Richard Foss

Favorites fold, newcomers delayed, others are barreling ahead [dining news]

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Why Round Table Pizza was so popular with teenagers. (Hint: it wasn’t the pizza). File photo.

Like Moles In Bright Sunlight… We are all emerging from the spaces in which we have hunkered down to a new and strange world. The servers who greet us are smiling behind their masks, but we can see by their eyes that they are pleased to welcome us. They’re particularly happy to be at work because they know that some of their colleagues haven’t been called back to their jobs, and will never be because those establishments have closed. We’ll start this week’s column with information about a few of those, and then move on to other things.
The neighborhood lost two high-profile establishments that have been landmarks for years. The Round Table Pizza on PCH was more famous for the movie quotes on their sign than for anything than they actually served, but it was a popular hangout for high school students and families who played the video games, drank sodas and ate pizza at the long tables, and generally created an atmosphere of happy mayhem. The Mira Costa marching band was one of many groups that went there en masse when my daughter was a member, and I occasionally find prize tickets from their machines as bookmarks and in odd corners of drawers. Longtime residents will remember when this location was a Copper Penny restaurant and later when it was Cafe Courtney. No word yet on whether the building will be saved, or who might move in and keep the tradition going…
That’s one of several local classics that have called it a day. The Giuliano’s Deli on Aviation opened in 1975 and has been dishing up sandwiches, rectangular pizzas, hearty pastas, and Italian groceries ever since. The shelves are empty now and the counter at which many a local high school student had their first job is now silent and lonely… Polly’s on the Pier, which moved from the pier to the Redondo Boardwalk, has ended operations too, and so has the Bottle Inn Riviera in Redondo. After six years at this location owner Silvio Petoletti has decided to retire, something he was considering even before the pandemic complicated everybody’s plans. Enjoy your free time, Silvio, because after all those years of providing hospitality, you deserve the rest…
Hermosa has seen some losses too, though only one has been confirmed as of press time. Laurel Tavern is giving up after a few years of not really catching on. They haven’t confirmed this, but their website now shows locations in Studio City and Dallas, with no mention of Hermosa, so that seems pretty conclusive…
The biggest news out of Manhattan Beach is the closing of the original Little Sister on Manhattan Avenue. This completes the transition of this block, which has seen an astonishing level of turnover in the last two years. Chef Tin Vuong’s very personal take on South Asian cuisines lives on in Redondo, but it will be a different downtown with them gone. A new tenant has already been announced, an Italian restaurant by acclaimed chef-owner Dario Vullo, who ran Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago. His restaurant will be called Nando Milano and will feature some Sicilian items, a rarity in this area. Remodeling is in progress, and they hope to open within two months…
Event Alert! And yes, for the first time in months there is an actual event to report. This Saturday, June 13, Uncorked is hosting a “Bingo, Brunch, and Bubbly” event in partnership with Casa Luigi rosés at The Deck in Hermosa. Attendance is limited to allow personal distancing, cost is $40. More details and registration on Eventbrite – search using the event name. (Wow, it felt great to type that. Now I’m almost ready to believe that we may be going back to something like normal)…
A Basq Return?… Another casualty of the pandemic was Front Porch, the promising operation that briefly served in the space that had previously been A Basq Kitchen. The owners of ABK have the property back, and are trying to figure out what to do with it. Jessica took the novel step of polling the people on their old mailing list to see what kind of concept they would support, so presumably has an inbox full of ideas. Watch for information in this column about their next move…
Resuming Operations… Before the pandemic hit several restaurants were almost ready to open, and those owners are warily making plans for the future. Pacific Standard Prime is likely to be one of the first newcomers, since they did a beautiful remodeling job on the building that was finished within days of the shutdown. Owner Kevin Leach will do so without Robert Bell, who contributed during the planning stage but has decided to focus his attention on his other restaurant Mama Terano in Rolling Hills Estates. Chef Noah Gott has the reins despite a recent leg injury, and his team hopes to be sending out steaks from the kitchen by the end of June. They have to wait for their final paperwork, since the city’s inspectors haven’t been visiting establishments for months…
The Unsteady Scene… Over the last few days I have driven around the neighborhood to see how restaurants are handling the task of re-opening. The range of strategies has been nothing short of startling. At some places the staff are obviously following directives about safety, while at others they’re not even trying to look like they care. Some restaurants are interpreting the restrictions about having tables 6 feet apart literally and not taking into account the distance between the chairs, while others are leaving extra space beyond what is required. At Hop Saint the staff wear masks and are polishing all surfaces to a high gloss, and tables are widely spaced. At Ercole’s things are a flashback to a few months ago, with few masks to be seen and much boisterous celebration. There was every gradation between those two poles, but even the liveliest places were more sparsely populated. Restaurants are allowed to open, but that doesn’t mean that their customers are all ready to come back. That means that managers and chefs are buying perishable products in much smaller amounts, both because they must serve fewer people and out of fear that a spike in cases will make the authorities crack down again. We have a restaurant scene again, but it is fragile and many places will only make it if they can keep the take-out business rolling. There will be more closures, more delays as works in progress decline to open in a time of uncertainty. Some owners who have been considering retiring anyway will decide that it’s not worth the work and risk, and new investors will be harder to find than usual. Don’t unbuckle your seatbelt, because this roller coaster has not come to a complete stop…
And In Closing… Do you know any new business is coming to town, or have any suggestions about local entrepreneurs who are making great things for you to cook at home? You can reach me at richard@richardfoss.com…

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