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AK Restaurant + Bar in Venice

Conny Andersson's Venice restaurant has been a hit from Day One. Bring on the herring.


It might seem that there is little as unlikely as a Scandinavian restaurant in Southern California, but for many years one of L.A.'s most celebrated spots was Scandia on Sunset Boulevard. It had closed by the time I came to town, but Gustaf Anders was still carrying the flame for the cuisine in Costa Mesa. That's gone now too, but I still remember the generous holiday buffet that went on for the entire month of December, the sumptuous platters of crayfish boiled with dill in summer and the pretty princess cake wrapped in green marzipan.

The new AK Restaurant + Bar from former Four Seasons hotel chef and Swede Conny Andersson is less self-consciously Scandinavian than either of those, but it does include a handful of traditional dishes as part of a casual bistro menu in a sleek, contemporary setting that has been happily humming along since the day it opened on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.

I naturally gravitate to the box labeled "Flavors of Scandinavia" set off from the rest of the menu. A lot of restaurants serve gravlax, but nothing like Andersson's. Cured in aquavit, it is firm and supple, sweet and salty at the same time, with the rich taste of the salmon coming through. He gives the mustard sauce a twist with a splash of espresso to set off the honey in the mustard. If you love herring, try his trio of herring -- some sweeter, some more vinegary, one in cream sauce, a wonderfully satisfying plate that also includes Swedish cracker bread and nutty Vasterbotten cheese. There are also house-baked rolls and breads.

And his Swedish meatballs redeem the dish from the likes of IKEA. His are fluffy and agreeable, served with good mashed potatoes, a little gravy and the lingonberry sauce that's the Swedish equivalent of cranberry sauce, elegant and a little less sharp. It's also the bargain entree on the menu at $24.

I just wish he was less reticent about serving more classic Swedish dishes. I'm not saying the whole menu should be Scandinavian, but I'd love to see more of this neglected cooking.

Worldly scope

Andersson's menu is really more global bistro than anything else. And his is no book learning. As executive chef for the luxury hotel chain, he's worked around the world -- in India, Egypt, the Caribbean and Bali, as well as here in Beverly Hills. And now at age 45, he has opened his first restaurant on Abbot Kinney next door to Wabi Sabi.

Built as an indoor-outdoor restaurant, AK's front room is an enclosed patio screened from the street by a stand of bamboo. In summer, the windows open up the space to the salt air; in winter, a gas fireplace framed in shimmering green tiles keeps diners cozy.

At the back is the bar with a wraparound counter and two tall communal tables. It's a warm and welcoming space that stays open until 1 a.m. most nights, serving an abbreviated bar menu. Upstairs on a sort of mezzanine overlooking the patio is another dining room, more intimate than the patio but furnished with the same ultra-comfy chairs. After some of the more excruciating seating I've endured, these chairs are sheer luxury, an invitation to linger over dinner in this handsome space.

Andersson is a seasoned chef, and it showed even in the first week, when the kitchen performed as if the place had been open for months, not days. That may seem like a small thing, but as new restaurants go lately, it's major. He has also hired an excellent staff -- from the front of the house to the sommelier, servers and runners. No worries: You can just sit back and enjoy the experience.

Though the chef has been cooking in high-end hotels for years, his food here is much more personal than what's usually required of a Four Seasons chef. Flavors are focused and not all over the map. Each dish is concise, and he knows how to plate so the food begs to be eaten. In short, he's a real pro.

The bowl of steamed blue mussels comes with duck sausage, piquillo peppers and a swirl of beautiful green pistachio parsley pesto that add pizazz to a dish that's everywhere these days. His charcuterie entry is duck rillettes, served with vibrant pickled vegetables and thick slabs of warm, grilled country bread. If you're the sort of person who likes to keep your dish all to yourself, order the sampler platter of artichoke served three ways. You get a shot of intensely artichoke-y chilled soup, a single warm goat cheese fritter and some shaved raw artichoke adorned with lemon and Parmesan. A brief yet comprehensive education on the virtues of the artichoke.

Green notes

Andersson has been in Southern California long enough to pick up a serious salad habit. One I like very much is his baby frisee salad embellished with a poached egg that's been breaded and fried, the yolk a startlingly deep gold. Tucked underneath are some strips of smoked salmon in place of the usual bacon. Clever, no? And delicious.

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