with creative cocktails, and a tempting menu with options for just about everyone.
AR Cucina pays tribute to Akasha’s extensive time spent traveling throughout Italy, where she studied the craft of Italian cooking and food production. The tenets of classic Italian cooking pair perfectly with Akasha’s cooking philosophy - as with her namesake restaurant, offerings at AR Cucina change seasonally and are made with the highest quality ingredients possible, either sourced locally or thoughtfully imported. Another carry-over from Akasha is a wealth of options for those following a specific diet, including plenty of vegetable-forward meatless dishes, a couple of vegan cheeses, and gluten-free pastas and pastries. To tie it all together, AR Cucina offers a lively cocktail program headed up by beverage director Clare Ward, which most notably features six different takes on a Negroni and a rotating menu of fun, seasonal tipples.
In classic Akasha Richmond style, AR Cucina breaks the rules and has its own version of Italy-meets-California cuisine, a blend illustrated perfectly by the brunch menu. To start, pastries, bruchettas, and salads highlighting California staples like avocados, beets, and figs. Next, a section for classic American breakfast lovers: "piatta all' uovo," or "big plates with eggs." Then, sandwiches, pastas, and pizza, for the brunchers who really just want a big Italian lunch. There's dessert, too, of course, but we'll get to that later.
We began our brunch with a cocktail, because with names like "Sophia Loren," "Italian Stallion," and "Francesca Verde," we were too charmed to resist. We opted for the "Sorrento Spritz," a rose-colored beauty with aperitivo, limoncello, strawberry-basil shrub, rosé, and seltzer. This was bright, flavorful, and refreshing - a great way to ease into a slow summer morning.
Even with two dairy-allergic brunch dates, we found that there were plenty of options for everyone. For a starter, we sampled the Bruschetta, which is essentially AR Cucina's Italian version of toast: slices of toasted ciabatta topped with strawberry-rosemary jam and almond ricotta. It's a crunchy, tangy, shareable riff on Sqirl's famed ricotta toast, and it also happens to be dairy-free. Just like the varieties that are so popular next door at Akasha, the strawberry-rosemary jam is tart and packed with flavor, and it pairs perfectly with the creamy almond ricotta.
For brunch purists, there is the Two Eggs and Toast, served with either chicken sausage or bacon. We opted for the house-made chicken sausage, juicy, hand-molded patties that had just a bit of a kick. For something with a bit more color, the Polenta Cake & Short Rib Ragu is sure to please - with triangles of soft, creamy polenta, a heap of crisp, colorful salad, and perfect runny eggs atop a rich short rib ragu, this dish manages to maintain balance between light and heavy.
When comfort food is in order, the Porchetta Hash is the way to go. Tender fingerling potatoes absorb the juicy flavors of succulent, herb-roasted pork, are topped with two runny fried eggs, and are served alongside a few slices of rustic toast. That last bit is crucial, really - the rich, decadent combination is begging to be sopped up with some crisp-yet-absorbent bread.
Finally, the Brunch Pizza offers a chance to satisfy your need for both breakfast and lunch, whether viewed through its half-breakfast, half-lunch components or simply its double-meal-worthy size. It looks a bit like a work of art, with pizza dough for a canvas, dotted with hunks of house-made sausage and a creamy baked egg, painted with vibrant tomato sauce and melted cheese, accented with wilted spring onions and curly arugula. The crust's edges are crisp and kissed with char, and the egg's yolk is creamy and smooth. It's certainly enough to share, but no one would judge you if you chose not to.
If brunch-dessert is your thing, you will not be disappointed - Akasha's popular homemade ice creams and cookies are available here, alongside more formal desserts like tiramisu or olive oil cake. We sampled the delicious seasonal peach crostata, with two flavors of ice cream on the side (because the lactose-intolerant deserve some dessert, too). The crostata is simple, buttery, and not too sweet - just what you'd hope a good summer peach tart would be. Sea salt caramel gelato provided a creamy, almost savory accompaniment to the crostata, while the dark chocolate sorbetto offered a rich, darker opposition.
Between the delightful cocktails, a perfect outdoor perch, and spot-on flavors throughout the meal, our old friend Akasha did not let us down with her take on Italian brunch. Here's hoping that AR Cucina will remain in our regular Culver City rotation for many years to come.
9531 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232