The idea of creating a smaller restaurant, referable as Abigaile’s “Little Sister,” had been swirling around in both of their minds. They were itching to try their hands at something new and liberated, both culinary and in concept. So when a cozy, 50-seat space opened up a few months ago in the heart of downtown’s dining mecca on Manhattan Avenue, the duo jumped on the chance.
“It’s one of those things, if you have a small intimate space you get to push the boundaries a little bit,” explained Sanford, who also owns WildCraft Sourdough Pizza in Culver City. “It changes the types of dishes you can do, like scalability coming out of the kitchen. We can do something really cool that’s in the vein of Abigaile but a little bit more focused in terms of specific food regions we want to do.”
The menu will reflect Vuong’s interpretation of Euro-influenced Southeast Asian cuisine, blending French techniques and British influences that exist in that culture.
“For instance, think about how the Vietnamese banh mi came about,” said Vuong, whose personal roots lie in the region. “How do you get a baguette in Vietnam? Obviously French colonization happened, and I don’t think many people understand the history behind Southeast Asia.”
“The food is really close to the heart as far as what I want to introduce to the South Bay,” he continued. “The high quality without the exuberant cost. We want to have a fun eating experience that’s new to this area.”
A sketch of soon-to-come 50-seat restaurant Little Sister in Manhattan Beach. 1131 Manhattan Ave. Courtesy of Brian Cooley
Through the “elevated” menu at Little Sister, Vuong said he hopes to introduce or reintroduce the varied spices and flavors of countries like Laos, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia “in a modern sense while staying true to the traditions of importing the right spices from the respective culture.”
That means that while Vuong and Sanford will integrate locally-sourced ingredients as they currently do at Abigaile, they plan to bring in these authentic spices from abroad, as well as its wide selection of wine and cheeses.
“I think that being responsible in terms of sourcing is evaluating what you have near you and trying to integrate it, especially when the quality is there,” Sanford explained. “But there are also some great things that we bring in that we think differentiate us and make us unique.”
Sanford said the interior of the restaurant will be reminiscent of a cozy, authentic cooking environment, with its décor reflecting the menu: European-influenced Southeast Asian characteristics and a touch of punk. He said he believes Little Sister will help vary the diversity of dining options on Manhattan Avenue.
“Particularly down here, there’s a lot to be done, food-wise,” Sanford said. “We’re fortunate to be in that zone because it’s a really neat little food area and we can help enhance that.”
The restaurant is slated to open “late spring, early summer,” he said.