Restaurant Reinvention

Two Manhattan Beach staples undergo major menu and interior renovations, and one even gets a new name.

How do you tell when a town is finally having its foodie moment? It’s happening this summer in Manhattan Beach, where everything old is new again—and by “old” we mean only in California light-speed years. 

The past few ones here in the South Bay have been marked by an explosion of new and serious restaurants, where entrepreneurs like Mike Zislis long ago recognized the culinary opportunity the area offered. Chefs like David LeFevre, who did tours of urban duty in Chicago and downtown LA, also realized that one could cook serious food alongside serious surf. More recent chef-driven openings, like Tin Vuong’s triumvirate of Abigaile, Little Sister and Día del Campo, affirm the trend too. 

So what are the, ahem, old-timers to do to keep pace?

In the case of the landmark Café Pierre, father-daughter owners Guy and Sylvie Gabriele decided to reinvent entirely. Opened in May 1977 as a crêpe joint (Crêpe Pierre), the space at 317 Manhattan Beach Boulevard has witnessed, weathered and withstood just about all that SoCal could throw at it and has done so with remarkable grace and hospitality. 

It was for many years the sole outpost of decent restaurant wine in the South Bay—the only place where a couple that cared could find serious Champagne alongside evolving French cuisine. Café Pierre closed this past April, just in time to catch rising star and free agent Chef Michael Fiorelli for an exciting conceptual and physical re-launch slated for this summer.  

Formerly chef de cuisine at Terranea in Palos Verdes, Michael is in my not-at-all humble opinion one of the most innately talented chefs in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s raw in him—maybe genetic since his ancestry spans Italy north to south—and is complemented by tutelage under chefs as varied as Kerry Simon and Patrick O’Connell.  

I once had perfect—completely perfect—English spring pea soup at mar’sel, the fancy-pants place that Chef Michael captained for several years while at Terranea. That I remember that simple soup so vividly amidst years of eating everywhere is telling.  

Also, I have lately learned that Michael is quite hilarious, and I get the sense that he’s ready to cut loose a bit at Love and Salt, the new restaurant that will soon replace Café Pierre. While he speaks warmly of his time at Terranea, he’s excited to be doing his own thing. 

“Win or lose, good or bad, at least it’s my decision,” Michael notes, after years of “cooking by committee.” This guy has met the right Guy, and it’s an exciting partnership.

As Guy Gabriele puts it, “We see this not as a loss but as positive change.” And Sylvie notes, “We feel great … it’s been a process, with things constantly evolving.” 

Guy also points out, “We are more and more a part of Los Angeles, with merging boundaries, and this is a great thing for people passionate about food. It opens doors for us.”  

Both Guy and Sylvie will remain an integral part of Love and Salt’s day-to-day operations, where Michael plans an Italian-influenced menu with California sensibility. “There won’t be spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna, but it will be super-casual and accessible,” promises the chef. 

And that name? Love and salt are the only two things necessary for great food, per Michael and his tattoos—that and similarly well-seasoned partners who also love what they do. I can’t wait for this opening. Watch the plywood as you walk by and get reservations early … you’ll need them.

 

 

 

Darren’s Restaurant, 1141 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, darrensrestaurant.com

 

In a similar spirit, I vividly remember the first time I had dinner at Darren’s Restaurant, a somewhat unassuming place matched by an unassuming chef, back when I was first dating a somewhat unassuming movie guy from the South Bay. At that first meal, I remember perfectly cooked fish, which—like pea soup—is harder to achieve than it may seem. True pros pay attention to details, and Chef Darren Weiss is a pro.  

Recently, my movie guy husband and our consequent two kids had dinner again at Darren’s, which is also poised for big change this summer. Once again, the fish was perfect. In this case it was medium-rare salmon with a Thai-inflected sweet chili sauce and peanut crust, which when I attempt it at home always seems to turn to Jif in a jiffy. (I am not a chef; I just appreciate great ones.) 

Chef Darren and I talked about the physical revamp planned for his space, which is a tricky and tight dining room, although one that is happily located in what Darren rightly calls the new “Melrose in Manhattan Beach.” 

 

 

In the spirit of new dining trends, the chef plans to focus on more communal menu offerings, whether small plates for snacking or giant, whole-fish extravaganzas for splurging. 

The beloved bar space at Darren’s (don’t worry, they’ll still have happy hour) will be opened up with a wall of glass windows meant to maximize the indoor-outdoor feel of the restaurant, and a large community table will be added for shareable meals. I got a sneak peek at the new menu and loved the “under the horizon” (seafood/fish) and “above the horizon” (meat/veg) organization. 

In this latest incarnation, Darren’s will preserve its pedigree as the go-to place for chef-driven food, awesome wine and sincere service, while looking ahead to match a new Manhattan Beach clientele that is hungry, savvy and ready for serious eat and drink. 

Get ready for old spaces made new this summer as the South Bay continues its rise as a go-to destination for dining.

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