Acclaimed Chef Paul Shoemaker and Grammy Award Winner Manny Marroquin Launch Verse in Toluca Lake
Swanky supper club, anyone?
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byKaren Young
You’d never guess it, but around the bend from Universal Studios on a dimly lit stretch of Lankershim Boulevard lies a restaurant demonstrating culinary ingenuity and glamorous flair. Look for a single gold “V” against a blue exterior with a doorman in tow—you’ve arrived at Verse.
After a four-year build-out, the space that formerly housed Firenze Osteria is unrecognizable. A shimmering backlit bar sits at one end of the 140-seat dining room. On the other end: a grand bookcase that serves as the backdrop for live music. Well-spaced seating includes a plush banquette, a few high-tops, and wood tables of varying sizes accompanied by jewel-toned velvet chairs.
The music-driven supper club is the brainchild of three partners. Overseeing the entire operation is general manager Rob Ciancimino (formerly at The Sayers Club), a hospitality veteran who circulates throughout the room greeting guests with genuine finesse.
Manny Marroquin, a nine-time Grammy-winning sound engineer who owns the adjacent Larrabee Studios, installed the state-of-the-art fiber optics sound system whereby the sound level in the room can be adjusted by management at the touch of an iPad. The result: a buzzy ambiance that permits conversation among patrons.
Music-wise, Verse is developing an eclectic program featuring live performances, curated playlists and surprise guests. Considering Manny has worked with such artists as Lizzo, Post Malone, John Mayer, Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars, you never know who might show up.
Helming the kitchen is chef Paul Shoemaker, whose fine-dining pedigree includes Providence, French Laundry and the former Bastide, where Paul earned a highly coveted Michelin star. At Verse, the chef blends traditional classic French techniques with progressive methods such as liquid nitrogen, a process used to magically chill and creatively enhance dishes. A private chef’s table in the kitchen with a prix fixe menu for parties of 10 can be reserved.
Known for combining savory and sweet ingredients into exciting flavor bombs, the chef plates his dishes beautifully and playfully without pretention. A complimentary amuse-bouche is brought to each table and may include his signature edible brown-butter “dime bag” filled with cocoa nibs, coconut and nuts accompanied by a wasabi pea-soy marshmallow, or a petite olive oil panna cotta with a dab of caviar.
Bite-size snacks include crispy salmon skin topped with cured salmon, citrus crème fraîche and smoked steelhead roe; skewered chorizo-and-squid “lollipops;” and deliciously stinky Époisses de Bourgogne cheese served on spoons and topped with honeycomb. Amberjack crudo is a standout cold starter marrying the sweetness of candy kumquats with pickled Fresno chili, while the big-eye tuna tartare tantalizes with pickled plum and avocado served in a jar. Among the hot starters, the Bouchot mussels with nduja (red pepper sausage) sauce is generous enough for sharing.
The pork chop is succulent—sliced and served with green lentils and bacon, and topped with maple-whipped pumpkin butter. The perfectly seasoned beef tenderloin, prepared on a Josper Grill using almond wood, is spot-on tender. A 6-ounce Maine lobster tail majestically placed atop handmade bucatini is a decadent treat. Vegan options include a comforting warm grain salad. Among the whimsical desserts: carrot cake topped with carrot ice cream.
The wine list, curated by the sommelier behind Augustine Wine Bar, features global varietals. Classic craft cocktails include theatrical presentations such as a Smoked Old Fashioned delivered tableside in a lantern, and absinthe on a bar cart.
Verse marks another step forward for the growing culinary landscape in the Valley. It will be interesting to see how the menu and music calendar evolves, but in the meantime, it is destination dining worth the drive.