No Love For Leona…


Many covet southern California weather.

Lately, it has been NY summer conditions…hot and humid.

Last Friday night we lost power in the ‘hood and decided to head to the beach area bordering Venice and Marina Del Rey, back to where we resided for 15 years.

I had read about a new restaurant from former Top Chef:Texas participant and Food Networks Chef Hunter winner, Nyesha J. Arrington.

Arrington was mentored by Josiah Citrin, Chef/Owner of the acclaimed 2 star Michelin restaurant, Melisse, as well as serving as the former executive chef at Wilshire both in Santa Monica.

 As for the name, Leona, it was the original street name for Washington Boulevard before it was annexed to Los Angeles.

The traffic was light and we arrived in 20 minutes, found parking and headed into Leona.

Leona opened about one month ago situated by Venice Beach and is promoting itself as “California Progressive Cuisine”.

The menu is ‘seasonally driven, ethically harvested and globally inspired.’

Leona INterior
Leona Interior

The decor is minimal and the interior was hot. No air conditioning inside. We were early for our reservation and sat at the chef’s counter as the tiny bar area was filled.

In addition to the chef’s counter, there are communal tables, a wine bar and outdoor patio. We ordered a Smog City Pilsner and a glass of bubbly and toasted the hot, humid evening.

The hosts and server, Alise, were delightful and well informed.

Baby Iceberg
Baby Iceberg

We started out with a wedge salad. Wedge is a classic American salad comprised of iceberg lettuce. This was a tasty, but aptly named, Baby Iceberg.

The lettuce was injected with a syringe full of ranch dressing. The dressing emanated from the inside out, just like a collagen injection.

There were 2 slices of tantalizing bleu cheese. The ‘Herb Melange’ was overly herby. The bacon was delicious, but there were 4 cubed pieces the size of dainty mints. The salad was embellished with 1 pearl sized tomato, halfed. David and I shared and we literally consumed 3 bites ($12).

We were interested in the Wakame Cured Hamachi with yuzu. The server’s description led us to believe that the slices of hamachi were quite small ($18).

Let’s be clear. We don’t need a Super Size portion, but the “To Begin” items were meager.

Also offered was a cocktail mixto made with chilled watermelon and tomato jus, a variety of local seafood, avocado, cilantro flowers and crispy rice paper ($15), non-traditional Fish & Chips ($14), Housemade Cheese & Wild Seed Crackers that sounded similar to what I used to whip up when I was in grad school ($11), flatbread ($14) and Crispy Curry Chickpeas ($6) that went untouched at a neighboring table.

Uni Risotto
Uni Risotto

You had me at uni…the uni risotto special of the evening was made with tapioca instead of rice and was comprised of sweet uni, sesame seeds, mussels and shiso. It was unusual and delicious. This was my favorite dish by far. I would have enjoyed a bit more shiso and less sesame ($18).

Black Cod
Black Cod

For a main we selected the Local Black Cod in a sweet onion jus and Japanese mustard greens ($26). I prefer my own homemade version. I love the crispy topping on black cod. The jus was tasteless and the onions bland.

The cod was marinated in mustard for 48 hours. I found the mustard flavor outshined the cod. Again, too much going on in the dish. Black Cod can stand alone with minimal accessorizing.

The “And Then” part of the menu, included Meatballs de Corazon ($22) Lamb Belly Wontons with Bloomsdale spinach and crispy artichokes ($24), Ocean Trout with crushed minty peas and lemon creme fraichee ($25), Chicken Brick with slow roasted apricots ($24) and Bulgogi Braised Shortribs With roasted bone marrow and Weiser Farm potatoes ($27). This particular dish looked impressive and was a very popular selection, inspired by the bulgogi Arrington’s mother made when she was a child.

There is also “A Little More” section. Options included Dutch Fries ($9), Beluga Lentils with radish top pistou ($11), Ai-Soon Broccolini with sesame and fermented garlic ($7), Fire-Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes with Chives, Burrata and Coconut Oil ($9) and our choice of Cauliflower Aligot with smoked mozzarella ($7).

Cauliflower Aligot
Cauliflower Aligot

We had a fabulous version at Cadet in Santa Monica. Leona’s was like eating a bowl of melted cheese. My bad. I really do not enjoy smoked cheese. The cauliflower was an illusion. Very disappointing.

Every dish was overly embellished.

In general, it was all too precious.

The patrons skewed younger. No surprise as we were in Venice.

The music was terrible. Why have music if you do not invest the time and energy. It was a K-Tel package from the 80’s of pounding disco.

Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel

Leona needs to adhere to the words of Coco Chanel, the world’s most elegant woman who was said to have advised the following when dressing with accessories: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”

The team at Leona should hold back on at least one ingredient before presently each dish.

Leona 123 West Washington Boulevard, Venice, California. Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday 5:30-11pm, Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10am-2pm. Reservations on OpenTable. Street Parking available.

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