More than 100 elite industry insiders, from executives to CEOs, weighed in on THR's first annual ranking -- was it The Polo Lounge, e.baldi or Soho House that grabbed the top spot?
This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
News Flash: The Power Lunch -- where deals are made, influence is peddled and relationships are forged -- is alive and swell. That might be surprising, given a decade that saw the midday meal leveled by corporate downsizing, rocked by the recession and undermined by an increasingly digital mind-set that often regards a constant email rapport as equivalent to getting to know one another in person. "There's something about being in person that makes all the difference," says Millennium Films president Mark Gill. "In-person alleviates a lot of fears, especially when you are talking someone into doing a movie."
Back in the day, lunch meant Ma Maison, Orso and Morton's as well as still-kicking heavyweights The Polo Lounge, Spago and the Grill on the Alley. The business was different then. People needed to see one another because players drove decisions by passion and instinct in a way that now, in an age of cold bean-counting, seems by turns heroic and quaint. As one senior TV exec observes: "Business used to be done by force of personality. And force of personality isn't enough anymore." Adds producer Lynda Obst: "The song-and-dance is dead. These days, it's all quantifiers -- attachments and numbers."
Indeed, for many in this town, lunch now often is something you want to do rather than something you feel beholden to do. "It's a more ceremonial meal," says Electus chairman Ben Silverman. "You tend to be having it with somebody you are already in business with or truly do want to know better." Sundance Channel GM and exec vp Sarah Barnett notes there's something "sentimentally appealing" to lunching these days, with so much interaction taking place virtually. "I think it may not be that the deals are done at lunch, but it sure helps get them done," she says.
To inaugurate its first-ever Power Lunch Issue, THR editors surveyed more than 100 of the most influential names in the entertainment business. An elite list of CEOs, A-list producers and top agents, managers and lawyers gave their candid takes on where power congregates today and why the midday meal remains important, with its victory laps around the dining room after a big box-office weekend and constant jockeying for status-conferring tables. If Hollywood is, indeed, much like high school, these restaurants constitute its collective cafeteria -- anxiety ever-present, the threat of breaching innumerable unspoken rules of etiquette perpetually looming.
One thing is clear: The once-narrow hierarchy of lunch meccas has become more diffuse, with younger players muscling into the top tier, challenging the established bastions. This new guard includes Craft (CAA's unofficial commissary, until client Tom Colicchio, the chef/owner, left for WME last year) and Bouchon (which is owned by CAA client Thomas Keller and now lures agency big shots like Kevin Huvane). Among the surprises: Once-powerful meeting spot Chaya Brasserie didn't make the top 25, while unassuming South Beverly Grill did.
Lunch has lost many of its indulgences. Iced tea is the new martini. Just about everyone's on a special diet, regardless of whether the intent is to lose weight. It's rare to find people tarrying at their tables beyond an hour and a half. And folks are generally more conscious of cost. Notes producer Keri Selig: "It used to be, 'Oh, I'll take it!' 'No, I'll take it!' Now a lot of people put their credit cards down and share. And people seem to be a little more open to meeting at a different grade of place. You can be more neighborhoody. You can do M Cafe or Cafe Gratitude."
Many of those who've been in the game the longest believe that breaking bread might just be its most benevolent ritual. Explains producer Steve Tisch: "It's fun! This business used to be a lot more fun, and part of that was enjoying each other's company." Phil Rosenthal, who named his production company Where's Lunch and has invested in Bouchon, agrees: "It's a bright spot in your day. Have some pleasure. Otherwise, why are we here?"
Written by Tim Appelo, Matthew Belloni, Rebecca Ford, Merle Ginsberg, Stephen Galloway, Shirley Halperin, Brandon Kirby, Borys Kit, Andy Lewis, Pamela McClintock, Michael O’Connell, Rebecca Sun and Michael Walker.
