Mermaid becomes Vista, restaurant and bakery openings, food festivals return, and more dining news

Customers line up for pastries and breads on the Sweet Wheat Bakery's second day in business. Photo by Richard Foss

A La Carte for 30 September 2021

Customers line up for pastries and breads on the Sweet Wheat Bakery’s second day in business. Photo by Richard Foss

Logic and expediency: The typical business pattern for South Bay restaurants involves a lot of openings early in the summer to take advantage of the tourist season. That schedule has been blown to pieces by a labor shortage, building materials shortage, and city and county permit services that are running months behind. As a result, there have been a lot of fall openings, and I’ll start this column with those.

Sweet beginnings: Two new places have similar names. Sweetgreen is a health-oriented chain specializing in salads, and bowls incorporating various grains, and vegetables. They recently opened in the Manhattan Mall at 3200 Sepulveda. Most of their menu is vegetarian, though they have a few chicken and seafood items, and they have a dedicated fan base. They should not be confused with Sweet Wheat, a new bakery that just opened on PCH in Redondo. Sweet Wheat is owned and operated by French brothers Romain and Alexandre Lecat, who learned their trade in Paris and promise authentic, European-style pastries. There’s more than breads and pastry here – they also offer salads and a few classic café items like ratatouille and gratin dauphinois. Bienvenue a Redondo, Sweet Wheat, we’ve been looking forward to your arrival (2430 S. PCH, RB)…

Caffeine capital of MB: There’s Manhattan Beach Boulevard that must qualify as the most wide-awake block in the South Bay.  It has long been host to three specialty coffee places. That dipped to two when the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf closed last year, but it’s back up to three with the opening of Verve Coffee Roasters. The upscale chain started in Santa Cruz and then expanded first to Tokyo. and then to Southern California. They offer fair trade coffees from small farms in a variety of roasts. The barista I spoke with there seemed unusually familiar with the coffee trade. If that employee is typical, this could be the coffee geek haven for the area. (451 MB Blvd.) They’ll soon have competition just around the corner when GoodBoyBob opens, which is anticipated in November. That location has been having the permit blues, like so many other businesses around town. Many of the staff at the Building and Planning department were reassigned to emergency services during the pandemic, leading to a backlog, and a shortage of qualified and licensed inspectors has made it difficult for them to catch up…

The Closest Korean: It’s not actually in the Beach Cities, but the arrival of Gaya Korean Tofu & Grill is big news for locals who enjoy traditional Korean food. The restaurant on Torrance Boulevard west of Hawthorne has a wide ranging menu of homestyle items, including bibimbap and soondubu, and they do offer barbecue items that are made in the kitchen rather than at the table. I still hope that a Korean place will open closer to the beach, but at least my commute is shorter now (4817 Torrance Blvd., Tor.)…

Coming Attractions: We can now call the building at the corner of the Pier Plaza and the Strand something other than “the former Mermaid” – the new name will be be Vista. The ownership is the same as the well-regarded Tipsy Chef in Santa Monica, but the concept will be different. The focus will be on tropical seafood, and dishes like coconut cream shrimp cocktail and blue crab with smashed avocado, and cashews suggest an Asian-Caribbean fusion. They’re scheduled to open in a few weeks in a space that has been comprehensively remodeled, so the last vestiges of the business that was there for 60 years will probably be gone… Another newcomer is Vida Taqueria in Riviera Village, the modern Mexican street food place co-owned by Mickey Mance of Mickey’s and Justin Essman. The fresh tortillas will start hitting the grill in the second week of October, or so they say… No word yet on when the Barley Project’s new tasting room will open on the Redondo Boardwalk, or what they’ll be serving. If anybody knows, please pass the word… If you’re reading this on the day that this column comes out, you might be able to get a reservation for the evening’s first indoor service at Baran’s 2239 since the pandemic began. Then again, that might be difficult, because the restaurant is small and their loyal following has been waiting a long time for this day. Their visibility will be further increased by the fact that they won a coveted “Bib Gourmand” award from Michelin this week, and since they have only been serving take-out for the last year that is an achievement indeed. MB Post is the only other Bib Gourmand winner in the area — congratulations to them both… And if you’re a home cook who likes working with premium-

