Waiting for a table at Jon & Vinny’s, the new Italian restaurant on Fairfax from owner-chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, I ran into Kanye West.
He was on the way out while I was headed in, we did one of those semi-awkward shuffles. I inadvertently ended up holding the door for him since I was too star-struck to do anything else. Not that Yeezy was entirely unexpected, of course. Shook and Dotolo are two of the most renowned chefs in Los Angeles and their new 3-week-old restaurant is easily their most hyped project yet.
Inside, the former home of Damiano's Mr. Pizza is unrecognizable. The walls are bare except for pale blonde wood, with banquette and table seating to the rear and right, and an open kitchen with bar seating on the left. The room is narrow, but high skylit ceilings give the sensation of space. Behind the dining area, inside a room smaller than most walk-in closets, is Helen’s, a boutique wine shop operated by Animal beverage director Helen Johannessen. She curates the restaurant’s wine list too, which leans toward the pricey side but offers a handful of bargains by the bottle.
In terms of cooking, Jon & Vinny’s is a departure for the duo. Whereas Animal introduced diners to the joys of fried veal brain and foie gras loco moco, and Son of a Gun experimented with skate wing and shrimp toast, the bulk of the Italian-American menu at Jon & Vinny’s plays it straight.
Meatballs in marinara with ricotta and garlic bread are essentially that, although these are rather extraordinary meatballs. The oregano-heavy roasted beet “Greek”, which sounds like it could offer a creative riff, amounts to a very good but classic Greek salad, swapping in beet cubes for the usual shards of limp iceberg. Pasta dishes aren’t necessary disappointing, but matching up against heavy hitters like Bucato and Bestia provides stiff competition. Not that anyone on Fairfax will mind.
What shines brightest, so far, is the pizza. The dough rests for 48 hours, which lends a satisfying earthy tang, and a stone hearth oven powered by both gas and wood fire allows for a crispy undercarriage that's a much-needed departure from the floppy, knife-and-fork Neapolitan pizzas that have proliferated. The menu also offers an entertaining selection of “crust dips," including a dynamite ranch dressing made with pickled ramps, although I preferred to savor the wonderfully chewy crust on its own.
In another first for Shook and Dotolo, the restaurant is open for three meals a day, seven days a week. In the morning there are cast-iron pancakes with strawberries, baked bucatini pie made with last night’s fresh pasta, scrambled eggs with burrata, and a variety of pastries stocked in a glass display case. Like the red-sauce Italian joints it pays homage to, Jon & Vinny’s has all the trappings of a reliable neighborhood spot: all-day service, delivery and takeout, even the cute, retro T-shirts the servers wear. The main differences being the upmarket prices and the coveted dinner reservations, which at this point you’d probably expect. Casual is a state of mind, right?
Pre-opening media coverage homed in on Dotolo and Shook’s comments about striving to make Jon & Vinny’s a family-friendly restaurant. It appears so far they’ve made an earnest effort: A few crowd-pleasing pizzas are named after the chefs’ children; there’s plain pasta on the kid’s menu; the tables are laminated with that whiteboard material you’d expect to be impervious to crayons and markers.
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And if your children happen to appreciate stark Scandinavian design and enjoy listening to early 2000s hip-hop, even better.
412 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District, (323) 334-3369, jonandvinnys.com