Best Of :: Venice/ Marina del Rey
Best New Restaurant: Felix
Felix, the Venice restaurant from pasta maestro Evan Funke, has it all. The space is wonderful in the way that only restaurants built in old houses can be, outfitted in warm brown leather booths and green botanical wallpaper that feels both modern and vintage. The service is lovely. The cocktails are fantastic. The wine list is deep and smart. You could easily make a beautiful meal from the antipasti section alone: delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with fior di latte; a crudo of raw ridgeback prawns with a gloriously creamy texture; pork meatballs that have been quickly fried and burst with porky flavor. But you're here for the pastas, which are made in a glassed-in, climate-controlled room that faces the front dining room. Funke and his cooks roll and cut and extrude the dough with care and precision, a showcase of the handmade techniques the chef learned on his travels and proof that he's serious with his oft-used social media hashtag #fuckyourpastamachine. It would take weeks to eat through all these pastas, from saffron-tinged malloreddus (tiny Sardinian gnocchi) and multiple variations of spaghetti to hearty ragus and lovely little orecchiette with sausage and broccoli. Every table seems to have a plate of the pappardelle — bathed in a mellow Bolognese, the pasta is practically silky, making the pappardelle of your past seem rough and clumsy by comparison. Taken as a whole, Felix is a stunningly great restaurant: personal, beautiful and with some of the most goddamned delicious pasta Los Angeles has ever seen.
At MTN, Travis Lett's new Abbot Kinney izakaya, the ramen is almost a thing unto itself, so much a product of its time and place that it's hard to compare it to other ramen. Lett and his crew have managed to make something based in Japanese tradition but rooted in Southern California. For their beautiful, ludicrously priced pork ramen, they cook down the bones and head of a whole Peads & Barnetts pig — but rather than a thick, milky tonkotsu broth, this version is much, much lighter, yet still manages to pack an incredible amount of pork flavor into each sip. The bowl comes with komatsuna (mustard spinach), fermented black bean paste and pickled Fresno chilies. There's a clam version that tastes so purely of the ocean it borders on magical. The ramen noodles, which have a chewy, firm structural integrity, are made in-house from artisanal wheat and buckwheat. That it's served in the trendiest, most fun new restaurant in the neighborhood makes it all the more exciting.
Because the Rose Cafe has such a breezy patio, such a leafy, appealing bar area and the sunniest disposition, it sometimes gets mistaken for a pretty face without much substance. It's true that the atmosphere at the Rose is lovely, but its true talent is its utter usefulness in a variety of situations. The Rose is a great place to stop in for a cocktail before or after dinner, it's a great place to grab a coffee and a pastry in the morning, it provides lots of opportunities for lingering over brunch or lunch meetings with friends or business associates. And here's the thing that really shouldn't be overlooked: Jason Neroni is a very good chef. Whether you're looking for a butcher block full of charcuterie, or a beautiful, creative bowl of handmade pasta, or a giant steak or whole grilled lobster, Neroni has you covered with a dinner menu that can be made to suit almost any taste or occasion. Breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, drinks, coffee ... no other place in Venice offers quite this much while doing it all so well.
If you've ever tried to grab a Saturday afternoon meal at Gjusta, Travis Lett's Venice deli and restaurant, you'll know that it's entirely possible to wait an hour in between taking a number and having that number called so you can place an order. After that comes the seat-hovering game, whereby you stand awkwardly in the back patio seating area and wait to pounce on the first available seat. But there is a way around all of this, which is to dine at Gjusta in the evening. For some reason, the place is almost always half deserted after 6 p.m., despite serving most of its daytime menu, plus a bunch of dinner specials, until 10 p.m. nightly. Eating at Gjusta in the evening is like eating at a whole different restaurant. The patio is calm and has plenty of open tables, which are even more charming under the lights strung overhead. On the short dinner specials menu you'll find a simple mezze plate and entrees such as a pork chop with pepporanata, grilled octopus with hummus, and tagliatelle with bottarga, white wine and breadcrumbs. I didn't even feel guilty lingering for conversation at the table after we were done, knowing there were plenty of places to sit for the other in-the-know dinnertime guests. No hovering required.
If you harbor a secret lust for the Venice lifestyle (come on, admit it), you could indulge that desire by spending the afternoon dipping in and out of the bougie-breezy shops on Abbot Kinney — or you could make a beeline to the more tucked-away Flowerboy Project. What is Flowerboy, you might ask, to which we'd respond: How much time do you have? It almost takes more effort to explain this place than to experience it, but here's the short answer: It's a working studio, coffee shop, flower shop and boutique. Here's an even shorter answer: It's all things Venice, distilled to their very essence. Flowerboy is the creation of celebrated designer and longtime Venice resident Sean Knibb (whose firm is responsible for the California-modern aesthetic of the Line hotel and its Commissary restaurant), in partnership with the Arts District's multi-use space Alchemy Works. What does that mean? Well, the coffee you should order is of the rose or lavender latte variety. The artisanal towels and ceramics and tote bags and coasters and fragrances are arranged just so, on blond-wood shelves supported by steel sawhorses. The sandwiches are served on Clark Street Bread. The newspaper-swaddled bouquets are of the simple, tastefully effortless sort. Nothing is cheap, but everything feels as if it's worth what you're forking over. You'll want to occupy one of the shop's Eames-style chairs for longer than you should. You'll ask yourself if you ever really need to go home.
Isn't it weird that you live right next to the ocean but are rarely ever on the ocean? In Marina del Rey, sunset sailing tours abound, but there's something special about the tours led by Captain Matthew Mancini at Old Plank Sailing Adventures. For a two- or three-hour sail, you and a group of friends get Mancini as your easygoing, all-knowledgeable, personal guide to the water. Mancini wows his guests by answering any and every question you may have about the sea and by sharing his own fascinating stories of life as a sailor, but if you're there for the privacy, just head to the front of the boat. He's happy as a clam simply steering the ship for you. You can bring your own wine and food, and he'll also provide some rosé and tasty hors d'oeuvres. But if you've got time for a two- to four-day all-inclusive island trip, Captain Mancini's a hell of a cook, specializing in Italian dishes (obviously featuring lots of fish). Book ahead of time, because the captain's becoming a popular guy.
Runner-up: Dan Rook, Ever Bar