Simone: Dining Review

Photographed by Josh Telles
Adept, by-the-numbers California cuisine.

The Hollywood Reporter reviews L.A.'s latest shrine to California cuisine from virtuoso chef Jessica Largey and director Joe Russo.

It's been decades since California cuisine was revolutionary. The ideals at the center of the movement — seasonal local ingredients; a polyglot approach to European, Asian and Central American cooking — are now so widely accepted as to be unremarkable. Which is why L.A.'s grand new shrine to the faith, overseen by one of its most esteemed young talents, has set a tricky path for itself.

Simone, in downtown's Arts District, is a partnership between chef Jessica Largey — the winner of a James Beard Award for her work at three-Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos — and Avengers and Captain America director Joe Russo. (Hence the opening party in September attended by Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Kevin Feige.) It consists of a high-ceilinged main room, done up in a gracious contemporary deco style, and a couple of overwrought antechambers featuring corny pseudo-Ed Ruscha word art.

Largey, who got her start locally in the kitchens of Providence and the since-shuttered Bastide, earned her Beard prize as Rising Star of the Year in 2015 for a reason. The 32-year-old Ventura County native has a deft and restrained way of cooking, evidenced in acutely focused compositions (a red lentil hummus starter with smashed cucumbers, a short-rib entree with black barley porridge). This precision, whether with a sweet potato or a cut of sturgeon, means Largey and her team rarely make a false move. It makes for, at the least, a trustworthy dining experience.

And, at moments — especially those involving the grilled cabbage, festooned with celery root, pickled apple and a macadamia salsa macha — there will even be a measurable thrill. Still, it's too rare at Simone, which, out of the gate, plays it far safer than its capacities merit, yielding solid but unmemorable dishes (a Caesar salad variation; casarecce pasta featuring squid and dill-cashew pesto).

Largey is a certain virtuoso, but does she have a singular voice? In her first position elevated to No. 1, she's tracing rather than advancing the ideas of her forebears. (As a pointed contrast, see the risks and rewards of Miles Thompson's recent tenure at the revivified Michael's in Santa Monica.) For now, Simone is stuck where no ambitious, top-line restaurant wants to be in a city accustomed to bold flavors and distinct points of view: as the suitable contingency when a reservation can't be landed at the more exciting places nearby.

Of course, Simone isn't fated to be an Arts District also-ran. Its cocktail program, conceived by Iain McPherson, is an inventive provocation and proof that daring can transpire there. It's just not yet on the plate.

449 S. Hewitt St.; 424-433-3000
Recommended: Grilled cabbage ($18), Japanese cheesecake ($12)
Best table: The velvet banquettes in the main room or the chef’s counter. 

This review is based on multiple visits. Reservations are made under another name. Meals are covered by THR.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.