In an L.A. restaurant landscape filled with old faithfuls, this private club has quickly ascended to the top of the food chain -- mostly for its exclusivity. Sure, its location at the nexus of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills is key, and some laud the decadent 14th-story views ("The most beautiful in West Hollywood," says Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk), but it's the "members only" atmosphere that especially draws industry elite.
Like at an A-list commissary of Hollywood where table-hopping is the main course, everyone who is anyone is here -- from Jim Gianopulos to Julie Bowen, Dana Walden to David Stapf, Leonardo DiCaprio to Lea Michele -- plus, nobody present ever need wonder if the next table holds a somebody or an out-of-town nobody (the answer always is: a somebody). The club bowed in spring 2010 with a following of heavyweights such as Harvey Weinstein (who routinely rents out the venue for private parties during awards weekends), writer-director Paul Haggis (who makes one of the bar's four highly coveted velvet booths his office when in town) and producer Avi Lerner (who much prefers the garden restaurant).
While it's true no one goes there just for the food, notables including Jennifer Meyer (daughter of Universal Studios president and COO Ron and wife of Tobey Maguire) and Nicole Kidman can be spotted munching on popular offerings from executive chef Matthew Armistead such as guacamole and taro chips, kale salad and, of course, that warm chocolate-chip cookie. "You always run into someone -- always," says producer Jane Cha Cutler of the lunch rush. But remember, the admission process is notoriously strict, opaque and pricey (membership begins at $1,800). Rubbernecks need not apply.
With its unique ability to blend Hollywood's old and new guard, this Beverly Hills Hotel eatery remains a unique mecca that caters equally to celebrities and executives, from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Mark Wahlberg to Mary J. Blige, Brett Ratner and Stacey Snider.
They're drawn to the restaurant's most popular dishes -- the McCarthy salad, above all -- though insiders also request off-the-menu items such as pancakes and waffles. Booths Nos. 1 and 2 remain the most coveted (Charlie Chaplin kept a daily reservation at No. 1, which remained empty whenever he didn't show), and you'll frequently spot former Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing sitting in a quiet corner. "The booths are so private, you can actually hear each other talk, and they're always full of interesting people," she notes.
Not least among them in the 72 years since the restaurant opened: Marlene Dietrich was a regular and refused to wear the obligatory skirt, leading management to change the "no slacks" rule. The Lounge is going through a subtle revamp to be unveiled in March, but its appeal to tradition remains unchanged.
By the time Edoardo Baldi opened e. baldi in 2006, he'd learned traditional Tuscan cooking inside out from his famous father, namesake founder of Santa Monica's Giorgio Baldi.
While people come to see and be seen among regulars Brad Grey, Ridley Scott, Bob Daly, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jerry Weintraub, there's no doubt this is one of L.A.'s foodiest restaurants. Dieting ladies munch on the seafood carpaccio and grilled langoustines, heartier eaters go for corn agnolotti and fresh pastas, and everybody loves the Dover sole.
Chef Baldi has received standing ovations at private dinners he's made for former Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel and wife Jane and cooks for Tom Cruise (Katie Holmes adored his food). While there are no off-the-menu items, he caters to requests by regulars: Peter Morton likes to have his sauces modified. Just don't ask Edoardo for table No. 1 (next to the window) when it's booked by Brian Grazer, Denzel Washington, Woody Allen, Arnold Kopelson or the like: "That table causes World War III," Baldi says.
Turns out, the chef-owner himself does the seating just before the slew of agents, art dealers and socialites arrive for lunch.
David Geffen prefers the second booth from the left. When Clint Eastwood pops in with his lawyer Bruce Ramer, he orders the Dover sole ($44.75).
Sony TV's Steve Mosko meets every six weeks with Seinfeld producers Howard West and George Shapiro. "We will only have lunch in the same booth and sit in the same seats and order the same thing," he says. "It's been that way for 15 years."
