République, Los Angeles review



If reinvention is as American as Apple Pie, then the capital would have to be Los Angeles – where dreams are made, shattered and reconfigured between a jog through Runyon Canyon and a tall, wet, white, decaf, no-foam, percent, vanilla latte on Sunset Plaza. Like any other business, restaurants are hardly immune to the competitive pressures of new entrants and fickle loyalties – regardless of how unrelenting their meteoric success might have been. While cooking-show super stars were being created a mere mile up the road, no one noticed that the first darling of SoCal’s seasonal-sustainable discipline, Campanile, fell victim to waning interest. But the good news is that République has breathed brand new life into what was once the Charlie Chaplin building on the edge of Hancock Park. Walter Manzke (formerly of L’Auberge Carmel, Patina and Petty Cash Taquería) has performed a spectacular transformation, not only with tiles from the Philippines, wood from Thailand (for the lengthy communal tables and even lengthier charcuterie boards) but also by cracking the cloistered space wide open, and relocating Chaplin’s iconic tiled fountain to enhance the super-bistro’s curb appeal. Manzke and pastry-chef wife Margarita have created robust-flavored pan-European plates from France to Alsace to the Italian Riviera (and beyond) accompanied by an exclusively French yet approachable wine list with a handful of cheerfully curious cocktails that include Absinthe, Serrano chillies and Pandan leaves as ingredients.

Grass-fed Beef Tartare - République

Grass-fed Beef Tartare

As you walk in, a very respectable selection of bi-coastal oysters greet you (where the bakery used to be) along with a tempting glimpse of pre-baked dessert tarts and a row of imported tulip-bulb shaped dollops of fresh Normandy butter. The menu is broken down more by kitchen department than digestive courses, with separate sections for Bread, Steak Frites and Savory Tarts. Most portions are sharable and the wait staff shines at taste timing and course choreography. And here’s the best part, not only is the shelf-life for any menu item dictated by its availability, but many of the preparations are frequently reinvented (I assume due to diner indifference or kitchen fatigue or both) leaving a menu perpetually brimming with highly popular and difficult-to-make decisions.

Tasmanian Sea-Trout Crudo - République

Tasmanian Sea-Trout Crudo

Must-have starters include the pastry covered Escargot, the Thai-inspired Charcoal-grilled Prawns and two incredibly flavorful crudos: the impeccably balanced Hamachi with fire and freshness from pineapple, passion fruit and fresh jalapeño, and the lightly smoked Tasmanian Sea-trout in a wonderfully light (yet creamy) leak-and-potato mousseline (whipped egg-white sauce) with green apple gelée. Our waiter very accurately defined the Grass-fed Beef Steak Tartare as follows:  “They didn’t reinvent it or anything – they just nailed it!” And nail it they did with dill pickled onions and a take-no-prisoners mouth-watering tarragon aioli.

Nueske's Bacon Tart Alsacienne - République

Nueske’s Bacon Tart Alsacienne

The Nueske’s Tarte Alsacienne is a traditional, thin-crusted savory flatbread drenched in melted gruyere cheese over soft caramelized onions and heavenly strips of chewy bacon.

The rich, sweet and juicy Australian Lamb Rack is presented in a cast iron pot over nuggets of lamb shank and a wintry mix of beans, tomato and zucchini. As a side, we had to sample the irremovable menu fixture Wood Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts, which are deliciously browned with apple-wood bacon and a soft poached egg.

Australian Lamb Rack and Shank - République

Australian Lamb Rack and Shank

Most of the desserts include seasonal fruits as inspiration around tarts, pastries and puddings, and the cheese menu includes local and European options with a couple of seldom-seen raw-milk choices.

Mirabelle Plum Tart - République

Mirabelle Plum Tart

And so while it’s tough to let go of my many recollections of Campanile and their impossible-to-get-into Thursday night grilled-cheese heyday fests, I couldn’t help finding myself in total embrace of brand new memories at République.






Son of a Gun, Los Angeles review

Son of a Gun

Don’t judge a fish by its scales! To the West 3rd Street passerby, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s summery seafood joint Son of a Gun resembles a casual but whimsical, south-Florida fish shack, with its sun-faded pastel shades as the canvass to a large, nautical pawn-shop collection of beachy tchotchkes. But once the dishes emerge, it becomes soberingly obvious that there’s nothing laid-back about the food.  Here Shook and Dotolo have created an equally popular, full-flavored, scales-and-shells equivalent to Animal, their immensely successful carnivore paradise less than a mile away.

The comprehensive sharing menu is grouped by critter category rather than courses, and the bright and cheerful, color-splashed plates arrive with hurricane speed, but never seemed to deluge the table.

Son of a Gun - Hamachi


In the what appears to be the land of 101 vinaigrettes, the Hamachi crudo (raw fish) is splashed with a wonderfully sour dressing and prodded with sweetness from the doll-sized apple dice.

Son of a Gun - Lemonfish Poke

Lemonfish Poke

The superb Lemonfish Poke and radishes enjoy quite a different vinegary bath as they hide under a nest of the most exotically crispy sunchoke chips. Sunchoke chips? Finally someone brave enough to do something with sunchokes other than purée or au-gratin.

Uni & Burrata might very well be the names of my unborn children, but I can’t say that the fresh sea urchin and cream-centered mozzarella played very nicely in the sandbox together. Even the addition of yuzu lemon and button mushrooms couldn’t seem to entice them to get along. But the Jamaican jerk spiced Scottish Salmon with a sweet vinaigrette, chilies and cherries was like raiding a pirate ship with all sorts of treasures from The Carribbean to the coast of Spain and beyond. But enough about the crudo!

Son of a Gun - Peel n Eat Shrimp

Peel n Eat Shrimp

I could have made an entire meal of the Chilled Peel & Eat Shrimp spiked with cajun spices and a citrusy mustard dipping sauce, were it not for the Hamachi Collar, a large, triangular section of fish from just behind the head and gills. In strict accordance with the adage that everything tastes better when cooked on the bone, Shook and Dotolo finish this especially flavorful fish cheek with yet another vibrant vinaigrette and fresh herbs.

Son of a Gun - Fried Chicken Sandwich

Fried Chicken Sandwich

Normally one wouldn’t dare order chicken at a seafood restaurant, but that’s not the word on this street. On most of the dozen or so tables (ours included), stood at least one 9-inch tall gobbeliciously crispy, Sriracha aioli Fried Chicken Sandwich, stuffed with a zesty, citrusy, peppery, pickley coleslaw. A monumental challenge to bite into (given that a temporary jaw dislocation was out of the question), many of the slaw shreds escaped from between the fingers, landing on the plate (for subsequent re-consumption) or landing on the trousers right next to the napkin (for subsequent dry cleaning), but a highly satisfying ordeal nonetheless.

Son of a Gun - White Peaches

White Peaches

The menu winds down with a bright and seasonal choice of salads and sides like the popular Shishito Peppers smothered in Bottarga (cured fish roe) aioli and fresh basil or the wonderfully refreshing White Peach salad with mint and chili.

Desserts are equally summery with sorbets, gelato sandwiches and an impossibly delicious Banana Bread with coffee ice-cream and salty candied pecans.

It certainly appears that everything this dynamic duo touches, turns to caviar. I anxiously await the opening of their next act, Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax this fall.