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A Midsummer Day's Dream

An alfresco dinner party in a bohemian L.A. enclave showcases the creativity of its residents and the bounty of the season

A casual dinner party at filmmaker Amanda Marsalis's Los Angeles home.
A casual dinner party at filmmaker Amanda Marsalis's Los Angeles home.
Marsalis puts the finishing touches on a berry crostata in her kitchen in Echo Park.
Marsalis puts the finishing touches on a berry crostata in her kitchen in Echo Park.

Los Angeles is a big city of little niches. There’s Hollywood, slightly grimy but full of cinematic history; Venice, with its chilled-out beach scene; and artist-filled communities, including Atwater Village and Eagle Rock, that each feel worlds apart despite sharing city lines. One such community, Echo Park, borders the neighborhood of Silver Lake and yields vistas of the downtown skyline from multiple vantage points. Its stucco bungalows and Craftsman houses harbor a culturally rich mix of longtime residents from when the area was a low-income district, as well as a recent wave of musicians, designers, and artisans. The mayor lives there. So did Tom Waits. Independent boutiques and specialized markets abound. The food scene is among the city’s best. But Mexican women still sell churros on street corners, and everyone wants to keep it that way. Click here to see more photos.

It’s these local charms that make Echo Park so appealing for photographer and filmmaker Amanda Marsalis, who set up house in the neighborhood’s hills six years ago and now can’t imagine living anywhere else. Although her peach-colored home is full of glossy photographs and midcentury furnishings, it’s her 2,500-square-foot patio and garden that see the most action. “I like to go to the south of France in the summer, but then I realized I have the same thing in my backyard,” says Marsalis, whose clients include Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler. “Long, slow, beautiful days where you have friends over and eat food from the market.” The double doors in her dining room open onto fig, blood orange, and lime trees (the key to making her signature margaritas). Trailing bougainvillea and nasturtium, pots of pale succulents, and wild herbs surround a fire pit and a rustic communal table. The setting is free-form, and the landscape—slightly untamed and dappled with a kaleidoscope of hues—makes an idyllic gathering spot.

Echo Park
Jars of homemade feta by chef (and party guest) Lydia Burkhalter. A gallery wall in Marsalis's dining area.
Jars of homemade feta by chef (and party guest) Lydia Burkhalter. A gallery wall in Marsalis's dining area.

Such a setting turns even the most casual assemblage of neighbors and friends into a dinner party filled with high spirits, unfussy food, and alfresco carousing until well past sundown. “Eight is the minimum amount of people I’ve ever had over,” Marsalis explains, folding the dough of a berry crostata. Her entertaining style is understated and off the cuff; provisions are picked up at Cookbook, a local gourmet grocery, or at the nearby Atwater Village farmers’ market. Among her epicurean friends are cheese maker Lydia Burkhalter, who brings jars of homemade feta to toss with an easy summer salad and whips up ricotta on the spot to spread on crostini. Another chef, Eden Batki, comes bearing a few bottles of her Eden’s Savory SAP natural syrups and mixes up a batch of aromatic cocktails. Photographer and stylist Joni Noe, who lives a few doors down, crafts loose, blowsy flower arrangements using foraged finds from Marsalis’s garden and blooms from the Flower District downtown. Fashion designers Derek Mattison and Clare Vivier, as well as actor Omar Metwally make for a fetching coterie while a half-dozen dogs run around the yard.

For Marsalis, who travels frequently for shoots, time spent like this at home is what she misses most. It’s fitting, then, that her first feature-length film—a project that debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June —is called Echo Park. “It’s a small, intimate love story that takes place in my neighborhood,” she says. “If I were ever supposed to direct a movie, this is the movie I should direct.” The only thing that could make it more perfect: a magical garden setting and a drawn-out dinner with friends.

Stylist Joni Noe incorporates blooms from Marsalis’s garden and the local Flower District in her loose arrangements.
Stylist Joni Noe incorporates blooms from Marsalis’s garden and the local Flower District in her loose arrangements.

I like to go to the south of France in the summer, but then I realized I have the same thing in my backyard.

–Amanda Marsalis

Crostini topped with walnuts, cranberries, and ricotta.
Crostini topped with walnuts, cranberries, and ricotta.
Guest Greta Heichemer raises a glass.
Guest Greta Heichemer raises a glass.

Cast of Characters
A few of the talents who came to dinner.

Eden Batki After traveling through South America, Asia, and the Middle East, Batki developed an interest in cultural beverage traditions. “I researched what people in Lebanon and China drink,” explains the Echo Park–based chef, “and thought, Why don’t we drink these things?” The result is Eden’s Savory SAP: concentrated syrups that come in flavors such as Turmeric Almond Rose, Orange Shisho, and Salted Lime Chili. Made from only three components—filtered water, sweetener, and the designated flavor elements (herb, plant, or flower)—they promise much more party fanfare than a glass of rosé.

Lydia Burkhalter “I studied photography in college and always shot with a 4x5,” says the chef and cheese maker. “When the digital age started taking over, I wanted a project that was physical and hands-on.” After enrolling in cheese-making courses, Burkhalter experimented with her newfound hobby at dinner parties with friends, who raved about her homespun dairy. Now she makes everything from fromage blanc and chèvre to feta and cheddar.

Derek Mattison From his Arts District studio downtown, a stone’s throw from Echo Park, the menswear designer creates the minimalist tailored looks that encompass his namesake collection. “I wanted to create an American menswear line from scratch,” explains Mattison, who met Marsalis when she shot him for GQ. What may sound like a lofty goal isn’t surprising for the entrepreneur, who found success at a young age thanks to a lucrative tech business. Launched late in 2012, in conjunction with his sleek West Hollywood shop, the designer’s label comprises made-to-measure suits, accessories, denim, and separates for the discerning gentleman.

Clare Vivier Although her line of colorful, locally made bags and accessories sells in 250 stores worldwide, Vivier runs her eponymous Silver Lake boutique like a collective. Among her totes, clutches, and scarves are goods from artisans such as Wendy Polish of Le Feu de l’Eau candles, jewelry designer Grace Lee, and painter Deedee Cheriel. “It’s great to bring in other people who round out our aesthetic,” Vivier says.

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