Why would a Beverly Hills celebrity chef—named one of the country's Top 12 two years ago by the Fine Dining Awards—leave it all for Stanton?
"That seems to be what everybody wants to know," David Slay says with a laugh.
Formerly of Beverly Hills' La Veranda, among other chic spots around the country, Slay came to Park Ave. in Stanton to create a retro Americana menu for eager proprietor Sally Ver Vynck. A few months later, Ver Vynck is toast, although her imprint's on everything from the atomic chandeliers to the purple metal-flake paint on the walls—and in a few signature cocktails, some delicious (Jeanne's Jolt, creamy SoCo lemonade goodness) and some grotesque (the Coco Loco margarita, which adds Tuaca to tequila and injury to insult).
Instead, the property owners lured Slay to take over with promises that Park Ave.'s stretch of Beach Boulevard will soon go from trailer park to urban redevelopment on a grand and glamorous scale.
I'll believe it when I see it.
But if Stanton is destined to remain a nasty little blight, the restaurant is a beauty—Ver Vynck's doing. The lighting's dark, the booths cozy, and even the flatwear is properly Mod, chunky yet curvy to reflect the best of the swinging '60s. It's an era that's overrepresented in the restaurant's patrons, who could have swung with Sinatra and Hope themselves. The 'billy kids haven't found this place yet, but they should: small plates in the cozy lounge are half off during happy hour.
The menu was uneven the first time we went: the house special seafood pie, upended table side, was agonizingly orange and had a sour touch to it, but the flaky crust was nice, despite looking like an unbleached coffee filter. Since I'm the type who puts vinegar on every dish, the sour was nice too—not to mention the chunks of salmon and buttery gourds. An appetizer of steak bites was served lukewarm (Slay, sounding a bit put out when I mentioned it, said the reason was a cold plate and a room-temperature sauce), but it was zingy with soy and garlic and maybe some ginger, and it was presented atop a bed of almost khaki slaw with its kebab skewers placed so as to echo the atomic light fixtures above.
Meanwhile, a chunky blue cheese and tomato salad was delicious—except that the tomatoes, ice cold, had nearly no taste, although that was made up for by the ridiculously sweet red onion bed on which they lay. Still: Surely a man who makes every sauce and staple in the restaurant, from his ketchup to the fudge sauce and ice cream for dessert, wouldn't let anyone in his kitchen put a tomato in the fridge? Hell, the man makes fig butter for his homemade honey whole wheat bread, sliced impossibly thin and offered up often. And a man who can do that should know the first rule of ice and tomatoes.
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The second time we went, we shared the special whole stuffed chicken, and a whole chicken it goddamn was. Two of us ate on it, with lunch left for the next day. If the kitchen was uneven the first time, for our second trip dinner was preposterously good. The chicken, covered in pan drippings, was as fatty as a marbled pork chop (that's a compliment), and stuffed in the middle was a whipped concoction of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach you couldn't pay me not to eat. The Little Pot of Heaven (a chocolate pudding with brûléed bananas) was dense and heavy and bittersweet; the lemon cream soufflé mixed crème fraîche and lemon bar for a more subtle, grown-up taste than its menu description leads one to expect.
Everything is premises-made at Park Ave., and everything is desperately affordable too, with salads in the $7 range and entrées running $11 to $16. Add in a couple of cocktails (not the Coco Loco), an appetizer and dessert, and you're looking at $70 for dinner for two—but who does that if it's not a first date?
There should be a lot of those in Park Ave.'s future. And 'billy retro kids: I'm calling on you.
PARK AVE., 11200 BEACH BLVD., STANTON, ?(714) 901-4400; WWW.PARKAVEDINING.COM. OPEN TUES.-SUN., 11 A.M.-10 P.M.; CLOSED MONDAYS. DINNER FOR TWO, $30-$60, EXCLUDING DRINKS.