Nyesha Arrington of "Top Chef" fame is a very talented chef. Yet, until now, with the opening of Leona, Venice's new spot, she for the first time in her career is able to present a menu entirely her own. After making my way through a majority of said bill of fare at a recent Media Preview Dinner, I can very honestly inquire, WHAT THE HECK TOOK SO LONG?
A self-described "Progressive California" cuisine is just that -- progressively Golden. As is the decor -- very beachy, very minimalist but not, very Venice cool. Almost exactly how a rich talent agent that recently took surfing lessons would design a restaurant. Or, as my dining partner put it, "California chic, laid back chill kickback fuck yeah.... with neat light fixtures." Overall, my initial Leona (named after its femininely-monikered cross street) experience was quite pleasant. Sure, there were some misses, as is to be expected at a pre-opening (the flatbread, chicken "brick"), but there were many more hits.
To make things easiest for you, the lethargic food blog reader who's probably just looking at the pictures any way, here are my recs for each course (the menu lists as "To Begin," "A Little More," "And Then," and "Dessert")...
"To Begin": Farm Egg.
The simply titled, "Farm Egg" was the table's favorite plate of the night and almost positively will become Leona's signature dish. What sounds -- and at first glance appears -- very humdrum, is actually a very intricately designed and executed egg, bacon and potato play. A must order, the egg is initially soft cooked, then wrapped in hand-diced matchstick potato sticks and deep-fried together, and finally placed in a bacon broth with house-cured bacon bits. Full of flavor and complexity, the breakfast-for-dinner dish is of the moment of any starter in town.
"A Little More": Fire Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes.
Alongside the entrees we ordered a few veggie sides and really enjoyed the Fire Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes. The blistered tri-colored cherry tomatoes come with a generous heap atop of housemade burrata and chives, as well as a drizzling of coconut oil. A very nice, unique presentation of a somewhat ubiquitous LA dish.
"And Then": Local Black Cod.
Our preferred main course, the Local Black Cod, like many of Leona's dishes, deftly mixes local and Asian touches. The flavorful, tender, almost fall apart fish comes in an Asian-y sweet onion "jus." Like the Heirloom Tomatoes side, Chef Arrington does an exemplary job of transcending the typical black cod by bathing it in an unexpected broth.
"Dessert": Brulee Okinawa Potato.
I'll be honest: we weren't crazy about either of the desserts. The first, a Strawberry Fredo bar, seemed entirely too frozen. But, of the two, what essentially is caramelized sweet potatoes stood as the most promising. Sitting in a bath of delicious brown butter pecan and date milk, the bruleed Hawaiian lavender-fleshed sweet potatoes, while enjoyable, felt a little out of season. I know multiple cuisines include sweet potatoes year round and call me a stupid American, but there was something very autumnal about this dessert. Maybe it was the addition of another fall sweets staple, pecan, or the date milk. Whatever it was, it just felt disjointed from the rest of the menu's local seasonality.
In conclusion: Leona is really good. And a great addition to the Washington Blvd beachside food community. The Farm Egg appetizer alone is worth the visit. Look out for breakfast, brunch and lunch to roll out in the coming months. Especially brunch - as it almost assuredly will mean no longer stupidly wasting weekend hours for the highly-overrated 26 Beach up the street.
123 Washington Blvd, Venice.
Currently open for dinner starting at 5 pm nightly.