When Hitesh Ambalal opened Arcwood Wine Bar two years ago, he served a tasty blend of American and Los Angeles cuisine paired with a curated selection of refined, old-world wines. Business was good. But like any smart restaurateur, Hitesh sensed something needed to change.
Enter Dom Riccard, a 31-year-old Louisiana born-and-bred chef. “I’ve known Dom through the industry for a while and I knew what she was capable of.” Hitesh hired her to helm Arcwood’s kitchen, and the two started talking about Dom’s passion: New Orleans cuisine.
“I’ve been cooking in a kitchen since I was four years old. No one else really wanted to be in there except me. First I watched and then I helped. I cook how my mother cooked and how her mother cooked,” Dom shares.
The opening salvo was cornbread, which Dom’s mom always topped with a homemade sweet red pepper jelly. After baking the cornbread in a cast-iron pan, Dom put her own spin on it, capping off the bread and pepper jelly with a dollop of honey butter.
“Dom made a couple of other dishes that day, but the cornbread was the first thing I tasted. It was simple but so good. Once I tasted that and the jambalaya and the blackened rockfish, it just made sense to let her take the reins,” Hitesh explains.
The next logical step was an overhaul of the wine program. Arcwood patrons seemed ho-hum about the internationally inspired wine menu. So Hitesh switched gears, offering a collection of unique, reasonably priced California wines from small boutique vineyards that complemented Dom’s menu.
“It was the right move. Turns out our customers wanted wines that felt more accessible,” says Hitesh. These days customers can’t seem to get enough of varietals like a red blend made by Dave Phinney at Orin Swift for $60 a bottle.
Dom grew up near Baton Rouge, and her earliest memories are of being in the kitchen. “I can remember at four years old helping my mom in the kitchen.” She attended culinary school in Louisiana and worked in a succession of restaurants, ultimately moving to LA and working in eateries from Long Beach to West Hollywood.
“I’ve had a lot of restaurant experience, but this was the first menu I created. People sometimes think New Orleans cuisine is very spicy, but that’s a misconception. I think of it as flavorful. With dishes like gumbo, we offer a hot sauce, and you can make it as spicy as you like,” says the chef.
A few customers complained that they missed the burger on the menu so—always wanting to stay on the cusp of what customers want—Dom has been working on a Cajun burger that will appear on the menu in the New Year. “It has pepper jack cheese and a homemade relish on it. We’ll see how it does,” she says.
In January, Arcwood kicks off a chef’s tasting series, a 10-seat multicourse dinner with wine pairings, that will be held Thursday through Saturday nights.
Hitesh says he plans to keep switching it up, listening to customer feedback and riffing off Dom’s inspirations. “When you have someone of that caliber in the kitchen, you get out of the way and let them do their thing.”