Indeed, almost since it opened in 1984, the Grill has served as Beverly Hills' unofficial executive commissary, a daily check-in on who's commanding one of the L-shaped collection of 14 moguls-only booths perched slightly above the midlevel agents and finance types dining below.
Gawking at boldface names is frowned upon, but when a true double-A-lister walks in -- Muhammad Ali, Bruce Springsteen -- a 5-to-10-second silence falls over the dining room. Staffers call it "The Hush."
When production gourmet caterer Amy Sweeney opened Ammo in 1997, it was a to-go window on Highland off Santa Monica Boulevard, a no-man's-land for restaurants.
A year later, she was joined by Benny Bohm, now her business partner. Spike Jonze dropped in, and Cameron Diaz would lunch late with paramour Jared Leto.
In 2000, Sweeney and Bohm added a dining room, and in 2004, they took over the space next door, creating the Ammo that's been known ever since by regulars including Shine America CEO Rich Ross, Disney/ABC TV exec vp Kevin Brockman, director Bill Condon, screenwriter David Goyer, producer Todd Lieberman, Jennifer Coolidge and Bret Easton Ellis.
A convenient place for anyone in the Valley -- from Warner Bros. to Universal to Disney -- to meet anyone in the city, the restaurant acts as an industry cantina; the two semi-private booths in the back are ideal for deals. The most popular dish is a brown rice stir-fry with tofu or chicken and pico de gallo. "It's the mishmash of cultures that makes it so SoCal," says Bohm. Adds TV director Daniel Minahan: "Always get the rice, vegetable and tofu bowl."
Leslie Lopez, guest-relations director of this Thomas Keller resto, knows exactly what Simon Fuller, Susan and Robert Downey Jr., Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth and James L. Brooks want.
"Most people don't even open the menu," she says. All they do is tell her if they're vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan, and chef David Hands whips up an impeccable meal. Popular items include the trout, salmon salad and a new toasted farro salad (Antonio Banderas wants it named after him).
There's no one table that's desirable: Jimmy Iovine lunches on the patio, but Brian Grazer likes the tables by the outdoor wall. For execs from CAA, MGM, UTA, Gersh and Ryan Seacrest's company, it's a canteen -- albeit a Parisian-style, marbled-floor one.
Says Seacrest, a Bouchon investor, "I have shared many meals there with my family, friends from American Idol, network executives, my team, and we had our holiday party there, too."
The famous smoked sturgeon and bagels are flown in twice weekly from the celebrated original Barney Greengrass on New York's Upper West Side, but the real draw at the L.A. restaurant is the rooftop deck, where the power scene includes agents-on-a-diet tucking into the cranberry salad with chicken, designers like Christian Louboutin and celebrities including Kate Hudson, Elton John and Billy Crystal.
"Come for the whitefish, stay for the view," says one insider. Adds a former film-fest exec: "People only lunch at BG when trying to make a public display of poaching or reminding people they're still in the mix. It's a fishbowl in there. Also, surprisingly good matzoball soup." But beware of hidden charges -- hitting the department store below can seriously affect the tab.
With a preposterously rich Hollywood legacy -- Billy Wilder slept there! John Belushi died there! Lindsay Lohan got banned for skipping a $46,000 bill! -- eating in the faux-Norman castle splendor of this snug dining room or serene outdoor terrace can impart a sense of the iconic to lunch.
Agents, managers and boldfaces (including Lohan, her ban lifted for now) bask in its simulacrum of classic Hollywood, as meticulously rendered as chef Carolynn Spence's bourguignonne adorning her aged strip steak and fries. The menu tends toward friendly -- the crispy bass sandwich, hangar steak salad or charred branzino with sweet corn relish -- and the overscheduled tend to linger over an espresso under white umbrellas.
"The go-to spot for clients who avoid paparazzi," says Brad Schenck, a Paradigm agent. Regulars include Jennifer Aniston, Alexander Skarsgard and Carey Mulligan.
