Leona’s in Studio City Puts a Peruvian Twist on Sushi

And wait until you see the space!

Sushi: rice and raw fish. Simple, right? Not at all. 

As a young chef in San Francisco, I had someone tell me, “Cook me a perfectly juicy chicken with golden crispy skin and then show me all your fancy stuff.” That always stuck with me. One needs to perfect the basics first and then build upon that. Sushi is one of the greatest examples—and Leona’s nails it.

Leona’s, the newest concept by serial Studio City restaurateur Frank Leon, takes over the large space that housed two of his other eateries: Ceremony and La Loggia. He ran the latter for 33 years. 

“I was bored and really wanted to do something different,” Frank says. “We are doing Nikkei cuisine, basically Peruvian-Japanese fusion. It is similar to what Nobu does. A lot of people don’t realize this, but Nobu was raised in Peru. So things like using jalapeño with yellowtail tuna, offering ceviche—that’s the kind of twist I’m talking about and what you’ll experience at Leona’s.”

When it came to helming the sushi bar, Frank tapped an expert. Shigenori Fujimoto hails from acclaimed sushi eateries Matsuhisa and Asanebo—and it shows on every plate.

Our sushi assortment came out looking clean and fresh. I could tell immediately that they knew what they were doing by how the fish was cut: thin and against the grain and draping delicately over the rice like a silk scarf. Upon the first bite, I was not overwhelmed by wasabi, an all too common experience with sushi. The rice was not too warm nor too cold. It was room temperature—just right. It held together and had a mild sweetness and clean flavor. Temperature also came into play with the fish. It was just warm enough to release its subtle, fresh perfume. When it is too cold, you lose the bouquet and thus some of the flavor, just as with a glass of white wine.

The waiter advised us not to use soy sauce, as everything was properly dressed, based on the fish being presented. (The idea is to avoid piling on dressings that hijack flavor.) He was right. The yellowtail and albacore had the perfect dollop of yuzu kosho—a pasty Japanese condiment made from fresh chiles, salt and the citrus fruit yuzu. 

Another thoughtful, presentation: the uni (sea urchin), a creamy, fresh bite of the ocean. It was wrapped in a small band of nori and topped with the perfect amount of wasabi, cleansing the palate and balancing the richness.

Patrons of La Loggia and Ceremony will hardly recognize the rejiggered space, now separated into three distinct, adjoining areas with a single entrance. The dining room of La Loggia has been reimagined as an eatery with a large sushi bar, high-backed, upholstered booths along the walls, and a frontage of retractable windows. The middle space, previously La Loggia’s patio, is now a marble-floored lounge with a generous bar and fireplace. The former Ceremony space is now fashioned as a moody speakeasy with low lighting and high ceilings. Dark emerald-hued walls, oversized chandeliers, and wooden floors round out the dramatic vibe. 

Frank’s partner in Leona’s is Evan Ross, Diana Ross’s son, who is married to the singer Ashlee Simpson. 

“I’ve been friends with the Simpson family for a long time,” explains Frank. “Way back from when Ashlee and her sister Jessica and her mom were living in Sherman Oaks, and the girls were going out on casting calls for pilot season. Evan and I became friends, and we felt like we could create something together.”

Frank operates the business side of Leona’s. Evan, an actor and musician, is in charge of “the vibe and bringing in new clientele.”  

Frank says they’ve tried to cover all aspects of the dining experience, including catering to patrons who don’t care for sushi. The menu offers a large selection of alternatives, such as baked branzino, Jidori chicken, Korubuta pork chop and filet mignon. For hard-core La Loggia fans, they’ve put a version of the crowd-pleasing pasta carbonara on the menu—albeit made with udon noodles.  

From what to order to where to sit, Leona’s offers a plethora of choices. My best advice: Dine in whichever room strikes your fancy, but stay basic with the food. Stick to the sushi. In a town with an abundance of strong sushi options, Leona’s stands tall.