It’s fitting that Simone, the buzzy restaurant that chef Jessica Largey is opening in L.A.’s Arts District on September 20, is in a building that housed a photography studio for 35 years.
“I really love that it was a creative space before we tore it all down and built a restaurant,” Largey says.
Largey, the former Manresa chef de cuisine who won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef in 2015, will serve some visually stunning food at Simone.
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“It’s something I figured out at Manresa years ago but didn’t find an application,” Largey says as she explains one of the dishes she’s been R&Ding. “I found a way to cook purple tomatillos so they stay bright purple, the color of Barney. It’s amazing.”
The tomatillos are roasted in a salamander, macerated, and then hung with weights overnight. The result is a “viscous, almost close to raw” tomatillo liquid.
This vivid purple liquid is the sauce for a dish of pole beans (supplied by farmer Kong Thao) that also features Urfa chile crème fraîche and almonds (from Fat Uncle Farms). On one level, this could be seen as a riff on the popular combination of green beans and almonds. But there’s a lot more going on here, including dehydrating and rehydrating the pole beans (in an intense vegetable stock) to create a leathery texture. The dish also features shiitakes that are tossed in shiro dashi and smoked in a Josper oven, resulting in something that tastes like bacon.
When Largey and her chef de cuisine, Jason Beberman (formerly Alex Stupak’s right-hand man at Empellon), were working with the beans last week, she realized that they were making an odd dish.
“I kept saying to him that it’s weird,” she says. “Weird is OK. I like that it’s weird. I think that dish is really representative of making the food approachable but also thought-provoking and challenging in small ways.”
Largey grew up in the Ventura County town of Fillmore. She went to culinary school in Pasadena and cooked at L.A.’s Providence and Bastide before heading to Northern California’s Manresa. She’s excited to be back in Los Angeles, where cooking produce-forward dishes with local ingredients while showcasing unusual flavor-and-texture combinations is a given at her restaurant.
“The diners in L.A. are great because they like being challenged and their familiarity with product is on a much different level,” she says. “There’s so much access to so much more produce here. People are aware of more ingredients here. Purple tomatillo isn’t going to be much of a stretch. You can buy them at farmers markets.”
Largey’s version of avocado toast is an abalone toast with avocado, yuzu cucumber, and daikon. (It’s something she came up with when she was chef-in-residence at Chicago’s Intro.) She’s pairing charred squash and nectarine with macadamia salsa macha. Brown-butter maitakes come with turnips and shallot miso. There’s farro with turmeric-pickled ginger, cashew cream, and summer vegetables. Black cod in hoja santa is accompanied by roasted corn and blistered shishitos. Largey’s using California purveyors for her meat, too. Peads & Barnett pork collars and dry-aged Flannery Beef bone-in rib eyes will be prepared in the Josper.
These dishes will be served at a gorgeous 75-seat dining room in an old building that dates back to 1921. Simone’s interior designer, Deirdre Doherty, kept the photography studio’s concrete floors and added Art Deco bronze and glass elements. There are skylights, brass chandeliers, velvet banquettes, and brass-edged walnut tables. Simone, a collaboration with film director Joe Russo (Avengers: Infinity War) and hospitality veteran Bruno Bagbeni, is a stunner.
In addition to the main dining room, two private dining spaces, and a six-seat counter that Largey will be using for tasting menus, Simone includes a 25-seat cocktail bar, Duello, with leather seating, leaded-glass windows, and antique mirrors. This is old-world classiness in one of L.A.’s hottest dining neighborhoods.
“Bavel is around the corner, Bestia is really close,” Largey says. “Ori [Menashe] has been an incredible supporter. He’s been an amazing person to connect with and call a neighbor.”
The neighborhood is also home to the recently opened Guerrilla Tacos and Inko Nito. Top Chef winner Mei Lin plans to open Nightshade in the Arts District this fall. Enrique Olvera of Cosme and Pujol fame is also working on a restaurant in the area. Add this to all the other creativity you’ll find in the neighborhood and you can understand why Largey is eager to color outside the lines and get a little weird with her food at Simone.
“I really love it down here,” she says. “There’s a lot of art here. That was also a draw to come back to L.A. I realized a lot of my community here wasn’t just chefs. I have a lot of people in different art forms. It’s really nice to have a collective community where you’re not just talking within your own industry, and you can draw inspiration from different places.”
Simone, 449 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 424-433-3000.