Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Larry's - Homage to Another Old Man by the Sea

I have a thing for old weathered men teetering on the verge between bum, genius or grandfather. I am even writing one into my novel at the moment who is based on King Neptune and lives under the Santa Monica pier. Since moving to Venice I have grown fond of these characters who fit this bill and never cease to find joy when one of them moves by me on the street raving some unintelligible thing or ends up ducking into a million dollar warehouse in the studio district.

Artist Larry Bell’s smirking neon profile complete with smoking cigar between his lips has been winking down at me from a steel gray building for the past few months whenever I visit Windward Circle. My attention was first called to the place by the folks at Danny’s longtime neighborhood staple bar and nosh pit across the way while I sat talking to a long lost friend from New Orleans one evening who frequents the place. Seems like everyone there was pissed off at the new competition vying for the boardwalk pedestrians and neighborhood barflys, which in Venice Beach are oftentimes-famous people, like ex-Dogtown skaters and artists.

Larry Bell, like Dennis Hopper, Robert Graham and Ed Moses, all stem from the wise old salty studio men annals of Venice Beach where the rugged sea air does wonders to leather up a face, and years of (insert choice of drugs, alcohol or smokes) forever add ingredients to the sea air brine already settling into the smooth and firm lines in a face. These guys are known (or were known in the case of Dennis and Bob) to hang out in the bars, restaurants, and shops dotting Abbott Kinney like Hal’s and also near the Speedway, partaking in French fries and beer just like the regular folk.

So, finding out a little more about Larry’s this past weekend was a pleasant surprise to me as I had been expecting it to be no different than any of the other boardwalk restaurants: full of quick fuel up carbs and generic in diner/deli food type taste; you know the pizza and burger joint to shut the kids up at the tail end of a long day of beach.

But the Cute Gardener actually explained to me that Larry’s, although inspired by the artist himself, was actually the collaborative inspiration of the teams behind Venice’s Hotel Erwin and Culver City’s Waterloo and City Restaurant and it fancied itself an actual grown up gastropub. We walked over to check it out.

Although Bell was a pioneer of the California minimalist movement, and is actually in a Pacific Standard Time show at the moment at Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery, the restaurant was busy and packed. Wooden upscale benches for eating dotted the décor and lots of green frond plants in peripheral planters that separated up the space and a tucked into the interior bar where folks can get sloshed without seeing the diners were just a bit of the ambience. A fireplace with colored tile mosaics sat at one end of the place, I guess for when the ocean air nips a little too much into the openness of the beachside portion of the space.

Virtual light and space painting transforms the sky from day to night outside

We were there for an early Saturday dinner and it was packed. But it was packed with boardwalk types and young guys looking for a tall glass of beer and personal pan pizza and rich local families with kids pretending to look white trash with moms who sport whale tails and jeans. The Cute Gardener and I kept getting stares at our plates because we actually ordered the food the restaurant had popped up to serve. We had a feeling that the lull that came next might be the lull that also clears off the beach near sundown and that the serious foodie types would be the next group to populate the place. Or so we hoped, because the food was downright delicious and deserving of some respect.

With a bottle of red, we hunkered down for some grub.


Huge fried risotto balls were first with belly-warming centers of burgundy beef Bolognese.


This could have easily been considered a lunch entrée for one and the slightly pickled aioli sauce added the perfect tangy notes to the otherwise comforting dish.

A light and fluffy potted chicken liver and foie-gras parfait came coated with a sweet layer of candy like fat, sweet potato jam, house made pickles and thick slabs of toasted brioche.

We missed the specials menu because we had been so entranced with the normal menu. We also took quite a while deciding that our third plate would be a shrimp ragu with lobster tomato sauce. That is of course until our waiter started to relay the specials to us towards the end of our meal and we both, without blinking or missing a beat, answered him back “Cassoulet” at the end of his recitation. We are both pork belly whores and cassoulet’s not a bad thing either for an end of the day, colder climate.

What we actually got was more of a pork and beans because the beans were tiny and sugar, maple spiked tangy, the wetness was lacking and the pork was a humongous slab of belly that dominated the dish underneath a pile of charred leeks. We didn’t care; we are not prone to complain over receiving a massive chunk of pork on our plate.

And as casual as the restaurant seemed, we were very impressed that our waiter kept coming back to fill our wine glasses. And that a waiter patiently manned an oyster bar by the door the entire time we were there, shucking out $3 a pop little gems for whomever happened by that wanted one. I hope these small touches of class alongside the excellent tastes continue to allure true food lovers in because the place has a lot to offer for those who appreciate it.

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