Market Vice

More than just bar food.

That a full-on restaurant renaissance is happening in the Valley is clear to see. Big-name chefs are increasingly opening on our side of the hill; perhaps they realize that we in the 818 ought to be able to eat out without sacrificing precious hours of our lives on the pyre of the 405. There’s a walkability in the air along the Boulevard—a sense of staying in one’s own neighborhood that is reflected by impromptu dining, an extra round (or three) of drinks and a postprandial stroll. This “our town, our place” vibe is particularly apparent at new Studio City hotspot Black Market Liquor Bar. A recent weekday dinner around 6 p.m. revealed a packed house. From a party of 10 women drinking wine and opening gifts to several steamy tables à deux to some intrepid solo diners keeping company with a pint and small plates, it was on and then some. My immediate reaction was one of jealousy. Why doesn’t Topanga (where I live) have this exact kind of place, where diners of all stripes and inclinations can find a meaningful neighborhood home?

At the epicenter of this runaway success is executive chef Antonia Lofaso. Her equanimity (and cheekbones … jealous again!) won her legions of fans on Top Chef. What TV viewers may not know is that Antonia is a real chef—present, running the show, a calming central force whose confident cooking runs the culinary gamut from perfect duck rillettes to chicken bao to crispy collard greens. Take a seat at the curving back bar and watch Antonia in action as she expedites with remarkable grace under pressure. High notes from our meal included a perfect roasted baby beet salad with ricotta, tarragon and vanilla, a wintry oxtail ragu with perciatelli done al dente and sope with confit of beef tongue and some cactus—wildly disparate plates but each executed with a precision that speaks to raw talent.

What were they thinking back on Season 4? “Black market” implies illicit, and some of their potent cocktails perhaps should be, I think. As is so very au courant, the fancy, large-format, extra-hard ice cubes keep your cocktail cold but undiluted. Mr. Sexton (aka my husband) boldly chose the “Red Hot & Bothered,” a spicy, jalapeño-infused vodka drink tempered with muddled strawberry and ginger beer. Tasting this reminded me why I am squarely a sommelier and not a mixologist; I never would have thought to whip up this concoction, but my goodness, it was wildly, addictively delicious. The wine list, while small, features some great boutique producers at friendly, by-the-glass prices from $9 to $16. Black Market Liquor Bar is reason enough to call Studio City home for locals lucky enough to live within walking distance; the rest of us will have to drive and cross our fingers we can find some table real estate.

Black Market Liquor Bar

11915 Ventura Blvd in Studio City