The industry diner counts director Steven Soderbergh, producer Mel Brooks, producer Mark Canton, ICM’s Scott Wexler, Matthew Weiner and the Wayans brothers among its longtime regulars.
Opened 26 years ago by siblings Adam and David Lewis, whose parents founded Hamburger Hamlet in 1950 as a safe haven for blacklisted contract players like themselves (dad played alongside Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo; mom was Marlo Thomas’ dresser on That Girl), Kate Mantilini’s comfort-food friendly menu and convenient location (just down the road from Management 360, across from BWR Public Relations and The Weinstein Co. and two blocks from Brillstein Entertainment Partners and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) make it a heavily trafficked eatery for walk-ins.
Even with ample seating, true power-lunchers lunge for one of 12 booths along the wall of windows. While Kate’s new online reservations system accepts requests for the coveted nooks, be forewarned if you plan on talking business.
“There’s an echo effect,” says one industry insider. As for tourists, they, too, have a favorite four-top. Says Adam Lewis, whose brother is head chef, “It’s where Pacino and De Niro sat when they filmed Heat” — and now Table 24 is the name of a cocktail on Kate’s new mixology menu.
Housed in the former Morton’s, Cecconi’s continues the industry association with a clientele heavy on CAA agents from Century City, salted with celebrities and West Hollywood townies. “Our clientele is really mixed,” says GM Marino Monferrato.
The restaurant traces its lineage to London’s storied Cecconi’s and is owned by Soho House, which shares chef Andrea Cavaliere; insiders say a lunch of Cavaliere’s comfort Ital-Californian at Cecconi’s is the next best thing to joining the private club.
Suits in a hurry order the off-the-menu daily piato unico, a single course of protein, carb and salad -- say, herb-crusted chicken, cannelloni and baby greens. Aside from grilled octopus and halfportions of pastas like farro orecchiette, the big hit with the lunch crowd is the pizzas, a traditional margherita-style and one topped with black truffles.
“If the first pizza that goes out is the truffle, everybody gets it,” says Monferrato. When the weather is nice, regulars request the patio; inside, “the beauty of the layout is, you can see everybody and be seen,” says Monferrato.
In the house: Amanda Seyfried, Simon Cowell, Emily Blunt, January Jones, Halle Berry and Food Network producer David Hoffman, who cites another reason to love Cecconi’s: “It still amazes me — the food is good, and the prices are as cheap as [local diner] Norm’s, half a mile away.”
“Honestly, there is no better place for sushi on the globe than Katsuya,” Ellen DeGeneres has tweeted. “Nothing even compares! Thanks Katsuya for what you do!”
Yes, it can get loud, and the tables are close -- but that’s exactly what one Emmy-nominated rising-star actor likes about the place: “Sitting that close to someone while pitching something generates a certain level of intimacy.”
Founding chef Katsuya Uechi has spun off Katsu-yas, many created by ubiquitous designer Philippe Starck, from Laguna Beach to Houston. The Brentwood location is more high-wattage, where Patrick Dempsey won’t touch his rice and Joss Whedon has dined solo.
At the original Studio City Katsu-ya, you’re more apt to see lots of low-key Warner Bros. execs. Says one insider, “Everyone orders the same three things: tuna on crispy rice, albacore sashimi with crispy onions and manna-from-heaven baked crab rolls.”
The grande dame of lunch spots has been serving Hollywood notables from Paul Newman to the Kardashians for 57 years. The restaurant has seen more than its share of history, from Robert Wagner proposing to Natalie Wood to JFK sneaking into a specially designed private room (the Secret Service mandated two exits) to get his fix of fettuccine alfredo.
But La Scala’s signature dish -- and still its most popular -- is the chopped salad, which owner Gigi Leon (daughter of founder Jean Leon) calls a “designer salad” for the endless ways the lettuce, salami, mozzarella and garbanzo bean combination can be customized.
