Written by Virginia Fay | Photography Courtesy of Michael Wu
A delicacy unlike any other, properly prepared uni—or sea urchin—is a singular pleasure. It’s also the focus of chefs Isao Minami and Hisao Kasama’s new restaurant, Miyabi Uni in Torrance, launched with a mission to bring this unique dish to its full potential.
With more than 90 years of combined experience, Minami and Kasama began their culinary careers in Japan. Over their decades preparing Japanese cuisine, they were struck by the lack of variations in how uni was served, noting that what’s available in most restaurants only scratches the surface of how this dish can be enjoyed.
The two liken uni to the “butter of the ocean,” and delight in developing inventive new ways to serve it. Thus, they based the restaurant’s menu around items they would typically make for their own families on special occasions—a fitting structure, as they also strive to make everyone in the restaurant feel like family.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the distinctive uni pasta. Though it’s served elsewhere, Minami and Kasama cultivate the uni with subtle flavors and no salt, allowing it to take center stage. The dish is served with standard salt and pepper, as well as Matcha salt, the chefs’ favorite, to allow each guest to customize his or her own experience. Condiments, they say, can change the entire complexion of the dish, so they let diners enjoy it to their own specifications.
The chefs cultivated their skills in preparing uni during their stint at the now-closed Maruhide Uni Club, which laid the foundation for the Miyabi Uni concept. But now, they say, they’re “elevating that customer experience to a completely different level [to] take our diners on a journey of traditional flavors and modern creations.” The chefs also say that without their previous training and employment in Japan, they wouldn’t be here today, and their history there influences Miyabi Uni in every detail—“all the way down to the placement of the fresh wasabi in our donburi bowls.”
Now that the duo is established in the States, they have regulars who travel from all over Southern California to enjoy their delicacies. They describe Torrance as “a hotbed of new concepts and ideas,” making it the perfect place to put down stakes and join the “food revolution.”
1231 CABRILLO AVENUE, S101
TORRANCE, CA 90501 424.376.5135
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography by Paul Jonason
In 2009, when Rich Marcello and Joel Elliott set up Strand Brewing Co in a 1,000-square-foot space in Torrance, they were the only manufacturing craft brewery in the area. “Prior to 2009, the South Bay wasn’t on anyone’s radar for beer,” explains Marcello. Nowadays, they are joined by a slew of other local colleagues, including Monkish, Absolution and Smog City – some of the nearly 10 craft breweries in Torrance alone.
If you swing by the Strand Brewing Co taproom one evening— they’ve moved to significantly bigger, 36,000-square-foot digs, and are open to the public from Tuesday (starting in March) through Sunday—you’ll find a place that aptly reflects the family-friendly, good-time spirit of the South Bay. There’s plenty of beer (including offerings only available in the taproom, such as their pleasingly crisp Blond Ale) and, depending on the night, street-style tacos, smokey barbecue or other complementary delights from visiting food trucks.
The sprawling, minimalist space has communal tables and lots of animated conversations going on amongst folks who were recently strangers. It’s a coup for Marcello, and one of the big rewards of he and Elliot building the business from scratch. “We don’t have TVs, so people actually talk and look at each other and have conversations.” He recounts a recent evening: “The youngest person in the room that day was about two months. Then there’s a guy named Roger celebrating his 80th birthday. I walked around and I thought, ‘that’s what this is all about.’”
Credit the success of Strand to producing great craft beer that was ardently hand-sold into local accounts by Marcello. (Think of partner Joel Elliott as the beer master, and Marcello at the helm of marketing and business.)
“For the first six months my only accounts were here in the South Bay,” Marcello says. Nowadays, Strand beers can be found throughout the entire state of California, though their focus is still on L.A. and Orange County. Recently, they’ve begun distributing their beer in cans, marking a new growth stage for the brewery.
“If we didn’t succeed early out of the gate,” says Marcello, “if we had fallen off a cliff, I don’t know how many people would have thought, ‘that’s a great idea, let’s follow them.’” Throughout their growth, Strand has stuck to its welcoming, unassuming origins. When I show up, there’s no sign on the place. The Doors is cranking and a beer maker wearing rubber waders and tending the tanks greets me with a smile.
