“Ingredient-driven cuisine” has become such a useless buzzword used to describe casual dining restaurants that it’s almost easy to forget that there are still chefs out there who take it seriously, the ones who actually shop at the farmers markets each week, visit local farms, rotate in new dishes according to their whimsy with the seasonal bounty and don’t charge half a month’s rent for a taste of it.
This is especially true in Long Beach, a city blessed with as many price-driven hole in the walls as Los Angeles has “ingredient-driven” neighborhood bistros.
So forgive me for not having any idea what to do with Restauration – a quaint storefront café with a 50-seat al fresco dining section – when it first opened in 2014. Long Beach had never seen such a creative, all-day place.
In this town, weekday breakfasts and brunches that go beyond the diner variety are usually found at specialty restaurants like Starling Diner or Breakfast Bar, both only open until 2 p.m. Happy hour snacks and discounted craft beers are most often had downtown or in Belmont Shore. Distinctive pizzas packed with seasonal ingredients? Good luck. And for a scratch-made meal that reflects robust artistry on the part of the chef and localism on the part of the ingredients, you’ll have to make a date night out of visiting chefs like Art Gonzalez (Panxa, Roe), David MacLennan (James Republic) and Thomas Ortega (Playa Amor).
Restauration, on the eastern edge of Retro Row, is the ingredient-driven answer for all of these occasions and more. In the last two years, I have grown to appreciate this gem of a garden restaurant by stumbling into it at all hours of the day, expecting all sorts of different experiences each time and being humbled by the fact that from the excellent craft beer selection to the house-made cheeses to the prix fixe dinner option, it always delivers.
When I recommend Restauration to someone who doesn’t live in Long Beach, they often say they have already read about it in this travel magazine or on that website and made the haul out here to try it. Well, as grand as it is to finally have a destination restaurant that is luring people to the LBC (see, I told you Long Beach’s culinary scene was on the come up!), the real beauty of Restauration has been observing it as a neighbor, watching it slowly grow with the neighborhood.
Owners Dana and Rob Robertson always knew they wanted Restauration to be a modernized tribute to the American bistro, but it was chef Erick Simmons who first brought that vision to life. He created mimosa-and-sangria-slathered weekend brunches (worth the wait for a table, the stuff of legend) and embedded in the very fabric of its daily menus a reverence for Farm Lot 59 vegetables, which still get stuffed in omelets for breakfast, tossed in salads for lunch and roasted in the outdoor pizza oven for dinner.
Simmons left Restauration a little over a year ago and the Robertsons brought in chef Phil Pretty, a Long Beach native who for the last decade worked his way up the line at high-profile kitchens across Los Angeles, including Axe, Gordon Ramsay’s The London and Michelin-starred restaurants like Providence and Joe’s in Venice. Pretty left an executive chef gig at fundamentalLA, where he was lauded for bringing a dramatically plated, California-focused $45 prix fixe dinner to the tiny Westwood storefront.
Pretty’s return to his hometown came with four seasons of menu upgrades, adding L.A. finesse to Restauration’s core ethos with dishes such as the textural circus of his celery and almond octopus salad, a wood-fired steak and eggs, which comes dragged through a polenta smear and the new elk sausage pizza sprinkled with flowers and bubbling with house buffalo mozzarella. Coupled with the all-day versatility locals have come to love, Pretty’s Restauration is not just ingredient-driven – it’s Long Beach-driven.
2708 E 4th St., Long Beach; (562) 439-8822; restaurationlb.com