Richard Foss

A La Carte: Openings, closings, classes, events and South Bay restaurant news

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If you read the Easy Reader online, as many do, you may have wondered what happened to the A La Carte column with restaurant news around the greater South Bay. The author has still been writing it, but it has only appeared in the paper editions until now. We’re catching up on updating the online version, and you should see it regularly again. In the meantime, here are some items you may have missed this year:

January

Barney’s Beanery has 50 beers on tap to help wash down their popular chilis. Photo by Brad jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Barney’s Beanery has 50 beers on tap to help wash down their popular chilis. Photo by Brad jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

An opening….Barney’s Beanery has welcomed their first customers on the upper floor of the Redondo Pier, overlooking the south entrance next to El Torito. As the name suggests, They’re is famous for serving chili, which the original restaurant started doing in 1920, and they have five kinds available along with pizzas, tacos, and other casual food. The original Barney’s in Hollywood used to be a shabby dive but morphed into a hipster spot with décor that could make a peacock feel drab – I haven’t been inside the one in Redondo yet to see if they’re replicating the garish color scheme.

And A Closing… Hotdoggers finally called it quits after more than a year of a dubious concept badly executed. They opened just as another hot dog-themed place less than half a mile away was closing due to lack of interest, and their debut was disastrous – the service was chaotic and there were long waits for food that arrived cold. They never did work out all the problems – when I visited most recently and got a fairly decent burger, the fries had obviously sat a while. The “for lease” sign is up, and it’s someone else’s turn to try to make a go of this space…

And Ghost Restaurants… Speaking of Hotdoggers, their website is still up, as are many others for restaurants that closed weeks or months ago. Obviously places that have shuttered don’t have money to pay their webmasters to do more work, but you’d think that someone at the hosting companies would take the things down just to avoid confusing the public…

February

 Further Proof That Dining Well Makes You Invulnerable… Patrons of Chez Mélange may notice is the restaurant looks the same, but their host looks different. Michael Franks apparently decided to celebrate his successful recovery from a heart attack by growing a beard. He has a new pacemaker, so may be expected to keep serving excellent meals far into the future. Congratulate the new battery-powered restaurateur on your next visit…

Strand House's Greg Hozinsky.

Strand House’s Greg Hozinsky.

Local Folks Get The Gig Of A Lifetime… One of the most prestigious things that any chef in the world can do is to receive an invitation to cook at the James Beard house in New York. Manhattan Beach’s Greg Hozinsky and Neal Frazer of Strand House received that honor, and spent two weeks working on a menu that included sweet corn angnolotti with périgord truffles, peekytoe crab, parmesan fondue, sweet pea emulsion and pea tendrils. Since many of the items on their menu were out of season are not available in New York, they sourced the event in California and shipped them back for the dinner on January 31. By all accounts it was a success, and Manhattan Beach is now even better established as a culinary destination. Congratulations to the chefs and the entire team that braved snow and storm to support them…

Drinking In Style… A friend and I stopped into the Red Room, Manhattan Beach’s tiny hideaway bar, for a beverage, and we were very impressed by the things we tried. The former Side Door has a menu of innovative cocktails that includes some unlikely combinations; I don’t believe I had ever tried anything that used rye whiskey and sparkling sake together, but it was delicious. I have heard from people who have been skeptical about whether craft cocktails were a fad or something that would stand the test of time, and my answer is that it’s actually both. There are places that are just riding this trend with combinations that are novel but nonsensical, and they won’t last, but the places like this one where bartenders are working with subtlety and skill ought to have a bright future.

Transformation of a Saint… The South Bay has a new place to enjoy gastropub food, and it’s inside a place where we’ve already been doing the same thing. St. Rocke has always served better food than the most music venues, winning awards from our readers regularly in the process, and they’ve moved things to another level. Part of the space inside will now be called Kitchen 142, and will feature an ambitious menu that includes sundried tomato polenta fries, duck confit and truffle crepes, and braised short rib with wild mushroom risotto. They’ll be open for dinner only until 10 PM. Those who have been dining out before going to a show will be reconsidering their choice, and it’s a smart move for the club owners…

Changes, Sort Of… Darren’s has maintained a consistent style and décor for seven years, almost an eternity in the fast-changing world of high style downtown Manhattan Beach restaurants. That will change with a makeover this spring, in which the patio will be integrated into the main dining room. This is expected to open up the space, and a new color scheme will further brighten the room. There’s no word yet on how long the restaurant will be closed, but they hope to have it done fairly quickly…