The signage at Wagyu Meatsmith. Photo by Kevin Cody.

quality ingredients, you may be as intrigued by the business opening next to the Trader Joe’s by the corner of Aviation and PCH. It’s called Wagyu Meatsmith, and is a Japanese-style butcher shop. Real wagyu beef isn’t easy to find, so this will be an asset to those who enjoy that rich, tender style. No word yet on how soon they’ll be open or whether they will carry other meats and produce…

Departures: Grimaldi’s on Rosecrans has served its last pizza – their final day was this Monday, and the restaurant is already being cleared out. The restaurant was struggling due to the loss of the business lunch and catering traffic from nearby office buildings, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected. They’ll be leaving behind their elaborate coal-fired pizza ovens, and I hope the next tenant makes good use of them without burning any actual coal. The word is that this may become a Brazilian restaurant, and since Brazilians have heir own style of pizza those ovens may not change function… Another departure is of people rather than a business – Jessica and Bernard Ibarra have decamped for consulting jobs in Las Vegas, the city where the two met when they worked at the same hotel kitchen. Bernard was executive chef at Terranea, Jessica the operator of A Basq Kitchen and a partner at Hudson House. They also owned an ice cream truck and were involved in other culinary businesses. Hudson House will continue under the management of Kate Failor – no word yet about who will take over at Terranea. The colorful couple were behind a lot of innovative ideas around the South Bay, and will be missed…

Congratulations Are In Order: Only eight restaurants in all of Los Angeles County received a Michelin star this year, and one of them is in Manhattan Beach. Sushi I-Naba is a tiny place on Highland serving extraordinary sushi to very few people – only six people can dine at once at their tiny counter. Needless to say, the service is very personal and the tab is high. I dined there once and it was extraordinary, and now that they have won this award, I expect that reservations will be very, very difficult to get…

Event Alerts: There is an actual food festival to report, a rarity these days. Celebrate Wellness is an outdoor stroll, sip, and nosh event at the South Bay Botanical Gardens. It will return on the afternoon of October 24. The charity event is a fund raiser for the Cancer Support Community of Redondo, which has been providing services to local residents for 34 years. Cost is $150, and you can get more information and buy tickets at celebratewellness.org. My wife and I attended a few years ago and enjoyed the setting so much that we bought memberships to the Botanical Garden, and I recommend that you walk the grounds when you’re there… You’ll have a tough decision to make because on that same day Mama Terano’s will host a wine dinner with six Sicilian wines and five food pairings. Wine experts will be available to explain and discuss the various vintages. Price is $70 plus tax & tip, reservations by phone at (310) 377-5757… And there’s another event for those who enjoy their spirits, a rum tasting hosted by yours truly. Five different styles of rum will be sampled along with paired snacks, and I’ll explain the history and culture of rum around the world in between sips. The event will be at COLLAGE: A Place for Art and Culture in San Pedro on October 17 at 2 p.m. There’s a ticket link at collageartculture.com. The same venue will also be hosting a free culinary talk by Josh Lurie, author of the children’s book “History is Delicious” on October 24, and more culinary and beverage events are in the works – check website for complete listings…

The Fifteen day week: Dine LA Restaurant Week is scheduled for October 1 through 15 this year, and yes, that’s much more than a week, but that’s a great thing. Eateries at all price points will offer great deals to get customers out to try their food, and it’s a great time to explore places. The list of participating establishments and link to menus are at discoverlosangeles.com – just click the link and start planning your visits…

Prost! on Rosecrans: Oktoberfest hasn’t been as much of a celebration as usual because many places aren’t hosting large events. But one local restaurant is keeping the tradition alive. Nomad Eatery on Rosecrans has stocked up on German-style lager from Three Weavers Brewing and is serving grilled bratwurst with sauerkraut and crisp potatoes, a classic Bavarian dish. The special runs through October 1o, so you can stop in any day…

Closing time: Have you seen a new culinary business I haven’t heard about, a local event either live or virtual? Do you know anyplace else with good sauerkraut and maybe a schnitzel or two? You can reach me at richard@richardfoss.comER 

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