New restaurants this week, more on the way, remodelings ongoing and stalled

A La Carte column for 18 March 2021

Roccio Sabra, co-owner with her husband Sam, welcomes guests to their new upscale fish and Mexican restaurant Agave Azul. Photo by Kevin Cody

Dining Out, As In Outdoors… The door to inside dining has opened a crack, and if people behave themselves then interior occupancy may soon go from 25 to 50 percent. Meanwhile, the trend toward making outdoor spaces pleasant continues, and I expect it to accelerate. Even if we could all go back to the days of three deep lines at the bar in popular nightspots, most people will be sensitive about close quarters for the foreseeable future. There will continue to be questions about traffic flow, equity for restaurants on streets that can’t be blocked, and other matters. Still, many people, myself included, enjoy the quieter and less claustrophobic outdoor dining spaces and hope they will remain even after the pandemic passes.

First Look… Our first meal beneath a real roof was at the new Joey in the Manhattan Mall, where the host desk staff were giving away glasses of sparkling wine to celebrate. The menu is highly varied and most items were successful, and the big space had a pleasant buzz of activity even when a quarter full. There are still a few things to work on, with some inaccurate menu descriptions and substantially overpriced cocktails, but overall, it was a positive experience (3120 N. Sepulveda, MB)…

The Big Breeze… While we were enjoying dinner indoors on Monday night, winds that gusted up to 50 miles per hour were wreaking havoc on outdoor dining spaces, particularly those with unprotected westward and southern exposures. Reports are that everything moveable on the upper deck at the Redondo Boardwalk has moved – the tent that used to shelter the beverage area at A Fish and Friends was found some distance wrapped around a lamppost, and presumably somewhat the worse for wear. Other restaurants around town reported broken outdoor tables plexiglass partitions, though most averted damage by bringing down their tents and umbrellas before the winds got fierce. It’s a reminder that outdoor dining isn’t always practical even when the restaurants do everything they can to make it nice…    

Cantiflas, the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico, hovers over diners at the newly opened Agave Azul on Hermosa Avenue, in downtown Hermosa Beach

More Openings… Agave Azul is serving upscale Mexican food in very high style on Hermosa Avenue north of Pier, and they made a slight mistake when deciding to try a soft opening last weekend. Opening quietly to let the staff get up to speed is impossible in a high-traffic place like this, and they were slammed from the moment they put down the first bowl of salsa. The menu isn’t online yet, but is heavy on seafood and includes mole and birria along with conventional items. The space is beautiful, the lighting a dazzling blue that makes them stand out at night, and the sound level loud but

bearable (1320 Hermosa Ave., HB)… The Lighthouse is open too, though not yet offering live entertainment. The menu is short but varied, and surprisingly reasonably priced for a prime spot on the plaza. As someone who used to hang out beside the rear entrance as a teenager to listen to music because I couldn’t afford to go in, I’m delighted that they’re open and hope they regain their former glory (30 Pier Avenue)… Speaking of returns to form, Hudson House has reopened under new ownership but with essentially the same menu that they last served a year ago. Jessica Ibarra liked the old place so much that she recreated it, so eclectic and stylish bar food is back on this stretch of the Highway (514 N. PCH, RB)… Finally, Japonica Hermosa is open in the former Outpost 406, though since the place has a small interior and no outdoor dining space yet most of their business will be take-out at first (1314 Hermosa Ave., HB)…

Coming Attractions… The former Mediterraneo/Rebel Republic will become a “BrewsHall” project serving craft beers with four food stalls. This is the second in a chain started by local entrepreneur Michael Zialis, and it’s a great fit for the Pier Plaza. Scheduled opening is May 5th, so we might expect some Cinco de Mayo revelry… Some restaurants that have their permits and could open are holding off until outdoor dining is well established. That is the case at Esperanza in Manhattan Beach according to some staff who were onsite, and they suggested that two months from now is a reasonable guess. Other projects have been announced, with upscale chains BOA Steakhouse and Sushi Roku to open at Manhattan Village Mall… A particularly interesting newcomer is Sweet Wheat Bakery, which is under construction at the former Chipotle in South Redondo. It is owned by brothers Romain and Alexandre Lecat, and is a spinoff of a successful commercial baking operation in Downtown LA. The brothers live locally and plan to bring a menu that will include sandwiches, charcuterie, cheese boards, and prep at home items. Expect an opening in early May if all goes well…

And Going Down?… All does not seem to be going well at the Brazilian Bowls project at the corner of Highland and Marine, as there is an eviction notice taped to the front door. This location has had very high turnover despite some potential, and I hope somebody can make it work… Meanwhile the 31 Flavors in Manhattan Beach is NOT closing, but remodeling their ancient space. I wish they would go back to the décor I remember from the late 60’s which was outdated then and would be regarded as charmingly retro now, but that probably won’t happen…

And Speaking Of Reopening… I was remiss in my most recent column because I  didn’t mention that Ocean Diner has reopened. A lot of people were concerned about the future of this well-loved spot and formed a GoFundMe to keep the place alive, and it seems to have worked… Crafty Minds also reopened this week with a special St. Patrick’s Day dinner, and several other places have come back from hibernation. One that had remained open very quietly now has higher visibility, as Rok Sushi has an expanded outdoor dining space though not yet a functioning website. Oddly, they are widely promoting the one that is still under construction as of this writing, which is at ROKSushiHB.com. I hope when you go there the menu is up and you decide to order, because this landmark could use the business. They opened for outdoor dining just in time to be shut down in November, now they have gotten an outdoor space just in time for indoor reopening…

The Inside Scoop… Many restaurants that opened last year have beautiful interiors where customers have never dined, and some that remodeled have been waiting for the day when they can show off. The only time customers saw them was when they were on their way to the bathroom, and then the tables weren’t set to impress. Now we can all enjoy and appreciate gorgeous spaces like Pacific Standard Prime’s serene and stylish mid-century space, or the sleek rebuild of Zane’s in Hermosa. Resources for all restaurants have been tight during the pandemic, and we should appreciate those who spent the enforced downtime figuring out how to give their customers a particularly enjoyable environment…

Final Thoughts… Have you seen a new culinary business that I might not know about, a local event either live or virtual? Your tips make my coverage better. You can reach me at richard@richardfoss.com…

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Written by: Richard Foss

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