With several acclaimed chefs now here and the impending arrival of award-winning restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre, Valley dining enters a new era.
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byJoshua Lurie
We’ve all heard the hackneyed stigmas surrounding San Fernando Valley dining—residents don’t appreciate good food and talented chefs shouldn’t bother feeding people who gravitate toward gastropubs. Our internationally-inspired, family-run restaurants even get short shrift (but can hold their own against any of their “peers” in LA). Now some major LA talents are planting roots, and mainstream culinary respect seems destined to follow.
Black Market Liquor Bar was an early turning point. Antonia Lofaso was best known for Top Chef before opening this “small plates” Studio City restaurant with two partners. Black Market was a breakout success in 2011 and even spurred a rare reverse migration, with Valley operators opening a Westside hit, Scopa Italian Roots. Antonia’s restaurant success is fueled by continued reality TV show appearances.
Another Top Chef alum, C.J. Jacobson, further elevated Valley dining with the 2013 debut of Girasol near Tujunga Village. He is now immersed in opening another restaurant in Chicago, but Girasol’s menu still reflects the seasons and spotlights progressive plating. Diners enjoy interesting combinations; hamachi joins sea beans and finger limes in a white fir and wild sorrel broth. Even humble sunchokes get star treatment, dressed with honey, white sage and foraged yarrow.
Restaurants with accomplished chefs really started kicking into high gear in 2015 when The Bellwether opened in Studio City. Ted Hopson, who had clocked quality time at prestigious Westside establishments including Water Grill, Father’s Office and Lukshon, teamed with fellow Father’s Office alum Ann-Marie Verdi.
Right: HATCHING IDEAS | Ted Hopson and two of his dishes at Bellwether: an egg-topped version of avocado toast and a brunch entree entitled, “Eggs in Purgatory.”
ARTISTIC ENDEAVORS | Above Left: Phillip with wife, Margarita. Right Top to bottom: Tonkatsu Pork Ramen from from the eatery Phillip plans on opening with Luke Reyes; Scratch|Bar’s Fire Grilled Branzino.
Photographed by Lu Tapp, Yasmin Alishav and Wonho Frank Lee
He dismisses the notion people don’t care about good food in the Valley, noting, “We opened up here and so many people who live close by come in and say, ‘thank you.’”
“A bellwether is a trendsetter or frontrunner,” Ted explains. “We picked the name because we knew there wasn’t anything like this out here. … It’s lived up to the name.” Ted shares that he has chef friends who visit The Bellwether on weeknights to gauge business and see if they should open next.
Phillip Frankland Lee is another high-profile chef to follow his gut. The proud Valley native honed his cooking skills at Hatfield’s and Stefan’s at LA Farm before opening The Gadarene Swine with wife/pas – try chef, Margarita, in Studio City. The ambitious vegan eatery enjoyed a two-year run before closing in July (due to a partnership dispute). In 2015 the duo relocated Scratch|Bar & Kitchen from Beverly Hills to Encino, adding artisan flourishes like house-made cheese and charcuterie. Phillip’s daring approach extends to hospitality, where cooks double as servers. By all accounts, it’s been a screaming success; tables in the small space are booked weeks in advance and service recently expanded to include lunch. Next door, he and chef/partner, Luke Reyes, plan to debut Oh Man! Ramen in late summer. And Phillip says he has plans to open even more eateries in the outdoor mall (Encino Place).
BISTRO ON THE BLVD | Scenes from Petit Trois on the westside. Ludo (pictured in the kitchen above) plans to open a second branch of the popular eatery in Sherman Oaks.
Photographed by Susana Capra
“I’ll put the San Fernando Valley against anybody else when it comes to hole-in-the-wall ethnic food,” Phillip says. “What I don’t think of is the Valley as a place to see what new young chefs are coming up with. All that means is that there’s room.” In the next couple of years, he anticipates an infusion of young chefs branching out on their own in the Valley, thanks to the lower rent.
Branching out is something Ludo Lefebvre, the French chef who rose to fame through the LudoBites pop-up series (including one Sherman Oaks stop) and as a judge on The Taste, has never been afraid to do. The Valley resident, along with partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, owns Mexican-French brunch spot Trois Familia in Silver Lake, fine dining destination Trois Mec in Hollywood and adjacent always-packed French bistro Petit Trois. Now Ludo is coming home to roost. The trio is replacing Il Tiramisu in Sherman Oaks with a more ambitious Petit Trois outpost.
“It is time to keep some of the Valley residents on this side of town when it is time to go out to eat,” Ludo says. Toward that end, Petit Trois Sherman Oaks will be larger than the original, will take reservations, and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Otherwise, the chef tells us to expect a similar menu and feel, and “some great joie de vivre, Valley style.”
“The Valley has an unfair reputation,” says Ludo. “I live here and many of my friends live here. I think we are all pretty cool, but chefs and restaurant groups are scared of the Valley.” He tried to raise money to open a Valley restaurant seven years ago and encountered resistance. But now Studio City has started attracting top-notch talent and he sees “as much potential as any area of Los Angeles.”
Yeah, you heard us right.