Despite running a growing company, Marcello still takes time to leisurely walk through the current taproom lineup. There’s Strand’s flagship offering—24th Street Pale Ale, an even-keeled beer that offers up floral and fruit notes along with some hop—and many more on the docket. There’s something for everyone. (Note to wine drinkers fond of effervescent, fruit-crisp varietals: Strand’s Raspberry Blond is a welcoming entrée into the beer world.)
After a while, Marcello points out: “When you call yourself Strand Brewing, you have an obligation to do it right.” He points to a familiar image on the front of a bottle. It’s a Strand lifeguard tower, their logo.
“What’s that one thing that geographically and socially connects all of the South Bay? It’s that concrete slab called the Strand, and it has so many positive images and memories.”
STRAND BREWING CO
2201 DOMINGUEZ STREET, TORRANCE, CA 90501
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography by Paul Jonason
Chocolate maker Jeffray Gardner has made a career of bringing pure, unadulterated chocolate to the South Bay in the form of handcrafted Marsatta Chocolate bars. Hand-produced from cacao beans sourced from as far as Ecuador and Tanzania, the luxe, organic bars—available in strengths ranging from 36 percent to full-throttle 100 percent—are available at Gardner’s new outpost, Marsatta Chocolate, on Del Amo Boulevard, along with decadent delights like chocolate-drenched strawberries and fruit-infused bon bons.
Welcome fixtures at several local farmers’ markets, Gardner and his wife, Naomi, have flung open the doors of their just-opened factory and store for tastings and flight-pairing nights. During shop hours, customers can sip hot chocolates and mochas in the cafe while watching premium cacao beans get sorted, roasted and spun into edible gold.
TIP: Even if sweets are not your thing, a nibble of Marsatta’s pure dark chocolate might open your palate to a world of new taste complements, from a bottle of earthy red wine to a selection of fresh fruits.
4604 Del Amo Boulevard, Torrance, CA 90503
310.318.0489 | Marsatta.com
Recently opened neighborhood pub, Hey 19 Public House, enlivens the South Bay.
When Ortega 120 restaurateur, Demi Stevens, decided to take over the space on Calle Mayor in Torrance that once held Zina’s, she knew she wanted something completely different than her popular Mexican place nearby, paving the way for Hey 19 Public House.
“I wanted it to be a relaxed place where locals can come to eat, drink and dance a little,” Stevens explains, while happily pouring a glass of her #19 concoction, a smooth-as-silk, house-infused orange bourbon mixed with fresh lemon, lime and orange that slides down the throat like butter—dangerous, for certain. “We also make our own ‘LemonAde’ and ‘GingerAle,’” she adds.
Infusions aside, such attention to detail is everywhere in this casually cozy, retro place, its Hey 19 moniker cueing the Steely Dan song of the same name. Along with featuring projections of old television shows on the walls (All in the Family playing the night we’re there) are posters of Farrah Fawcett and Star Wars memorabilia. There’s also Banksy prints, mismatched chairs, wacky light fixtures and even a photo of a loincloth-clad Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. mode adorning the drink menu. The convivial setting really makes you feel like a teenager again—a cool kid hanging out your cool friend’s basement.
Take the food menu—offered up in none other than a Pee-Chee portfolio (raise your hand if old enough to remember those!)—which features dishes made from locally sourced, non-GMO and hormone-free organic products. Try the Eric in a Blanket, house-made sausage in a puff pastry, or the Tabled Tartar, made with perfectly prepared Ahi tuna, avocado and ponzu for starters; then move on to Chrissy’s Night Out, mouth-watering, slow-cooked short ribs, or the tasty Froo Froo Pasta, made with local shrimp, Mayer lemon, kale and goat cheese.
Hey 19 also serves pub fare too, including burgers, fried chicken and waffles, and T-bone steak, and there’s always a friendly crowd at the bar, where live bands play a couple of nights a week. Needless to say, dancing is encouraged—and in a sense expected. Plus, this rollicking public house serves a limited menu until 1:30 a.m., a rarity in the South Bay; and they’re open for lunch, too. Now that word about Hey 19 is spreading, we predict that, soon, locals may not be the only SoCal folks in the House.
Hey 19 Public House
4525 Calle Mayor
Torrance, CA 90505
Former Side Door proprietors Lou and Grace Giovannetti bring old world hospitality, bespoke design, and creatively rendered Italian food to Torrance.
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
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.”