Openings and Changes… Bobby’s South Bay Italian Restaurant has opened in the space vacated by Pinkie’s, and the place has a stylish upscale café look and a small bar stocked with some very good beers. The permanent menu hasn’t been released yet, but at the soft opening they were serving fresh seafood, scampi, and chicken Sorrentino along with classic pastas…

In Redondo another restaurant is serving pastas from regions far north and east of Italy. I stopped in at Doma Kitchen and noticed that they now serve homemade pelmeni, the Siberian ravioli served in a chicken broth with dill. I tried it and found it delicious, and my friend who ordered lagman, the cumin-scented beef stew with potato and noodles, was delighted with his as well. Doma Kitchen is now open from 8 AM until 8 PM, so those who get a sudden craving for Uzbek, Russian, and eclectic international dinners can head for the little cottage on PCH…

March

The Big Move-In… The space formerly occupied by Chez Soi has a new tenant with a focus that is very different from the oher eateries in the area. Nick’s has four branches in Orange County and is expanding north – they’re a classic steak and seafood house, and not to be confused with the identically named Italian chain. Coming to Metlox Plaza is a smart move on their part – they’ll get a large space with high foot traffic in a neighborhood where nobody else is serving a clientele that wants American fare in a family-friendly environment. The lease will be expensive, but they get access to a market that is both large and underserved – their principal competition will probably be Fleming’s rather than any place downtown. Nick’s website promises a summer 2014 opening, which I always regard with some skepticism because I can’t remember a place that has opened on time locally…

The newly renovated Green Store in Hermosa Beach. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

The newly renovated Green Store in Hermosa Beach. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

I strolled into The Green Store in Hermosa to see how different it was from its predecessor and was quite impressed. The store is bright and neat, and it’s a pleasure to browse the aisles. Their selection is both practical and eclectic, serving locals whose shopping list might include a bottle of aspirin, some laundry soap, a deli sandwich, and a $240.00 bottle of Cristal Champagne. The deli sandwiches at that little counter were made with fresh baguettes and the salads looked quite tasty; the Champagne looked delicious too, but I was in too much of a hurry to sample some just then…

First looks… Hook & Plow is open in the space that used to be part of Buona Vita, and they are obviously doing well – the place was packed on a cool Monday night. The menu is small at the moment and they’re open only for dinner, but plans are in the works to also serve lunch. The focus is on boutique ingredients paired in interesting ways – I tried a pork belly and seared scallops combination that was extraordinary, and the chowder, pulled pork sandwich, and house smoked salmon were all very good. The space is small, loud, and a bit cramped, but the ideas are expansive…

Elsewhere in Hermosa, I have dined at Bobby’s South Bay Italian on PCH, which is serving classic New York-style Italian food. If you think of a classic pizza or pasta, they probably make it – they serve the old-fashioned classics, with plenty of garlic and herbed tomato sauce. It’s simple stuff done well, comfort food on the highway… Jimmy’s is open on 190th at Inglewood, and though it’s a sports bar, they’re serving food that might draw in people who don’t know or care what team is playing that night. The salad dressings are homemade, the burgers not the usual frozen patties. I just had a sandwich and an iced tea on the first visit, but will be back to see if the rest of the menu is as good…

Local Deals… Paul Martin’s has found a way to draw people in on the slowest night of the week – their ”Wine Dinner Mondays” offer two salads and two entrees with a choice from twenty different bottles of wine for only $49 for two. Since the food there is good and Paul Martin’s doesn’t stock bad wines, this is a pretty fabulous offer, one I intend to take them up on as soon as possible…

Looking Ahead… Upcoming openings in Manhattan and Redondo aside, it looks like Hermosa will be the epicenter of new restaurant openings this year. There are over ten new restaurants scheduled to open this year, versus two announced and two likely in Manhattan and only about three in Redondo. The smallest community in the South Bay will be where the action is.

Something New In El Porto… Katsu Sushi lasted longer than anything else in the El Porto building at Highland and Rosecrans, but its day is past. The new establishment will be run by renowned restauranteur Michael Cardenas, who is probably best known for his authentic Spanish tapas restaurant in Santa Monica. That doesn’t mean it’s what he’ll do here, because Cardenas also owns a modern American place and an Asian fusion restaurant. He has a flamboyant style, and whatever he does is likely to be more contemporary than anything else in this area of town, which has many good restaurants but few that are innovative…

Packing Up The Van… Another local landmark will be closing as La Sosta at Five Corners in Manhattan Beach gets ready to move to a new location. The low-key restaurant has been popular for their serene environment and stylish Venetian cuisine, but the owner of the building intends to renovate and repurpose it. There are plans for La Sosta to reopen as quickly as possible in a new location in the beach cities, but the details haven’t been released yet…

