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Mask up and show proof of vaccination at the hostess stand. 2021 has been a strange year, and stranger still within the L.A. dining scene, where the pandemic’s ongoing fluctuations and shifting mandates collided with patrons’ risk tolerance. As the omicron variant spreads, perennially tough reservations like Gjelina and Bavel have been reeling from newly affected employees.
Add to this restaurateurs’ attempts to hire staff as minimum wage measures push baseline hourly pay upward, with West Hollywood raising the standard to $17.64 — the highest in the nation — for hotel workers beginning Jan. 1. (The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009.)
Yet dining culture persists. It can be found in a return to grand formality at Fanny’s at the Academy Museum, or at the blossoming multiplicity of Instagram-only delivery options, or in the latest wave of energetic new kitchens in Hollywood. Here are 10 highlights.
THEY WILL SURVIVE
Beverly Hills gem Maude (212 S. Beverly Dr.), celebrity chef Curtis Stone’s tasting-menu concept which had previously earned a Michelin star, will soon re-emerge following a brief COVID-era pivot earlier this year when it was The Pie Room, a savory-and-sweet takeaway pastry shop. Another Michelin-anointed restaurant, the veggie-centric Santa Monica omakase sushi spot Shunji (3003 Ocean Park Blvd.), has found a new home after it lost its old one on Pico Boulevard — famously a former Chili Bowl restaurant shaped like an actual chili bowl. Speaking of architectural gems, Hollywood’s exquisite midcentury 101 Coffee Shop (6145 Franklin Ave.), shuttered a year ago and immortalized in Swingers, has been revived as the Clark Street Diner by the acclaimed Eastside bread brand.
FORMALITY’S NEW REIGN
Fanny’s (6067 Wilshire Blvd.), the New American restaurant at the three-month-old Academy Museum, is bringing back serious dinner service: jacketed captains, staffers mixing salads tableside, the whole shebang. Managing partner Bill Chait (Bestia, Otium) has said he’s inspired by the great see-and-be-seen rooms of yesteryear.
YOU CAN ALWAYS GO DOWNTOWN
The downtown L.A. intersection of Broadway and 11th Street at the southernmost end of the Historic Core is seeing multiple openings in a short span from some of the most prominent restaurateurs in the country. Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne (AOC, Lucques) debuted a pair of offerings at the new Proper Hotel (1100 S. Broadway): Portuguese-Spanish concept Caldo Verde and its more casual rooftop sister, Cara Cara.
Across the street, Chicago’s Stephanie Izard (the first woman to win Top Chef), who in June opened a branch of her famed Girl and the Goat in the nearby Arts District, will in January bow an iteration of her Peruvian concept, Cabra, at the Hoxton Hotel (1060 S. Broadway). Cater-corner, in the newly restored Herald-Examiner building, Walter and Margarita Manzke (Republique) had previously announced a project before focusing on their Parisian-inspired bistro Bicyclette on the Westside. (The restaurant space remains vacant.) Meanwhile, a block and a half to the north, Loam (927 S. Broadway) is the strongest showing yet to launch at the base of the Ace Hotel.
It’s to be determined how often Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters will cameo at her Lulu (10899 Wilshire Blvd.) at the Hammer. But landing her was a publicity coup for museum director Ann Philbin, and regardless of whether the legend’s around, the courtyard space will be operated by some of her closest compatriots.
THE NEW SCENES
Cal-French bistro Gigi’s (904 N. Sycamore) — an immediate crossroads for those working in film, fashion and music — opened in a once low-profile stretch of southern Hollywood called the Sycamore District, just steps from mecca boutique Just One Eye and Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery. The Bemelmans Bar-inspired room, adorned with murals by Andie Dinkin, regularly draws everyone from Hacks star Hannah Einbinder and Lady Gaga stylist Sandra Amador to Reza Fahim, co-creator (with The Weeknd) of HBO’s anticipated The Idol. (Gigi’s recently reported half a dozen COVID cases among its staff, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.) Further west, Craig’s manager Tommy Salvatore has announced he’s starting his own clubby restaurant project, taking over Thomas Keller’s shuttered Bouchon in Beverly Hills. The kitchen at the eponymous Tommy’s (235 N. Canon Dr.) will be run by Vartan Abgaryan, most recently of 71Above in downtown L.A. and Yours Truly in Venice.