“Although by the time you add two ingredients to it, you need to take a second mortgage,” jokes The Ricki Lake Show producer Josh Sabarra. (Regulars often order the off-the-menu unchopped version.)
Music dealmakers and directors favor the 14 booths that wrap around the walls, though one insider advises to “belly up to the bar in the back for more privacy and better service.” Leon says whispering and handshaking peak during the week before the Oscars, but it’s a deal that never happened that she remembers most: a young John Travolta huddling with Orson Welles about a project.
Thanks to its relaxed-modern vibe and Four Seasons locale, Culina (Latin for “kitchen”) has become a go-to spot for out-of-town players and Angeleno execs alike.
Everyone from NBCUniversal cable chairman Bonnie Hammer to A+E Networks’ Nancy Dubuc frequents the Italian hotspot, which counts a rigatoni with fennel sausage, spaghetti alla chitarra and chopped salad among its most popular dishes.
The central three booths are most coveted, though the upper patio buzzes on warm days. “Culina is a bright, sophisticated space with good food in a location that’s easy for nearly everyone,” notes E! president Suzanne Kolb of the restaurant, which opened just in time for the Academy Awards three years ago. “It works well for a meeting, plus you get the bonus of some fun people-watching.”
Although its corporate-chain identity is a turnoff for some -- “It’s like a Mall of America restaurant,” sniffs Electus chairman Ben Silverman -- this 3-year-old entry from the massive Hillstone Restaurant Group (the people behind Houston’s) presents a well-edited menu, from the grilled artichoke appetizer to the French dip.
Fans include Django Unchained executive producer Michael Shamberg and UTA’s David Park and Eric Kuhn, as well as Kitchen Nightmares producer Arthur Smith, who says: “It’s one of my favorite places. The service is among the fastest, and the Thai steak salad is really good.” (Another insider says it’s “the best place for a 45-minute lunch -- sometimes you are back at your desk by 1:35.”)
Industry players can survey the scene from spacious crescent-shaped booths, and those looking to conduct business more informally can go around the corner for the pared-down selection of sandwiches, sushi and sides at the restaurant’s Honor Bar.
Revenge is a dish best served cold … or hot: When owner and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio left CAA for rival WME, CAA’s agents stopped going to his restaurant even though it’s mere footsteps from their headquarters, taking their expense accounts with them.
But Craft isn’t suffering as WME agents, whose offices are located in Beverly Hills, are making it a point to pick up the slack. Century City law firms, of course, are frequent denizens of the spacious restaurant, along with executives from nearby 20th Century Fox, including chairman-CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment Jim Gianopulos.
Also spotted: Warren Beatty, Emma Stone. By far, its most coveted tables are the six booths. Favorite items on the daily-changing menu by current chef Ray England include salmon salad with carrots, oranges and tangerine vinaigrette, beef short ribs and diver scallops that are hand-harvested.
“Love the prix fixe menu and the location near our new Fox family,” says Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing at DreamWorks Animation, which has a new distribution deal with Fox.
Beverly Hills’ version of the storied London brand still does big business nearly 40 years after its debut. Agents from the neighboring WME office, including Ari Emanuel, do many a deal at the Chinese bistro with food by chefs Pui Lam Tsang and Yi Jia Qian.
Assistant maitre d’ Tamiko Whitsett handles the lunch service, where squab lettuce wraps are top sellers. Those hoping to be seen request one of the first five tables, including perennial favorite table 1. Chow’s Fish Joanna -- with a patented sauce so beloved, it provoked a lawsuit against a copycat restaurant that Mr Chow won last year -- can be made special, though it’s not on the menu.
Liz & Dick executive producer Larry Thompson calls the spot “simply the coolest and best place to eat in the world.” For those looking for lunch on the Westside, Chow’s world now includes a Malibu branch that opened New Year’s Eve in the Country Mart spot vacated by industry fave Nobu.
