The Swanky New Casalena Puts Woodland Hills on the Map as a Dining Destination
Yeah, you heard us right.
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byLinda Grasso
Some good friends we occasionally dine with have a rule: They won’t venture west on Ventura Boulevard beyond Sepulveda. “We’re not going way out there!” they’ll exclaim when we suggest a restaurant west of Sherman Oaks. I get it. Aside from two or three eateries, that stretch is barren until you hit Calabasas. Nothing there combines excellent food and an appealing vibe. The West Valley just doesn’t feel chic for a Saturday night out.
The new Woodland Hills eatery Casaléna seems to be changing that. First, for a Valley restaurant, it sets a new bar for ambience. When we walked in, my husband remarked, “Wow! This restaurant could be in New York!” Thirty years of dining in the Valley with this guy and that’s a first.
The eatery and events space, which opened this past summer, aspires to have the “ambience of a coastal European retreat,” explains co-owner Chloe Makhani. And indeed, it is jaw-droppingly pretty with thoughtful architecture and well-appointed interiors that include contemporary paintings and classic photographs (think Slim Aarons), Italian ceramics, sophisticated light fixtures and indoor trees. And with 8,000 square feet of space that can seat 250 diners, it is also huge.
On the first level, diners have their choice of three areas: the main dining room with its dramatic glass A-frame ceiling; the adjoining atrium terrace; or the open-air, plant-filled garden. Upstairs are a smaller dining area, a balcony and a private events space. Casaléna’s lighting is particularly appealing: low and subtle, while still allowing for menu reading.
The space has a number of sleek, sexy bars. Even before you learn that Chloe—the eldest of the three siblings who own and operate Casaléna—is 32, you sense a youthful force. This place was designed not just for food but nightlife. The bar is open until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Chloe envisions the property as an escape. “We want guests to feel as if they have been transported to their favorite European destinations, whether they are choosing to enjoy an intimate dinner in the outdoor sunken garden patio or unwind with a late-night cocktail,” she says.
The original building on the property was constructed by the siblings’ father in 1982 and run as the fine-dining French restaurant Lautrec. Several iterations followed, with the latest being the farm-to-table eatery Villa, which had to shut down in 2017 due to a kitchen fire. Then the pandemic hit. Around that time, Chloe and her brothers, Brandon and Tyler, decided to collaborate on a restaurant—and the unsexiness of Woodland Hills didn’t seem to be a deterrent.
“The Casaléna property was an easy choice to be a canvas of our vision. We were convinced that our family history and connection to this property, combined with the demand expressed by the community, would create an impact,” explains Chloe.
The trio embarked on an ambitious two-year buildout, made even more challenging by the pandemic. Designing the menu was less taxing. With pizzas and pastas, my husband thought it was Italian. With fresh fish, steak and lots of veggie dishes, I thought the menu was California continental. Chloe describes the menu as coastal Mediterranean with influences from Spain, Italy, France and Greece.
Regardless, we enjoyed our food immensely. We started with a kale, avocado, white-bean salad and grilled sugar snap peas over a bed of tangy tomato confit dotted with marcona almonds. Next, a sweet-corn agnolotti pasta in brown butter—I loved the unexpected touch of crunchy corn sprinkled on top. Finally, the entrees: a perfectly cooked piece of Chilean sea bass over a crunchy bed of fennel orange salad, and a hanger steak with chimichurri. (Diners can alternatively choose au poivre or cherry bordelaise to spice up the meat.)
While not expansive, the wine list is pleasing and includes bottles and glasses of California varietals like Caymus as well as some from Europe. If we weren’t completely satiated at the end of the meal, we would have gone for dessert. We were eyeing the clementine sorbet and the blueberry oat crumble on a nearby table.
When we arrived on a Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the three first-level dining areas were about 75% full. When we left at 9 p.m., every seat was filled and the area by the door was packed, with some of the crowd spilling outside. People waiting for tables on a Thursday night in Woodland Hills? I’m just hoping I’ll be able to get our East Valley-loving friends to join us next time.