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If Cafe More's Walls Could Talk . . .

Removal of drywall at the old Nat's uncovers treasures now on view in the new restaurant.

August 10, 2000|ANGELA PETTERA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More Than They Bargained For: For new property owners, renovating an existing restaurant sometimes turns out to be more of an excavation process. Regan Jackson, a production designer, found this out firsthand when he bought Nat's Coffee Shop, an old Santa Monica diner, with his three partners. Nat's, housed in a 1927 building, has been around for years, even making an appearance on the back cover of Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" album. Recently, the Health Department demanded that Jackson tear down all the drywall in the space. At first this seemed an expensive setback, but it turned out to be a blessing. When Jackson began peeling back the layers of the restaurant, he discovered hidden 20-foot ceilings and an entombed Art Deco-style door made of wood and etched glass. Jackson has finished the new walls with tobacco leaves, put in wood coverings and backlighted that etched glass door. And now he and partners Ashley Joyce, Theodore Laufer and Mark Humphrey have opened Cafe More. It's a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot that's heavy on light eating. Egg dishes dot the breakfast and brunch menus; salads, sandwiches and pizzas dominate at lunch; and dinner is mostly about tapas. "We're trying to provide the community with a noncorporate place to eat," Jackson says. Dishes range between $3 and $16. Cafe More is open daily, serving until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Right now the place has no sign, but it's next to Harvell's blues bar.

* Cafe More, 1432-A 4th St., Santa Monica; (310) 576-6789.

Rotating Toques: The music must have started somewhere, because a whole bunch of chefs have been playing musical chairs. One new seat belongs to Mohammed Averos over at Cyrano Restaurant. Averos, who was last the chef at the now-closed 2424 Pico in Santa Monica, has taken the menu from French provincial to Mediterranean with Moroccan touches. The Casablanca-born Averos gets bored by one-dimensional menus. "I like diversity on the same plate," he tells us. Witness his white asparagus salad with an orange-ginger vinaigrette ($12), the monkfish and Manila clams tajine with preserved lemon ($25) and the braised lamb shank with flageolet beans, pearl onions and raisins ($18).

* Cyrano, in the Antiquarian Center, 8840 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 271-4193.

Meanwhile, Shunji Nakao has taken the sushi seat at the Hump, the sushi bar that sits atop Typhoon at the Santa Monica Airport. Nakao still owns a sushi bar on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Asanebo; he's letting his brother run the place in his absence. Nakao sharpened his skills at the well-known Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills.

* The Hump, Santa Monica Airport, 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica; (310) 313-0977.

Growing Pains: The little Los Feliz restaurant named vermont is expanding in a few directions. Onto the roof, for one. Owners Michael Gelzhiser and Manuel Mesta are converting their roof into a plant-laden and umbrella-covered dining area. It's meant to be casual and comfortable, not fussy or prissy. "No Bistro Garden for me," says Gelzhiser. When the rooftop opens for dining, in about a month, it will hold 30 to 40 people. The guys are also taking advantage of their new liquor license by expanding next door into the recently closed Sarno's bakery. After the adjoining wall is opened up, the space will be converted into a bar and lounge serving all manner of drinks (alcoholic and non-) and small bites of food. The bar area will be ready around Oct. 1.

* vermont, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 661-6163.

Moving Downtown: Tara Thomas, owner of Traxx restaurant in Union Station in downtown L.A., has snagged Jason Baker from the ashes of Cienega restaurant, which closed in June, to be her wine steward and general manager. Baker, who has revved up wine lists at the Water Grill downtown and the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, will do the same for Traxx. He's also adding wine tastings to the bar's repertoire and artisan beers and rare teas to the beverage list. With his arrival, Thomas has decided to change her menu more often to coordinate with seasonal produce and Baker's wine picks.

* Traxx, Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St., L.A.; (213) 625-1999.

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Angela Pettera can be reached at (213) 237-3153 or at pettera@prodigy.net

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