Pretty Mexican, ugly ramen, pizzeria on the move, and more dining news

A La Carte column for 15 July 2021

The jewel box exterior view of Esperanza. Photo by Art Gray

View From A Height… With summer in full swing, Beach City restaurateurs are dealing with a boom like none they’ve ever had before. Thanks to the dining decks, many have more space than ever before, but there are fewer servers to handle the increased traffic, and less parking for customers who would like to dine. The vast expansion of tables in beach towns has taken some pressure off popular places that were once regularly slammed, which must be a mixed blessing from the restaurateur’s point of view. I’ll go into more about the general dining scene toward the end of this column.

But First The News… The countdown is on for Esperanza, which is scheduled to open to the public on July 29. The exterior architecture has been turning heads for months, and now that pictures of the interior have been released those designs are stirring admiration and controversy. It’s not a copy of sister restaurant Palmilla in Hermosa, but a cozy homage to midcentury design. There’s a long central communal table and a bar with chairs end to end, both unthinkable just a few months ago. Reports say the menu will be heavy on seafood, including crudo variations, and they’ll offer tortillas made in-house. Downtown hasn’t had a high-style Mexican place in over a decade, and they look poised to fill that void…

Elsewhere in Manhattan… The former Homie on Highland is now Un Caffe Altamura, and the menu has transformed with some unexpected items. They offer upscale stylish sandwiches and burgers, some interesting light meals, and a healthy version of a British breakfast, which is almost a contradiction in terms. Their unique niche is as an Italian-style coffee bar, which is open, and they have applied for a beer and wine license. The website isn’t up yet so there’s no menu online, though you can find one on Instagram if you have patience with that frustrating medium… If you head north on Highland to Marine, you’ll see that a new tenant is moving in – Marine Ramen, which is a project of The Ugly Food Corporation. A lot of people find that name funny, but it speaks of a serious purpose – to use oddly sized or misshapen vegetables that otherwise might be thrown away. I don’t know how Marine Ramen is going to serve those vegetables or what else they might do, but like others who care about sustainability I’m well-disposed towards them already…

Meanwhile in Hermosa… Pizza specialist Saor Project has moved out of their cubbyhole space on the Pier Plaza and is relocating to a slightly larger cubbyhole at 87 14th Street. This is one of the spaces that used to be the Backburner Café and has been vacant for over a decade, and it will be good to see some life there again. Here’s hoping that Gianluca finds the audience he deserves in the new spot, whenever it opens… If you look at the opposite corner from the new Saor, you’ll see that the former Chelsea is now the Fox & Farrow. For those who saw that second word and looked it up know that a farrow is a newborn pig, so if a fox and a farrow are actually in the same place you will soon have a somewhat fatter fox. The restaurant is under the same management and renowned chef Darren Weiss is still cooking, but the place has been refurbished and there is a new menu. The items on it won’t be quite as British as the name, but will include a hunter’s pie with wild boar, lamb, pork, and vegetables. Expect an opening by early August…

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright… Tigres Fuego is open on PCH in South Redondo, and despite the name does not serve flaming tigers. If you’re in the mood for tacos and ceviches, though, they have you covered. Most business will be to-go, but the tiny space does have two outdoor tables and a small bar. Tigres is a project by the team at Baran’s 2239, who have proved their skill at Mexican food with weekly specials and their excellent Saturday burritos. Bienvenidos to the neighborhood, Tigres! (1223 S. PCH, Redondo)…

More Ruminations… A regular reader has written to suggest that my reviews should address the price to quality ratio more directly. That is not an easy thing to do because it’s so subjective and partly a function of the environment. This goes past any questions about whether a place is using farmers market vegetables selected by the chef or something that gets unloaded from a Sysco truck every week. Giving service at the level of Nando Milano or The Arthur J requires a small army of servers, and raises questions. Would I enjoy the food as much if it arrived just a bit slower, or if my water or wine weren’t refilled as soon as the level in the glass dropped to half full? One doesn’t tend to notice the difference between great service and very good service on a conscious level, but you know it when you experience it. The same is true of the elements of décor that raise prices but increase satisfaction, like comfortable chairs that encourage diners to linger, space between tables, and quality dinnerware. In many cases it’s hard to nail down exactly what makes me decide what makes a place worthy or unworthy of a high check, but as the famous court case says, I know it when I see it…

An Earlier Bite… The Edo Bites by the Manhattan Mall has changed its hours and now closes earlier, but has expanded its breakfast and brunch service. It makes sense, because there are few sit-down breakfast options in the neighborhood and many dinner houses. It’s now open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., serving breakfasts that are biased toward the simple and healthy. I thought they might specialize in Italian breakfasts, but when I think back to my vacations in Italy, I remember those involving espresso, a roll and maybe some cheese, and then more espresso…

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… ER

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Written by: Richard Foss

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