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Since December of 2001, restaurateur Warner Ebbink and his partner, chef Brandon Boudet, have been scoring big points on the wild and woolly landscape that is the L.A. food scene. First with the beloved 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood, then the revamped Dominick’s in West Hollywood, and most recently Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. Seeing them hunched and frothing over a plate of well-done macaroni and cheese not long ago at the 101, it seems the key is the duo’s nearly psychotic attention to detail.
“So much of it is about just letting the space dictate what it wants or needs,” says Louisiana-born Boudet, sporting a shag of curly black hair. His credits include a journeyman stint in New Orleans under chef Emeril Lagasse (“before he was ‘the famous chef Emeril,’ notes Boudet). “I mean, like with here, American diner fare is pretty straightforward, so then it becomes about making sure the ingredients are really fresh and then adding a few twists to keep things interesting.”
In the case of the 101, sweet-potato fries and the brownie-waffle sundae are just two of Boudet’s tweaks; also, the “No Huevos Rancheros,” made with tofu, which isn’t exactly a diner staple, unless, of course, you’re within spitting distance of the Pacific. While Boudet was back in the kitchen putting his spin on the classics, Ebbink, a fervent disciple of all things authentic, hit the highways of the American Southwest for two months, bum-rushing every old-school diner he could find.
Throughout our chat, both Boudet’s and Ebbink’s eyes constantly return to the kitchen window, scanning plates as they head out for consumption, the business of food being as much an obsession as a profession.
Following up the success of the 101, their next project was to breathe life back into the much-vaunted Dominick’s, a legendary Hollywood joint that others had tried but failed to infuse with a second life.
“Dominick’s reminded us of a stint we did in New York [Boudet and Ebbink were sent there to open the Park by former employer Sean McPherson], and how, whenever we could, we used to love to go to Frank in the East Village to eat. You know, just really simple, unpretentious Italian-American food in a comfortable and inviting setting,” says Ebbink, a new father who still makes time to hit all three of his restaurants every day.
Though it would seem this pair, both in their 30s, would be angling toward the “in crowd,” nothing could be further from the truth. To use Boudet’s words: “The velvet-rope crowd doesn’t come to eat two or three nights a week for years on end, and that’s who we’re interested in catering to.”
The L.A.-restaurateur hat trick for Ebbink and Boudet is now complete with Little Dom’s at the top of Los Feliz Village, which seems to have all but burst out of the gates at the start of this year. The sleek but casual spot, which draws on their previous successes, Dominick’s menu in particular, boasts a handful of next-level elements including thin-crust oval pizzas served on wooden boards, a knockout pastry chef named Ann Kirk and a stellar wine program run by Susan Brink, as well as breakfast and lunch, a little gourmet takeout shop and a spray of sidewalk tables.
Despite an early track record that indicates they’ll be players in the city’s fast-rising food mix for many years to come, the Ebbink-Boudet tag team aren’t in any real rush to add a fourth place — just yet.
“We’re not in the chain business,” Boudet says, “and for us, creating something that the neighborhood can and will support is a total priority.”
“That said,” Ebbink chimes, running his index finger the length of his tightly cropped moustache, “my motto is ‘Take every meeting.’”