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Valley Ho! Three New Restaurants in the SFV Show Some Weaknesses, a Few Surprising Strengths 

Thursday, Jul 18 2013
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The wealthy northwest corner of the Valley has had its share of drama of late, what with the Biebs and his white Ferrari causing a menace and Sofia Coppola's newest film giving the world an ugly glimpse of its teenage culture. But Calabasas and its cousin Woodland Hills also have had a number of buzzy restaurant openings in recent months. We headed up the 101 to check out three of them.

See more of Anne Fishbein's photos of Salt and Pepper Cuisine and Pedalers Fork.

Salt and Pepper Cuisine

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Salt and Pepper, which opened in Woodland Hills in March, takes the traditional, upscale Persian restaurant and gives it a new, sleek spin. Where many Persian restaurants revel in the style of luxuriant banquet halls, leaving diners feeling as though they've stumbled into the lavish wedding reception of a large family, Salt and Pepper is far more modern. The place looks like a Vegas hot spot, all opalescent-white, leatherlike booths, black lacquered chairs and huge, black-and-white, mildly erotic artwork on the walls. There is also a giant oval-shaped swish of a bar and adjacent lounge area, though the restaurant is still waiting on a liquor license.

It's an odd place, huge and fancy and often empty, with a staff of young, attractive servers who might, for instance, giggle when you order fesenjan (I guess they expected a non-Iranian to go for the kebabs?).

Like much at Salt & Pepper, that fesenjan — the dark Iranian stew of chicken, pomegranate and walnuts — was good but not outstanding, the dark bitterness of the walnuts a little overpowered by the pomegranate's sweetness, the magical balance of the dish not quite right. The ash reshteh, the little-bit-of-everything bean and herb soup, also was slightly less hearty and comforting than other versions I've had around town, though the kashk-o bademjan, that gloriously thick spread of eggplant and caramelized shallots drizzled in whey, was as rich and sweet and tangily addictive as any.

I assume that when the liquor license comes, so too will more of an evening crowd, and the Vegas vibe will seem even stronger. In the meantime, it's a different brand of glitz to go with your kebabs or, if you don't mind being snickered at, something more exotic.

20969 Ventura Blvd., #32, Woodland Hills. (818) 564-4305, saltandpepper cuisine.com. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-12 a.m.

Pedalers Fork

What are most New American, farm-to-table restaurants missing? Why, a bike shop, of course! Pedalers Fork, which opened in April smack in the middle of Old Town Calabasas, is a little like the businesses my friends and I used to envision opening when we were 17, except that rather than being a bar/punk venue/record store/pool hall/thrift store, this is a bike shop/restaurant/coffee shop. Hey, to each his own.

Owners Robbie Schaeffer and Tim Rettele chose the location because of its proximity to the Santa Monica Mountains' bikable trails, and they lead Tuesday bike rides into the mountains from the shop ... uh, restaurant.

If you think a bike repair shop–adjacent restaurant might be as grungy as my high school fantasy sounds, think again. The restaurant, while very much bicycle-themed, is stunning, with soaring ceilings, refurbished wood throughout, a long bar that faces a glass wall, and outdoor seating next to a burbling creek.

The menu, like the restaurant, is large, and you get the feeling they're trying to make sure there's something for everyone. There are a lot of small veggie plates — roasted baby carrots with orange and fennel pollen, stuffed squash blossoms, charred broccoli rabe, etc. A spring flatbread with sweet pea, kale, asparagus and broccoli was a fun study in green, the creamy burrata giving a hint of decadence to what was essentially a cooked salad atop thin bread.

Among the almost 40 items on the menu are some health-conscious options, such as a quinoa bowl and the Forbidden Salad, a jumble of grilled tofu, red mizuna, arugula, carrots, kimchi, radish, shiitake mushroom, black rice and sesame. It worked in a kind of crazy, umami-intense way, and might have been my favorite of the things I sampled if it weren't oddly overly salted, mainly thanks to soy sauce.

Pedalers Fork is a giant and ambitious operation, and there is the sense here that perhaps they are trying to do too much. Service was pleasant, friendly and awfully confused — our waitress didn't seem to know much about the menu and was downright flustered much of the time. Some dishes weren't executed as well as they could have been, like a slightly slimy succotash under the Alaskan halibut.

Also: This place ain't cheap. Three of us spent well over $200 with tip, and we weren't even drinking that heavily.

23504 Calabasas Road, Calabasas. (818) 225-8231, pedalersfork.com. Sun.-Wed., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; coffee shop opens at 6 a.m. daily.

The Local Peasant

The Local Peasant is a gastropub that has been open in Sherman Oaks for a number of years, but in April a new location opened in Woodland Hills. On an otherwise bleak stretch of Ventura Boulevard, the new restaurant practically spills onto the street, the interior bar opening onto the front patio, the place's energy palpable even as you drive by.

Inside, it's a barn of a room. The owners apparently split the difference when trying to decide which wall-covering du jour to use: One side of the restaurant is lined with white subway tile and mirrors, the other with reclaimed wood, vintage glass bottles and metal glowing lights. A central bar anchors the space, and giant black booths nestle up against a walk-in beer cooler in the back corner.

That beer cooler holds an impressive range of brews. The Matilda Belgian strong pale ale from Chicago's Goose Island Beer Company is especially fine with food — I'd go back just for that. Alas, I cannot recommend the cocktails here. The "keghattan," a barrel-aged Manhattan made with an ungodly amount of some sweet stickiness not found in a true Manhattan, tasted very much like cough syrup. The others were no better; my notes say things like "tones of sweet cucumber dish detergent with a spicy rim."

But let's not linger on that, because almost everything else about the Local Peasant was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting much from the food, not when the menu boasts items like fried cheese balls with cheese sauce, or salmon with jalapeño mashed potatoes and mushroom chardonnay lobster sauce.

I opted for crispy pork belly with pickled watermelon, and a voluptuous salad of beets, heirloom tomatoes and burrata. Both dishes sounded like clichés of one sort or another, yet both avoided tasting clichéd: the pork belly truly crispy, with enough acid from the pickle to stand up to the fat; the salad, generous piles of beets and tomato draped in milky cheese.

The grass-fed burger tasted meatier and juicer than many grass-fed burgers manage, and the peasant stew — a homey dish of braised chicken legs and thighs over basmati rice with chickpeas and lemongrass — was one of the most comforting, beer-friendly things I've eaten in a long time. At $13, it's a fantastic bargain, too.

It's clear that Woodland Hills is thrilled to have the Local Peasant — the place has been packed. And why not? Cocktails aside, it's a bright spot of energy, great beer and good food. Any neighborhood would be lucky to have it.

22901 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 876-0105, thelocalpeasant.com. Daily, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; kitchen open until 11 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., mid. Fri.-Sat.

Reach the writer at brodell@laweekly.com.

See more of Anne Fishbein's photos of Salt and Pepper Cuisine and Pedalers Fork.

Reach the writer at brodell@laweekly.com

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