With tourists flocking to the coast, rent is often too high to make fine-dining concepts financially feasible.
"It's amazing that there are almost no restaurants down here on the beach," says Zislis. "The fact that my partners bought this real estate — a four-story restaurant right on the beach — is amazing. Not only does it not happen in Manhattan Beach, it doesn't happen in the South Bay, period."
In addition to a downstairs lounge for dancing and a subterranean wine-cellar dining room, the Strand House will feature third- and fourth-level dining patios with ocean views.
"Rock'n Fish draws from Marina Del Rey to Palos Verdes," says Zislis. "I just want to cast a little bigger net. It's such an incredible view, I think people will drive a little bit farther for it."
And maybe Manhattan Beach residents will no longer feel the need to drive as far to eat.
Barry Fisher, a produce exporter who has owned a Manhattan Beach gourmet fresh fruit and vegetable market called Grow for five years, says that over the years he has watched his customers really get into the idea of fresh, locally sourced produce. "That's changed dramatically since we first opened," he says, adding that demand has allowed him to branch out to offer fresh produce home delivery to the area.
And feeding demand is what these new restaurants are all about. Particularly in the case of Torrance's 1321 Downtown Taproom Bistro, which, apart from a mainstay called the Depot and a smattering of Asian and Mexican restaurants, is operating in a remarkably underserved area.
"Right now it's a sleepy area where businesses just shut down if they aren't busy," says MOD founder Max Schlutz, formerly of the glitzy Domaine Restaurant Group, which opened restaurants such as 25 Degrees in Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. "Now that we're here, the antique shop down the street is staying open until 9 p.m. and the coffee shop around the corner is getting more business."
To be successful in Torrance, the group behind 1321, including owner Steven Torres and his brother Brian, the marketing director, have focused on a hyper-local angle to draw in the community and make it feel that 1321 is its home base. The Torres brothers grew up in Torrance, and Brian, who is also recruiting local music acts to play in the bar, has peppered the cozy, dark-wood-accented restaurant with black-and-white pictures from the Torrance Historical Society featuring the city's first graduating high school class, its first train and a prominent portrait of town founder Jared Torrance.
Chef Greg Paul's menu of Latin-flavored comfort food with adventurous edges includes braised oxtail enchiladas; barbecued lamb ribs with sherry reduction; "downtown meatballs" with Creole cream; and juicy, house-ground burgers. There are also 16 craft beers on tap, including offerings from Stone Brewing Co., Green Flash and Dogfish Head.
The idea is to deliver a swank dining experience without a huge price tag in an area that appreciates it. If 1321 proves successful, MOD, which stands for "manage/operate/develop," hopes to open new concepts in other areas with similar needs.
"Downey, Anaheim Hills, Yorba Linda, Old Town Tustin, Arcadia, words you don't generally hear in the restaurant business," says Schlutz, who says he's been a part of opening too many high-concept restaurants in places "people want to vacation," only to see them brought down by high rent and a finicky public with too many choices.
The locations he's looking at now are "not poor areas or unsophisticated areas — just places lacking upscale food."
South Bay restaurants: Chez Melange, Strand House and more.
1321 Downtown Taproom Bistro: 1321 Sartori Ave., Torrance, (310) 618-1321, http://www.1321downtown.com
Café Pierre: 317 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5252, http://www.cafepierre.com
Chez Melange: 1611 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach, (310) 540-1222, http://www.chezmelange.com
Grow:1830 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-2904, http://www.growtps.com
M.B. Post: 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5405, eatmbpost.com
Strand House: 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-7470, thestrandhouseMB.com