Praise the Pomegranate

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Fried Sweet Potato Slices at Upper West

Zagat has spoken: Los Angeles was the most exciting food city in America in 2017. And many of the restaurants and chefs putting L.A. at the top of the Zagat list actually work in Santa Monica, which makes the city perfectly suited to host its own Restaurant Week.

Unlike other such culinary programs that focus on meal discounts, Santa Monica Restaurant Week celebrates Santa Monica’s healthy eating scene. The city boasts four weekly farmers markets that are packed three days a week: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. And Santa Monica is, after all, a popular tourist destination where locals can bike ride, roller skate, surf, swim and paddleboard all year round. Eating well is the way
to live here.

Spanning Jan. 8 to 14, Santa Monica Restaurant Week has more than 30 restaurants across eight neighborhoods offering at least one dish that features a special ingredient available this winter at any of the city’s farmers markets. It could have been blood orange, cauliflower, kale, or the tangerine, but this year Santa Monica Travel & Tourism picked the pomegranate: a ruby-red fruit that’s rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

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Birth of a Dream

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Photo by Carley Rudd

“Chez Tex,” reads the yellow painted letters on the glass door on Main Street. Maybe you’ve passed by and wondered, “Who’s Tex?”

It’s Jesse Tex Feldman, a 36-year-old restaurateur named after his grandfather, and whose restaurant is the only eatery on the east side of Main Street between Rose Avenue and Marine Street.

Jesse grew up at Ashland Avenue and Fourth Street in Santa Monica. Twelve years ago his family opened Barndiva, a wedding destination in Healdsburg known for its elegant farm-to-table fine dining. Let’s just say hospitality is in his blood.

After spending some time in New York City, where he worked in corporate America and met his wife Hayley, the two decided to shake things up. They quit their jobs in pursuit of their passion: food. This past August, Chez Tex celebrated its one-year anniversary.

It took the couple, who also have a 10-month-old daughter named Loulou, about three years for their dreams to materialize. It took one year to find a location, one year to build it out, and one year to acquire permits and a beer and wine license.

“This was the first place we saw when we started our hunt in Santa Monica and Venice,” says Hayley. “But it presented a lot of challenges. It would take a lot of work.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

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Home for Christmas

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Nutella Panettone French Toast

‘Tis the season to be jolly. But judging by Angie Corrente’s bright smile, she’s happy year-round.

She grins while talking to a talent manager about hanging local art on her walls. She bristles with excitement when describing Eastern European menu items like pelmeni and vareniki. And she overflows with enthusiasm when discussing the live music lineup at her restaurant, and her and her husband’s handmade contributions — like the tables, floors, aprons and sewn-denim cushions.

Corrente and husband Stanislav Mayzalis are the founders and owners of Doma Kitchen, which occupies the former Panini Grill space in the Villa Marina Marketplace Mall.

“Our food is gorgeous,” she gushes. “Every dish is beautiful as well as tasty.”

Doma Kitchen takes holiday eating seriously. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Last Call at Joni’s

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Photo by Marina Martin

For some, it’s a coffee shop. For others, it’s a bar or a deli. That place in your neighborhood you’ve come to rely on, sometimes even visit every day. “Where everybody knows your name.”

One such place was Abbot’s Habit on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which closed this past summer. After 24 years, the café could not afford to pay a rent increase as Venice property continued to soar.

Abbot’s Habit was my father-in-law’s favorite hangout, where he went each day to buy a cup of coffee he could have easily made at home and chat with his friends (also locals, some retired like himself) and others who set up their “office” at Abbot’s. When the owners announced it was closing, I remember teasing him: “Where will you while away the hours? Where will you go?”

This is not a new story. It’s become quite a common affair on the Westside.

Now another neighborhood institution — this one 30 years in the making — is getting the boot.

It’s Monday morning, Nov. 27, and the crowd at Joni’s Coffee Roasting Café is animated as usual —except these smiles will soon give way to sighs. This is their last breakfast at their favorite place. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

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Brioche Burgers in Paradise

foodFor 10 years, Venice residents and tourists could count on Danny’s for “great service, tasty food, awesome beer, good vibes,” as one Facebook fan put it. Sort of like “Cheers,” but by the beach.

When the boardwalk-adjacent restaurant closed last November, it was hard to picture a successor that could fill the same enormous shoes.

Samesun Backpackers, the hostel upstairs, had the same thought — so they hatched a plan. Upon hearing about Danny’s departure, the Canadian company bought the space, hoping to preserve its role as
a local meeting spot for the Venice community.

“When we first opened, people would come in and say, ‘What happened to Danny’s?’” says Surfside Venice Bar + Grill Executive Chef Jesse Gutierrez, who came on board in March. He’s been busy crafting seasonal menus highlighting California comfort food, L.A.-Korean dishes, sustainable seafood and vegan options.

It was definitely Danny’s atmosphere that had people hooked, and unique touches like the mural on the wall filled with caricatures of Venice characters and legends. Out of respect for the legacy of Danny’s, they didn’t remove the mural but built a wall over it so it would remain intact.

