Childhood friends Woogene Lee and Jeff Faust already had a good thing going with Fundamental L.A., the sandwich shop by day and sit-down restaurant by night that they opened near Westwood Village in 2011. Four years later, after Philip Pretty left to take the executive chef job at Restauration in Long Beach, the duo recruited Nick Erven from the celebrated but shuttered Saint Martha in Koreatown.
“We felt the L.A. dining scene shifting and wanted Fundamental L.A. to become the neighborhood spot we'd always hoped it would become,” Faust says. With Pretty, they were “excited about pushing the envelope,” but they enlisted Erven in January to forge a more approachable path that felt like less of an “experience.”
Lunch, which caters more to Westwood office workers than to UCLA students, continues to set a high bar for sandwiches in the area. Fundamental classics like the chicken torta and the BLT may never leave the menu, but the crew has added some newcomers.
Juicy fried chicken breast joins tangy honey mustard aioli, apple cider slaw and dill pickles on toasted ciabatta. And Erven makes a convincing case for turkey breast with juicy, slow-cooked meat, arugula pesto, peppadew peppers and lemon aioli on toasted sourdough.
Erven calls his burger, which is available on the dinner menu (and at lunch if you know to ask), a “serviceable homage to my favorite greasy-spoon burgers.” Twin patties of chuck, brisket and short rib are topped with caramelized onions, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing on a toasted OC Baking Company brioche bun.
Chef Erven's overhauled dinner menu changes with the seasons and as inspiration strikes. Many dishes riff on recognizable comfort foods. You can currently find a half roasted chicken that comes with green harissa, yogurt and arugula. At Saint Martha, Erven offered “everything” churros with juniper-cured salmon. At Fundamental L.A., he lavishes Brussels sprouts with everything bagel spice and a liberal dose of deviled egg puree.
If you’re lucky, the current menu might have pull-apart Parker House rolls with Old Bay shrimp butter, or perhaps boneless chicken thighs coated in a panoply of flours, deep-fried and plated with cornbread puree, escarole, bacon and red-eye gravy.
Erven also has introduced a standout doughnut. The winter version was a black sesame variety coated in coconut shreds, filled with sweet-tart passion fruit curd and plated with white chocolate ganache. For spring, ricotta and marzipan donuts get treated to strawberry and basil.
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General manager Alicia Kemper continues to oversee the Old World–inspired beverage program, which now can be sampled at the Tippler Club, a curated wine club that convenes monthly Sunday Sip sessions.
Faust refers to Erven’s menu as “a simpler style of cooking.” He adds: “Our paths crossed at just the right time, and we're very happy with the direction we're heading.”
1303 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 444-7581, fundamental-la.com.