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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Eclectic Menu at James' Beach in Venice

November 01, 1996|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Now when you turn down North Venice Boulevard toward the sea, the name picked out in smoky blue neon is JAMES' BEACH. Yep. The West Beach Cafe is history. And James Evans, former general manager of 72 Market, steps into Bruce Marder's shoes at the casual Venice spot. Gone is the funky beach shack look, the strange and wonderful art, the shadowy corners where Venice's shaggy intelligentsia held court. The lights have been turned up, the bar stools painted a bright red and behind the bar, a window looks onto the breezy patio.

It's a startling transformation.

Shari Lynne Robins, who last cooked at the now-defunct fusion at pdc, has devised the menu for James' Beach. She's calling it New American Club Cooking, which is described as a melange of traditional American comfort food, classic club meals from Hollywood's golden age, Jewish home cooking and East Coast seafood.

But isn't that the Pacific, not the Atlantic, Ocean just down the block? Whatever. It means you can find Texas steak tartare, towering shrimp louis, calves' liver, pan-fried sand dabs and Maryland crab all on the same menu. Most welcome are the moderately priced daily specials such as Tuesday's chicken pot pie, Thursday's fried chicken, Friday's lobster "beach style" and Sunday's roast turkey dinner.

Brunch is back, too, with organic steel-cut oatmeal cooked in apple juice, Coast toast and matzoh brei. And for those mornings when you can barely roll out of bed, she proposes "the hangover plate"--two poached eggs on an English muffin smothered with "hangover stew" and, if you like, a shot of bloody Mary on the side. That must be the comfort food component.

* James' Beach, 60 N. Venice Blvd., Venice; (310) 823-5396. Open nightly for dinner and on Saturday and Sunday for brunch. Breakfast and lunch will be added soon. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Appetizers $4-$25; entrees $9-$24.

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