Business has been good for Surfside since opening its doors on June 23. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

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Speaking Through Food

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Photo by Courtnay Robbins

Without many words, Jonathan Weiss communicates volumes through his cooking. He’s in the kitchen every day at 2:30 a.m., preparing 1,000 catered meals for the surrounding business community. He greets and often hugs his customers at Big Mango Café, a successful restaurant he co-owns with partner Adam Drucker on Waterfront Drive. He’s worked alongside master chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Julia Child and Border Grill co-founder Susan Feniger.

And if you don’t pay close enough attention when ordering at the counter, you might not realize that Jonathan Weiss is deaf.

Weiss’ culinary education began as a kid in his grandfather’s British pub, The Fox and Hounds.

“He’s been in the kitchen since five minutes after he was born,” jokes Drucker, who often stands by his partner, listening to him and translating. Weiss speaks, but is liable to not be understood, and reads lips.

“His grandfather was a huge influence on him,” Drucker says. “He pushed him to speak, to read lips and to cook like a champion.”

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

No Room for Natives

jessicaMy husband and I were both born and raised in Venice, and we can no longer afford to live here. It breaks my heart when I tell this to people, but we’re not alone. The people we say this to all know someone — a daughter, a friend or coworker — priced out of Venice just like us.

Forty years ago, Venice was considered undesirable. Before GQ called it “the coolest block in America,” Abbot Kinney was known as West Washington Boulevard, with only one restaurant and a string of vacant storefronts.

Venice was riddled with drugs and gang violence. As a kid I used to think people were yelling “quack” at us as we drove down Brooks Avenue. I witnessed a drive-by shooting when I was a senior at Venice High School.

My dad and stepmom handed down a love of Venice to me. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Howdy, Neighbor

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Photo Courtesy of Kristian Vallas

“There’s an old joke in the industry,” Chris Carver, Neighbor’s director of operations, says smiling. “When it comes to restaurants, only three things matter: location, location, location.”

Enter Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where there’s a place to get a bite or a drink at almost every step. And Neighbor, in the spot where Willie Jane operated for eight years until November 2016, is one of the newest restaurants to open. It’s just a few doors down from Felix Trattoria, which occupies the space where Joe’s Restaurant stood for 24 years.

“It feels good to launch a concept on a street that is a real destination,” says Neighbor owner Kristian Vallas. “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for about 17 years, so it’s special to create an experience for our friends and neighbors, many who live in walking distance.”

Carver, who helped open downtown L.A.’s Bestia and has worked hands-on with Bill Chait (The Rose, Republique) over the last nine years, says the street’s built-in competition begs the question: “What do we do to separate ourselves from the hoard?” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Creative Judaism

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Rabbi Lori. Photo by Edizen Stowell/venicepaparazzi.com

Disco dancing down Abbot Kinney Boulevard with headphones for Simchat Torah. Reading text from rabbis about human sexuality as essential herbal essences waft in the air at Scent-ual Havdalah. Biking through 100 Years of Jewish Venice on an Electric Light Bike Shabbat.

This is Open Temple.

“I always say the core values of Open Temple are truth, creativity and love,” says Rabbi Lori Shapiro, who created Open Temple four years ago. “People that stick with us are on that journey. They are people seeking love, creativity and truth. It creates a strong core. I see that happening. It’s beautiful and fascinating.”

Open Temple is having a breakout year, according to Shapiro. It now has a home — Open Temple House on Electric Avenue — and is receiving national attention: a three-year commitment from The UpStart Accelerator and recognition in the current Los Angeles edition of the Slingshot Guide, which highlights the most innovative Jewish organizations in America.

“What began as one woman standing at the Abbot Kinney Fest collecting names is now a powerful dynamic reverberating throughout the Jewish world, locally, nationally and internationally,” says Shapiro. “It’s its own thing — bigger than me.”

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

A Cook’s Tour of L.A.

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Drunken Noodles at unity la

Put the words airport, hotel and food together and you aren’t usually talking about an unforgettable meal. But that’s just what Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport’s new three-in-one dining concept — the conspicuously un-capitalized unity la market, bar and restaurant — aims to serve. Their motto, “unquestionably un-airport,” says it all.

The average stay of a visitor at the Hyatt Regency is one day. The hotel’s mission is to expose guests to L.A.’s diverse food scene without them having to leave the building.

“We want to give people a sense of where they were for a short amount of time,” says Charles Fusco, executive chef at unity la.

The unity la menu is currently divided into the fare of six neighborhoods: Thai Town, Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights, East L.A., Santa Monica and Sunset Strip. In East L.A., chicken mole is plated with chorizo potato hash. Boyle Heights showcases charred corn salad and crispy pork belly. Santa Monica offers up fish tacos and California salad, with roasted kabocha squash. The Drunken Noodles from Thai Town is a take on a traditional Thai hangover cure, shares Fusco. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.