When a new restaurant opens, I rarely want to go try it on the first day of service or even the first the hour. Sometimes it takes me months because of the to be expected service mishaps and kinks that come with opening a new restaurant.
I've been following this restaurant and book a reservation for the first hour of service on opening day. I could not wait to try Chef Jonathan Whitener's (formerly CDC at Animal Restaurant in the Fairfax District) and Lien Ta's (former manager of Animal) new restaurant which they also chose designed themselves inspired by mid-century modern design. And yes, you'll see the ubiquitous reclaimed wood on the walls of this restaurant.
I am not a fan of Animal, but for some reason, I was drawn to this restaurant following them on Instagram.
As soon as I walked in, the hosts greeted me and sat me at the bar. Perusing the opening day menu, I recognized the global influences in Whitener's cooking. Some may call it fusion, but that to me always has a negative connotation. This cooking has been described as Mexican-Japanese cuisine. This menu exemplifies the cuisine unique to Los Angeles, a subgenre of California cuisine. It reflects the ethnic diversity of our city. The availability and selection of ethnic food we have in LA is unmatched anywhere else in the world. I love that our young chefs opening restaurants are being more inventive and making our dining scene more exciting right now -- not so different with our arts scene as a whole.
As usual, I asked the bartender, "what should I get?" She recommended the beef tartare. Phil Rosenthal recognized this dish on Instagram as the "soon to be famous" beef tartare. The dish comes in a large bowl. On top of the dish there is a yolk. You'll be instructed on how to eat the dish. In my case, the server who dropped it off explained and then a moment later my bartender did the same thing. There two pieces of toast where they suggest you slather the garlic aioli on the bread first, then slather the beef on top to make a tartine. I found that there was more beef than toast that I ended up eating the raw beef on its own wishing I had more bread.
The dishes on the menu are meant to be shared so this one dish was enough for me. The portion size was enough to fill me up as a full meal with room for dessert.
For dessert, I ordered the recommended "strawberry" dish which was not what I expected. I thought it was a typical "fresas con crema." Perhaps it was inspired by this dessert found in Mexican restaurants or ice cream shops and for me, this reminds me of my trip to the mountains of Venezuela where I ordered it for the first time.
It appeared to be preserved strawberries with sweet cream ice cream which was a bit on the icy side, topped with some shavings. Perfect for the summer.
Service was attentive. I did lower my expectation considering this was the first hour of service on opening day. For their first day, they definitely staffed up. Two people manned the hosting area with plenty of people all over the restaurant to ensure service level is high. My plates were taken away promptly and my space cleaned of any remnant beef droppings while building my open faced sandwich. I can tell the bartender made an effort to make conversation with diners.
For drinks, I recommend going for a cocktail. I ordered a berry infused mezcal cocktail. If you want craft beer, try the limited selection of Japanese craft beer on the menu. If you are a craft beer connoisseur, I recommended checking out Southland Beer, a craft beer bar located in the same plaza where the now defunct Saint Martha was located, now Little Tart restaurant. It's only a few minutes drive away and worth a visit. Their beer and bottle selection at Southland is far more superior than what you'll find inthe HLAY menu.
I'd love to return again in a couple months to try some other dishes, perhaps with a group of friends to share some plates or I wouldn't mind going solo and heading for a seat at the bar. This is another wonderful new dining option in LA. I can definitely see it being a very popular restaurant. I found free parking after 6 pm at the meter out in front. There's also valet parking in the back.
Here's Looking at You definitely is worthy of a visit. Highly recommended.
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.
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