MOD MEX REDUX
Modern Mexican cuisine’s light, bright, bold style has proven irresistible for L.A. restaurant investors, who tend to back such ventures in ultra-stylish spaces. But they’ve had an unlucky run over recent years, with the short-lived tenure of high-profile entries such as Diego Fernandez’s Verlaine in West Hollywood and Gabriela Camara’s Onda in Santa Monica. Yet the new guard keeps coming, even headlong through the pandemic, with downtown L.A.’s Damian (2132 E. 7th Pl.), from the noted Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera, now in swing, along with Mirame (419 N. Canon Dr.) in Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach’s Sonora-centric Esperanza Cocina de la Playa (309 Manhattan Beach Blvd.).
In March, B.J. Novak teamed with Otium chef Timothy Hollingsworth on Chain, which served limited-edition, gourmet takes on classics like Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion (dubbed the Bustin’ Onion). Perhaps because John Mayer, Mindy Kaling and Kiernan Shipka were posting their red-and-white takeout boxes, the stuff was selling out within minutes. Now social media and ghost kitchens are creating demand for new must-haves. Among them: AGL’s Barbeque Meats (@aglscraftmeats), which has been working off an unpermitted 1,000-gallon offset pit smoker, and Debi Sushi (@debisushi), which specializes in gem-like, Korean-influenced chirashi presentations studded with candied pistachios, sunflower seeds and flowers.
Jerry Greenberg — the perfectionist business mind behind Sugarfish, Kazunori, Uovo and HiHo — has spent two decades chasing a singular bite of steak he first encountered in the South of France. He ended up buying into a grass-fed Wagyu cattle operation in New Zealand to sustainably supply his heralded new omakase-oriented beef concept, Matu (239 S. Beverly Dr.), in Beverly Hills, which specializes in wet-aged beef.
HOLLYWOOD AND DINE
Good thing the historic Cinerama Dome is now expected to reopen in 2022. Hollywood — the neighborhood — is on one of its periodic restaurant upswings. Gastropub the Pikey has been reborn as a smart Euro-Cal bistro called Horses (7617 Sunset Blvd.) with a killer endive-anchored Caesar salad. Venice favorite Superba has secured an outpost at the longtime home of the Cat & Fiddle, after April Bloomfield’s buzzy Hearth & Hound imploded shortly after its debut when her business partner Ken Friedman was accused of sexual harassment. A storied recording studio once used by the likes of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Beck is now a new-school Italian dining room called Grandmaster Recorders (1518 N. Cahuenga Blvd.) from the impresarios behind WeHo’s E.P. & L.P. where you can find squid-ink cavatelli, Bistecca Fiorentina and a whole lot of Petrossian caviar.
Perhaps the toughest reservation in L.A. right now is tiny tasting-menu temple Phenakite (1370 N. St. Andrews Pl.), a new Michelin honoree at the Second Home campus. Up next: Chef Lincoln Carson, nominated for a James Beard Award for his work at Bon Temps, returns with a Paris-meets-Lyon bistro called Mes Amis (1541 Wilcox Ave.). Evan Funke, the laureled handmade pasta maker of Venice’s Felix, will open his ode to Rome, Mother Wolf (1545 Wilcox Ave.), and the NeueHouse-adjacent space formerly housing Paley will be turned into Magari, a Japanese-Italian concept from, among others, Michelin-anointed chef Yoshiyuki Okuno, who runs the Milanese-minded La Brianza in Tokyo.
Courage (777 N. Virgil Ave.) launched in October 2020. But a March 2021 story in The New York Times created a cronut-level sensation out of its Montreal-by-way-of-California bagels. Now the wait can easily be an hour long. Worse, it’s worth it. (Meanwhile, a block south, Sqirl cafe — itself a onetime hype nexus — has become a sedate stop following its summer 2020 moldy-jam scandal.) Courage’s singular, baguette-inspired bagel has a shatteringly crisp exterior and ultra-soft center, along with seeding on both sides. Phil Rosenthal, host of Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil, told The Hollywood Reporter in October that it’s “the reinvention of the bagel … it’s like literally reinventing the wheel.” Smoked salmon looks to be the most popular order. But the option generously topped with wild Alaskan salmon roe and a nesting of dill is unsurpassed.
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