Big Change on 190th… If you’re a regular customer at Billy’s Deli on 190th, you might have noticed some changes on the menu recently. Steve Roberts, who founded Café Boogaloo and has been the manager at Charlie’s in Redondo, has taken over and upgraded the food, adding seasonal items to what had been a static menu out of the 1950’s. Roberts is an active proponent of the Farm-To-Table movement and is interested in bringing those ideas to this location. It’s a big change in what has been a dull stretch of the boulevard, and if it’s successful then entrepreneurs will probably start eyeing some of the other places in this high traffic area…

The Long Wait Ends Badly… After multiple announcements that they would be opening very soon, the Boardroom in North Manhattan has given up. Their chef Tyler Gugliotta departed for another place after the restaurant was delayed for over a year, and the nearly complete space is now for sale…

And More Changes… Los Muchachos in Hermosa has closed, and reports are that the space will become a Brazilian grill. How this might happen is beyond my reckoning, since it’s a tiny lunch counter as things are – perhaps they have room to expand that isn’t apparent to diners in the current configuration… Another odd space is also getting a new tenant. The asymmetrical building on PCH that used to be Beach Cities Baked Doughnuts has a sign up announcing a restaurant called Jus’ Poke. They’ll specialize in the Hawaiian marinated seafood called poke (pronounced pokey), an interesting concept…

First Look…Bonaventura Gelato has opened across from Café Pierre in downtown MB, serving gourmet ice creams and some Italian-style baked goods. One of their specialties is a German style of gelato called Eisbecher that includes fool-the-eye plates of ice cream that look like steak and french fries, pizza, or spaghetti, composed entirely of ice cream and fruit. It’s an amusing idea well executed, and they may have a clientele that favors their light desserts over the heavy and sweet offerings that predominate elsewhere in town…

Hudson House chef Brooke Williamson. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Hudson House chef Brooke Williamson. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Local Star on TV again… Brooke Williamson of Hudson House is a national name thanks to her previous TV appearances, and now has a new MTV show called House Of Food. It’s an apprentices-under-pressure scenario like so many other “reality TV” productions, but however it fares it will bring more attention to the excellent restaurants she and her husband and partner Nick Roberts have opened in the South Bay…

More Local Notes… It’s always nice to see a success story in the local community, and therefore a pleasure to report that a local restaurant is becoming a chain. El Segundo’s The Soup Bar will be opening three additional restaurants around LA this year, all serving the simple, wholesome fare that has made them popular at the original on Grand Avenue…

 

April

 

Stephen Domingue, years ago, in his Ragin’ Cajun kitchen in Hermosa Beach.

Stephen Domingue, years ago, in his Ragin’ Cajun kitchen in Hermosa Beach.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… Albert Einstein once said that “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.” Many business partnerships have the same problem, and one has just unraveled in Hermosa. Stephen Domingue moved the Ragin Cajun kitchen and décor into Suzy’s Bar & Grill expecting to have some say in the ambiance, and the owners of Suzy’s apparently expected for Steve to run the food while the front of the house stayed as it was. The divorce has begun. Domingue has gotten a lease on the former Chaba Thai restaurant in Redondo and is decamping in that direction; Suzy’s will presumably continue as an eclectic live music venue with a bar menu. Domingue hopes to be open in May with a full menu and family-friendly atmosphere, and one of the most flamboyant restaurateurs in the history of the South Bay will start another chapter in his career… (See follow-up to this, below.)

Is Something Finally Happening?… I have been fascinated with the saga of Spiaggia, the Hermosa restaurant that was open for only two days before closing again. Word is that a new partner has come in with a new concept. The owners of Bratz Brothers, a Valley institution specializing in grilled sausages, apparently want to try a new concept, described only as a “European Café.” They hope to open this summer, but are facing continuing problems with construction and permits. Given that the lease on the building is only for five years and three are gone, they must plan to make a lot of money really fast in order to come out ahead…

From Czech to Sushi, Italian to More Italian… The short-lived Praha restaurant is going to become a sushi bar – the new name is Flying Fin. No word on opening dates yet… Around the corner, the Bottle Inn Redondo should be open by the time you read this in the former Redondo Wine Bistro and Grillish space..