The scene can get loud, with boldface names from Bob Iger to Robert Downey Jr. to Arnold Schwarzenegger routinely spotted in one of the 50 seats at the cozy trattoria.
A Brentwood mainstay since opening in 1989, the hotspot is family-friendly, with pizza served from its wood-burning oven a favorite among kids and their A-list parents. Kelly Meyer proclaims Toscana her “favorite lunch spot,” and Jack Nicholson deemed it “best in L.A.” in 2007’s The Bucket List (director Rob Reiner is a fan).
Its Northern Italian fare hasn’t deviated much in 24 years -- even the lobster spaghetti “special” is available most of the time, and regulars can expect to be greeted by name and have their orders on the table without cracking a menu.
Wolfgang Puck’s 31-year-old institution closed its doors for three months last year to renovate the always-packed patio, granting it year-round accessibility (thanks to a new retractable roof).
Inside, there’s now a casual fireside area designated first-come, first-served. Like the dinner menu, Spago’s lunch offerings are new, with such popular and healthy additions as a falafel sandwich and a watercress and lentil salad topped with tandoori-spiced Scottish salmon.
Feeling less chaste? Puck’s Austrian signature, wiener schnitzel, can still be found -- with a side of potato and cucumber salads. Loyalists include DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, Rob Reiner and Brett Ratner. Pitch Perfect producer Paul Brooks also is a fan but prefers the less business-minded Saturday service.
Emilio Baglioni -- drafted by Jack Warner to relocate to Los Angeles from New York and run his Warner Bros. commissary before opening his own eatery -- would be proud.
Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza, occupying the former site of Baglioni’s Emilio’s, is one of the most sought-after stops on the Hollywood lunch train. Jeffrey Katzenberg recently brought Steven Spielberg; celebrities and top studio executives from nearby Paramount clamor for the fried squash blossoms and tomato and burrata pizza.
The most desirable seats are the round tables in front, though a top publicist likes to sit against the back wall so she can survey the warm, bustling scene. Says USA Network co-president Jeff Wachtel, “If I were an agent and all my clients were kids, I’d eat here every day.”
Its industry bona fides are obvious, from the sight of owner Michael Ovitz at his favorite table to the menu, which features more than 60 creations named in honor of such loyal patrons as Christina Applegate (baked salmon, crab, avocado and sweet soy nigiri) and Robert Pattinson (whose “Twilight” roll features spicy tuna, crab, avocado and seared albacore).
“The food is delicious, but the sense of belonging when you walk in is the real draw,” says Bones executive producer Stephen Nathan (a popular Hamasaku spider roll is the namesake of Nathan’s turntablist son, DJ Spider).
Executive chef Wonny Lee and head sushi chef Yoya Takahashi accommodate customization and are prepping a robata (grill) menu for those with limited expense accounts.
There’s something new for top power players, too: a still-unnamed $100 roll packed with langoustine, toro, uni, truffle and caviar and dusted with 24-karat gold flakes and an expanded sake program that includes Flying Pegasus, a $500 bottle rarely found in the U.S.
The healthy-comfort-food spot is practically an adjunct dining room for Sony executives. Thanks to its studio-friendly proximity, execs bring their Fox and Sony clientele for the ever-popular turkey burger (for the men) and quinoa with veggies, chicken or tofu (for the women).
Chef-owner Akasha Richmond, who previously served as Michael Jackson’s and Barbra Streisand’s personal chef, opened the restaurant’s doors in February 2008 with her husband, Alan Schulman, who glad-hands such regulars as film producers Todd Black and Samuel Dickerman, The Schiff Co.’s David Schiff, Roland Emmerich, Darren Star, TV director Jack Bender, David Spade and Courteney Cox.
Richmond says she’s even affected by the studios’ no-work holidays: “I sometimes feel I should close with them!” When open, the best seat in the house for talking business is in the restaurant’s attached cafe, which offers more privacy.
