More than just bar food.
That a full-on restaurant renaissance is happening in the Valley is clear to see. Big-name chefs are increasingly opening on our side of the hill; perhaps they realize that we in the 818 ought to be able to eat out without sacrificing precious hours of our lives on the pyre of the 405. There’s a walkability in the air along the Boulevard—a sense of staying in one’s own neighborhood that is reflected by impromptu dining, an extra round (or three) of drinks and a postprandial stroll. This “our town, our place” vibe is particularly apparent at new Studio City hotspot Black Market Liquor Bar. A recent weekday dinner around 6 p.m. revealed a packed house. From a party of 10 women drinking wine and opening gifts to several steamy tables à deux to some intrepid solo diners keeping company with a pint and small plates, it was on and then some. My immediate reaction was one of jealousy. Why doesn’t Topanga (where I live) have this exact kind of place, where diners of all stripes and inclinations can find a meaningful neighborhood home?
At the epicenter of this runaway success is executive chef Antonia Lofaso. Her equanimity (and cheekbones … jealous again!) won her legions of fans on Top Chef. What TV viewers may not know is that Antonia is a real chef—present, running the show, a calming central force whose confident cooking runs the culinary gamut from perfect duck rillettes to chicken bao to crispy collard greens. Take a seat at the curving back bar and watch Antonia in action as she expedites with remarkable grace under pressure. High notes from our meal included a perfect roasted baby beet salad with ricotta, tarragon and vanilla, a wintry oxtail ragu with perciatelli done al dente and sope with confit of beef tongue and some cactus—wildly disparate plates but each executed with a precision that speaks to raw talent.
What were they thinking back on Season 4? “Black market” implies illicit, and some of their potent cocktails perhaps should be, I think. As is so very au courant, the fancy, large-format, extra-hard ice cubes keep your cocktail cold but undiluted. Mr. Sexton (aka my husband) boldly chose the “Red Hot & Bothered,” a spicy, jalapeño-infused vodka drink tempered with muddled strawberry and ginger beer. Tasting this reminded me why I am squarely a sommelier and not a mixologist; I never would have thought to whip up this concoction, but my goodness, it was wildly, addictively delicious. The wine list, while small, features some great boutique producers at friendly, by-the-glass prices from $9 to $16. Black Market Liquor Bar is reason enough to call Studio City home for locals lucky enough to live within walking distance; the rest of us will have to drive and cross our fingers we can find some table real estate.
Black Market Liquor Bar
11915 Ventura Blvd in Studio City
Almond lovers will go bonkers.
It’s not as if Leslie Danelian didn’t already have a following when she opened Sweet Butter Kitchen, Café & Market earlier this year. The self-described foodie had run her own local catering operation for years. Still, she and husband Rick Berge were shocked when, days before the restaurant’s debut date, the phone started ringing off the hook.