Last Call at Joni’s


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


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


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


Rabbi Lori. Photo by Edizen Stowell/

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.


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.

Hot Licks

icecreamOn a cone, in a cup, between two cookies or even inside a waffle taco shell, ice cream in all of its many incarnations remains the official treat of summer. And these days, Baskin-Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s aren’t the only game in town.

Ice cream shops specializing in house-made, artisanal, organic, sustainable and locally sourced frozen confections are popping up throughout the Westside.

Let’s call it The Golden Age of Ice Cream: a whole new crop of boutique shops is attracting lines out the door with adoring fans willing to wait, often late into the night, for some of the richest, most decadent flavors that ice cream lovers have ever tasted.

Beat the heat and treat yourself to one of these 13 standout frozen treats. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

She’s in the Smile Business


Photo by Emily Hart Roth

One look at Margaret Schniderman’s face — her bright green eyes, beaming smile and ginger-colored hair — and it’s easy to see why she picked radiant yellow to dominate Ginger’s Divine Ice Creams, her new ice cream shop on West Washington Boulevard. Three yellow umbrellas, yellow door frames, yellow chairs … the list goes on.

“Yellow is a happy color,” Schniderman, whose nickname is Ginger, explains. “I want it to feel like a little break in here. A treat. A vacation spot.”

While Schniderman is no stranger to retail, this is her first foray into the food business. Born and raised in Santa Monica, she and her husband bought DNA Clothing on Rose Avenue in 1996. Although incredibly popular with locals, the one-of-its-kind-for-some-time boutique on Rose shut its doors in January 2016.

About two years before DNA closed, Schniderman began thinking about ice cream. In 2014, she attended an ice cream making program at University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top two ice cream programs in the country along with Penn State. She worked in a dairy plant in the dead of winter with temperatures of 20 below, and followed that experience with a one-year gelato program in L.A.

Finally, Ginger’s Divine Ice Creams opened its doors in late January. …

Read full article at The Argonaut.

Hidden Treasures

tiki-1023x640Playa del Rey feels like a charming little beach town tucked away from the rest of Los Angeles, so perhaps it’s fitting that the chefs behind a brand-new poke shop on Culver Boulevard would hide it in the back of a neighborhood convenience store.

TikiFish started serving traditional Hawaiian-style poke — or, as Chef Lionel Killens calls it, “sushi in a bowl” — just a few weeks ago in Gordon’s Market, where it shares the back wall with ASAP Phorage. While ASAP advertises its Asian sandwiches and pho with a stand-up sign outside Gordon’s, TikiFish is still without one.

For now, they’re focusing on the food.

“We pride ourselves on quality. We get our fish from the Fiji Islands and the Maldives, our salmon from Canada,” Killens says. “We get fresh fish that top-of-the-line sushi places get.”

The story of TikiFish begins with Chef Wonny Lee, who after working at Japanese restaurants for half his culinary career decided to step out on his own. Lee and his partners opened the first TikiFish back in August inside the shopping center at Overland and Rose avenues, where it shares an address with ASAP Phorage parent restaurant Phorage. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.