Richard Foss

New beginnings, new menus, old ideas [dining news]

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A La Carte dining column for 21 May 2020

Owner Deniz Özkan of Lucky Seven Coffee Shop in Hermosa. Photo by Richard Foss

Signs Of Life: For two months the news has been all about closings, but a few entrepreneurs are bucking the trend. Little Simmzy’s just opened in The Point in El Segundo, an offshoot of the popular Manhattan Beach burger and beer joint. This highlights the unexpected resilience of this development – despite the fact that there are no open retail businesses, all restaurants at The Point except high-end sushi bar Umi are open. Like the rest, Little Simmzy’s will be offering curbside, no-contact transfer of food to go (850 S. Sepulveda, ES)…  Another opening is the Ensenada Fish Tacos in Hermosa. While they seem to be getting off to a slow start, they’ve had customers there every time I have driven by. The nearest location prior to this was the one at Aviation and Inglewood, which usually had a line out the door even in the good old days when people were allowed to line up indoors (900 PCH, HB)…   

Back In Business: Several restaurants that had closed have reopened recently or have expanded their hours. Sausal in El Segundo has a new concept — they’re now Sausalito, and are offering a wide range of moderately priced items. Depending on how popular this is, they may keep this strategy for the long term. In Manhattan Beach, Costa and Love & Salt have reopened for take-out, and both are bucking a trend. Several other restaurants in this class pivoted to offering modestly priced, family meals, apparently figuring that everybody would want simple comfort food. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people ordered comfort food because they couldn’t get anything else. These two are serving selections from their usual menu, plus some family meals at more moderate prices. It’s not quite the experience either used to offer because one of the delights at both were the daily specials, which have vanished from the local dining scene. I’ll know we’re really back to something like normal when the chalkboards start reappearing at restaurants everywhere, and my heart will leap with joy…

Another restaurant that reopened is Lucky Seven, which occupies the space that used to be Pita Pit on Hermosa Avenue. Owner Deniz Özkan started serving just before the pandemic started.  She now offers a limited menu of coffee and pastries, but not yet the famed Turkish coffee of her homeland. Those who love those tiny cups of bracingly strong brew will have to wait until she is allowed to serve it in-house. In the meantime their regular coffee is very good and the pastries and bread are worth the trip (1112 Hermosa Ave, HB)… Two Guns Coffee in Manhattan Beach also reopened, so if you like to caffeinate locally, you have another good option. Other restaurants that have announced their intention to get back to business are The Rockefeller in Manhattan Beach and Riviera Mexican Grill, both of which will be cooking again on the first of June…

Signs Of success: Some restaurants that have been open for limited service have evidently done well enough at it that they’re expanding their menu and hours. After offering dinner-only service from Wednesday through Sunday, Slay’s Italian Kitchen is reopening for lunch the same days. Baran’s 2239 had been doing the opposite — they had been a dinner house but pivoted to serving only lunch, and only one item each Wednesday through Friday. This unlikely strategy was a huge success, and they sold out of over 100 orders of lasagna, enchiladas, or sandwiches a day. They’re still offering lunch, but now also a four-course dinner each week. This week the featured entree is their smoked and fried chicken with intriguing sides, all of which are also available a la carte. Their weekly menu, as well as all the ones for the other establishments I’ve mentioned, are on their respective websites. I would list them all individually, but there’s a lot of news to get through this week, and I only have so much space…

Changes Coming: Mosa in Hermosa Beach will have a shift in style when they reopen. The California-Italian menu from Chef Anne Conness will be replaced with a menu leaning toward American classics. Chef Anne and Manager Nancy Vrankovic will be focusing on Sausal/Saulito and other projects… Another change is in decor rather than cuisine. Rumors spread that Mangiamo would close, probably sparked by the fact that construction is visible in their dining room. Longtime fans can relax, because the owners are taking advantage of the forced closure to remodel. While they’re at it, they might remodel their website too, as it makes a reference to their sister restaurant Talia’s winning an award that year. Talia’s closed in 2014… Another rumor that has gone around is that the original Rock’nBrews in El Segundo is closing. Their publicist states emphatically that this is not true. It is a certainty that some restaurants that have closed due to the pandemic won’t reopen, but at this time none in the Beach Cities have confirmed that they’re throwing in the towel for good… 

Yesterday’s Solution To Today’s Problems: The HT Grill is one of the few restaurants in Riviera Village with an adjacent parking lot, and this sparked an idea straight out of the 1950s. They are now the South Bay’s only official drive-in, with servers who will bring food and beverages to your car so you may enjoy it hot and fresh, and order seconds if you are of a mind to. Expect to see more of this among the few local places that have substantial parking, because new state laws are in the works that will permit expanded service of food and alcohol outdoors, on parking lots and sidewalks, and in vehicles. Just wipe the ketchup off of your hands before you start driving, because it can make the steering wheel really slick…  

Cocktails To Go: Several local restaurants have been taking advantage of other relaxed state laws in order to sell cocktails to go. This seems reasonable when they are using glass jars, paper, or plastic, but I found myself wondering about chemical interactions when they use Styrofoam. I contacted a UCLA chemistry professor, and he said that there have been a number of studies about the interaction between solvents and polystyrene. None of the reactions are harmful at low temperature, but hot drinks with lemon can cause the cup to slowly dissolve thanks to interactions between the plastic and a chemical called limonene. At lower temperatures lemon can interact in a way that is not harmful but may change the flavor of the drink, so if the drink is served in foam, I’d recommend you adjust your cocktail preferences to stay away from lemon…

Scamming Diners Again: If you use Yelp to get information about restaurants, beware their latest sneaky trick. According to an article at Vice.com, Yelp has been replacing restaurant phone numbers with GrubHub’s so that the delivery service can take a cut. And what a coincidence, Yelp just happens to own that service. There have been many articles about how delivery services have been overcharging both restaurants and diners, so if you like your local restaurant and want them to succeed, call them direct to order takeout, or call and ask if they do their own deliveries or have a preferred service. It will make a big difference in their bottom line, and improve your ordering experience and your karma…   

What Is Your Experience?  LA County’s closure order was March 16, so we’ve had just over two months of the new environment. According to the latest news reports we can expect at least three months more. What do you miss about dining in, and what could restaurateurs do to make the take-out experience better? Send an email and I’ll ask restaurant owners if your ideas are feasible — the answers will appear in this column. You can send those thoughts, or any tips about what is happening in the area, to me at richard@richardfoss.com… ER

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