Former Side Door proprietors Lou and Grace Giovannetti bring old world hospitality, bespoke design, and creatively rendered Italian food to Torrance.
WRITTEN BY RACHEL DOTSON
Those passing by Hillside Village at the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula have probably noticed some changes over the past few months. The space that was formerly Il Toscano, a decades-old local hangout that shuttered in the spring of 2013, has transformed into a newly remodeled and re-imagined Italian restaurant aptly named Lou’s on the Hill.
Lou and Grace Giovannetti, former owners of the Side Door in Manhattan Beach, officially opened the doors to their new hilltop restaurant last Thursday, January 22, after soft opening in late November. They were met with capacity crowds who gathered to experience the start of a new chapter in the local dining scene — one that promises artfulness in its atmosphere, cuisine, and hospitality.
“California’s rich seasonal bounty is the inspiration for our food and drink menus,” the restaurant’s namesake explains. “We wanted to present artful Italian food, creatively rendered, touching every corner of the Mediterranean, paired with craft wines and inventive cocktails.”
At the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Eric Mickle, a gifted up-and-comer who honed his skills working with world-renowned chefs in various ventures. In his most recent endeavor, Mickle ran the day-to-day operations at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR in Las Vegas, but ultimately began itching for his own restaurant.
“Lou’s came around at the right moment where Lou needed a chef and I needed a kitchen,” Mickle recalls. “Lou really sold me on it and what they were trying to do here. Once you meet Lou, you’re hooked.”
Since that serendipitous meeting, Lou says that Mickle “has been given the reins to create and interpret modern Italian based on his palate and favorite flavor profiles utilizing the best of what California bounty offers in the Italian tradition of house-made, handmade, fresh ingredients.”
To that end, it is no wonder they refer to their particular offerings as “Cali-Ital,” something Chef Mickle says is more of an approach to the food than a style of cuisine. “I want to take what I can get locally and do what an Italian grandmother does, which is buy the best product as close to home [as possible] and not mess it up,” he explains.
One of the restaurant’s points of pride, the wood fired oven, is used for more than the already-popular pizzas. The wood fired lamb ribs pair flawlessly with pomegranate and citrus agrodolce, while the 14-ounce American kurobuta pork rack brines for 24 hours before being roasted on the bone and selling out nightly. The restaurant also features an array of small plates, charcuterie, and handmade pastas, in addition to housemade desserts, digestivos, and craft wines and cocktails.
The artfulness and care seen in the food and drink is carried beyond the kitchen and bar to every corner of the elegantly revamped establishment. “We want people to feel like honored guests,” Lou says of their promise of Old World hospitality. “We strive to create the best possible experience, to engage guests’ senses and emotions. Everyone who is part of the team has hospitality DNA. It’s a trait we seek when hiring staff.”
Anyone who knows Lou Giovannetti knows that no venture of his would be complete without the celebration of jazz and swing. Former patrons of the Side Door will recall Sundays when Lou would croon crowd favorites — a pastime he says is not over. The musically inclined purveyor plans to introduce a late-night monthly residency at Lou’s, where he will perform, and to host guest artists such as Niki Lindgren of Naughty Niki and the All Nighters, who performed at the grand opening.
“Lou’s is about craft, the hand of the maker, and a well-lived life that engages your senses,” Giovannetti explains. “[It’s about] the camaraderie of a night out with friends and the pleasure of breaking bread and sharing time with loved ones.”
Lou’s on the Hill is located at 24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA. Visit them online at www.lousonthehill.com
Spotlight on Executive Chef Eric Mickle
For 31-year-old Executive Chef Eric Mickle, there was not a single defining moment that propelled him to become a chef. He always enjoyed cooking and appreciated the ability to be self-sufficient from a young age.
“I got into cooking by accident, really,” he explains, recalling when he needed a job and found one cooking at a restaurant in Legoland. “Now, 15 years later, I have never received a paycheck for anything else.”
While 15 years dedicated to honing a craft may sound like a lot, Mickle is the first to point out that he is still a teenager as a professional, saying good-humoredly that there is sometimes a childishness present in his food. “Like our Nutella tart. That came around because I wanted chocolate pie.”
Joking aside, Mickle demonstrates a tremendous amount of experience, wisdom, and humility. He has worked with some of the most prolific chefs in the world, both in the States and abroad, including Michael Mina, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay. When asked who influenced him most professionally, Mickle points to David Varley.
“[Varley] took the time to teach me how to butcher and be a saucier,” Mickle explains. “He gave me his time because I was willing to give him my time. I never learned these things on the clock. I would come in hours before my shift to learn from someone who is a tremendous influence on me as a chef. It is something young chefs are missing. They won’t do it unless they are getting paid to.”
Looking to his food philosophy, Mickle says he is not sure he has developed one yet. Still, one method he stands behind is allowing ingredients to be what they are. Rather than overwhelm a dish, he uses a select few ingredients in creative ways. He points to their salmon dish as an example.
“It’s fennel — a very under-utilized vegetable in my opinion — and blood orange. But I wanted to bring out different characteristics of each.” To do this, the chef constructed a raw salad with blood orange and shaved fennel in addition to roasted fennel and blood orange reduction. The fish is seasoned with a small amount of fennel seed and the plate is garnished with — what else? — fennel fronds.
When asked what his top tips are for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs, Mickle offers few but powerful words: “Hard work, flexibility, love.” As for his own career, the chef displays equal parts gratefulness and contentedness.
“I am lucky. I get up and do exactly what I want to do every day. I wouldn’t do any of it differently.”