Surprising Newcomer on the Peninsula… Juju-Ya by Mako is open in the Promenade, and they serve a variety of Asian-California fusion items alongside modern Japanese dishes. This is quite a daring restaurant for the area, and it will be interesting to see how well they catch on…

End Of A Long Run… Vince’s Spaghetti and Lasagna House in Torrance is closing in April, and fans of really old school restaurants will be sad. The restaurant’s simple menu of Italian-American pasta in red meat sauce was far behind the times the day it opened in 1973 (the “Since 1945” on the sign referred to a previous operation in Ontario), and their refusal to update anything doomed them to an aging and conservative crowd. No word yet on what’s coming in, but it almost has to be something more contemporary…

A more contemporary take on Italian food will be coming in down the street at the corner of Hawthorne and PCH when Pieology opens. This fast-expanding Orange County-based chain states as part of their corporate mission that they want to produce the healthiest pizzas in the world, which is a bit of a mind-boggling goal – I think most people who are ordering pizza regard it as a bit of a guilty pleasure and suspend dietary concerns for as long as it takes to finish it. We are becoming more conscious of the fact that whatever we eat is going to become part of us, so it’s a laudable goal…

Mea Culpa… In a most recent column, I repeated an aphorism that has been attributed to Albert Einstein. A longtime reader, who shall remain nameless because he’s already gloating enough over catching me on this and I don’t need to expand his head further, took me to task. It turns out that nobody knows who first delivered the phrase in question, and I should have checked before I reprinted it. Let this be a reminder to you all to not take the internet’s word for things. (That enough groveling for ya, Gary?)…

Mid-May Manhattan Food Fest, With Brew on the Side… The South Bay has a new food festival! The first Annual Bite At The Beach will happen on May 17th rom 2 PM to 7 PM, and will have a heavy emphasis of pairings of fine food and craft beers – twenty restaurants and twenty breweries will be pouring, and there will be two panels about beer pairings and creative uses of beer. I’m a big fan of food and beverage education, and like the idea of combining it with a tasting event. Admission is $100.00 per person, and there is a VIP admission with additional tastings for $200. For more information and tickets, go to manhattanbeachchamber.com/bite-at-the-beach/

A Change In Style… Crème de la Crepe’s Manhattan Beach location has had a minor makeover in decor and a major one in menu. The restaurant on Highland next to The Kettle has been renamed F Grill, and has stopped serving crepes – the new menu offers burgers, sandwiches, and French classic dishes. The previous restaurant offered very good food but mysteriously never caught on – in fact, I had to remind people it was there. It’s a low profile location despite the busy street, and here’s hoping the new place finds its market…

Cooking Tips And An Ocean View… It’s fun to learn the techniques behind any artist’s work, both so you can appreciate their skills and improve yours. That’s why the next Chef’s Cooking Series dinner at Terranea is something to look forward to – at these events chef Bernard Ibarra explains the process of selecting ingredients for a dinner and gives information about how it was created while diners savor the result. The next one is on May 15th, and will feature a multi-course meal with wines by Silver Oak. The meals are limited to 30 guests, and the $250.00 admission charge supports the No Kid Hungry charity. For more information or reservations, call 310-265-2836…

Circa, in Manhattan Beach, has become a destination for those who drink as adventurously they eat. Beverage program director Tobin Shea overseas a bar that offers a wide array of handcrafted, historic, and even obscure drinks. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Circa, in Manhattan Beach, has become a destination for those who drink as adventurously they eat. Beverage program director Tobin Shea overseas a bar that offers a wide array of handcrafted, historic, and even obscure drinks. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Dining Early, Dining Well… I’m a big fan of the food at Circa, and like to arrive fairly early before the crush that often happens as the evening moves on. This is why their “5’O’Clock Whistle” promotion suits me perfectly – between 5 and 6:30, you can select three appetizers from their menu for only $12.00. It’s a nice snack to go with a drink after work, and given that this is probably Manhattan Beach’s most arcane craft bar, you won’t be surprised to heart that they have that covered too. I haven’t been there right at 5 PM to see if they actually blow a whistle, or if someone just trills a few bars of some popular tune, but it would be a nice touch…

First Looks… The Bottle Inn Redondo is open, and if you’ve ever longed for the cuisine of the Hermosa Beach landmark in a more contemporary atmosphere, you’re in luck. The menu isn’t as large as the original in Hermosa, but the execution is flawless, and the lively wine bar style of the place makes for a pleasant setting. They’ve been packed most nights, and the decision to open an offshoot looks like a very smart move…

On The Horizon… Dominique’s Kitchen has scheduled a wine dinner with Hahn Vineyards, a premium Napa producer – the date is May 20th, price not set at press time. They may know by the time you read this – you can check at 424-247-9054…

Pack Your Bags… Those who are looking for a getaway might wish to consider lovely Santa Barbara, especially if you have the weekend of June 6th available. That’s when the Julia Child Foundation is sponsoring a food and wine weekend at the Bacara Resort & Spa. There will be cooking demonstrations, educational events, and (my guess) a lot of great food and wine. You can get info at bacaraculinaryweekend.com…

Any new openings, any events I should know about? I’m at Richard@richardfoss.com…