Emphasis should be put on the middle letter of chef Neal Fraser’s BLD because the Mid-City eatery has been a popular power-lunch spot since opening in 2006. (The B and D stand for “breakfast” and “dinner,” in case the acronym still proves mysterious.)
The unpretentious restaurant attracts clientele from the neighboring CBS Television City, along with Connie Britton, Shameless exec producer John Wells and Randy Jackson. Regular Cuba Gooding Jr., whose boxing gym is nearby, praises BLD as “a great place to have meetings and not be interrupted.”
The tomato soup has always been coveted, but the spicy Cuban-style pork sandwich has become a dish not to miss (Fraser won his 2006 Iron Chef America title using pork). Table 52, a large, round table that can fit four while leaving room for laptops and scripts, is the most popular, but many also love table 43, with its view of the kitchen.
In late 2012, sous-chef Lewis Chan became chef de cuisine, the catalyst for a menu overhaul that is in the works.
Chef Agostino Sciandri’s Tuscan-style trattoria has long been a favorite of East Coasters with a yen for good Italian food: Michael Mann, Harvey Weinstein, Robert De Niro and Paul Herman, De Niro’s co-star in Silver Linings Playbook (the latter three are original investors).
Weinstein is such a fan that he has been known to dine there three times a day, spacing the sittings a couple of hours apart. Regulars don’t bother to look at the menu, says Sciandri: “They know what they want.”
The lunch menu recently was revamped for the first time since Ago opened in 1997 to emphasize lighter midday offerings, but any dinner item, including the sea bass and salmon, can be ordered off-menu.
Herman says the patio is “the best in Los Angeles,” but for really discreet dealmaking, there’s the private Rotunda Room in back (which also houses the wine collection), where Sean Penn celebrated his 50th birthday.
It looks like a jumped-up New England crab shack, but make no mistake: Son of a Gun knows how to lure the Angeleno.
Owner-chefs Jon Shook (recently engaged to Chicago Fire’s Shiri Appleby) and Vinny Dotolo spent years running one of L.A.’s premier catering companies, which paved the way for their own Food Network show, 2 Dudes Catering, before they opened their first restaurant, Animal.
Son of a Gun, reminiscent of their L.A.-beach community roots, bowed in 2011 and, after celebrity chefs Thomas Keller and Anthony Bourdain made appearances, quickly landed on Hollywood’s radar. “Where the chefs eat, the entertainment industry follows,” says Daniel Warrilow, who manages the restaurant with Dan Scott.
Fish and chips and a lobster BLT are popular lunch items, but the signature might be the fried chicken sandwich, which took Shook and Dotolo eight tries to achieve the right combo of brioche bun, chicken breading and slaw. Fans include WME’s Dan Aloni, who calls the cuisine “original,” and producer David Hoberman, who adds: “Who in L.A. serves unbelievable lobster rolls and fried chicken with homemade coleslaw? And it’s really varied: You can eat healthy; you can eat rich.”
With a list of menu items such as “I Am Fabulous” (raw lasagna with cashew ricotta) and “I Am Awesome” (eggplant parmesan on grilled panini bread), just placing an order here can make a person feel good.
Stepbrothers Ryland Engelhart and Cary Mosier opened their organic-vegan-raw specialty restaurant in the Bay Area in 2004 then expanded to L.A., first in Larchmont in March 2011 then in Venice in July 2012.
Colin Farrell and Anne Hathaway are among those taking in the communal and sustainable vibe at Larchmont, and “all the Arquettes come in,” says Mosier. Insiders consider it a hotspot for courting indie and new talent, and it’s an especially popular pick when power-lunching with actor clients on rigid diets.
The most popular dishes are the “I Am Whole” macrobiotic sea-vegetable rice or quinoa bowl and (ironically for Hollywood) a curried-lentil dish called “I Am Humble.”