When you think of the Venice Beach Boardwalk, you normally think of the sunglass stands, the marijuana dispensaries, the artists, skateboarders, performers, and transients. You think of cheap pizza by the slice and funnel cake. But good food scarcely comes to mind. Larry's Venice is likely to change that. Chef Brendan Collins and partner Carlos Tomazos (both of Waterloo & City) have collaborated with the neighboring Hotel Erwin's Mark and Erwin Sokol to bring us this beachside gastropub, named for local artist Larry Bell. Bell's trademark silhouette with hat and cigar - graces the storefront outside, and his art is a present influence on the inside.
Graffiti-soaked exterior walls surround the gastropub's outdoor dining area. Inside, Larry's art can be found brightening the decor, along with a mural of names of local artists. This is surely a space that embodies the history and culture of Venice as much as it embodies Larry himself.
We hurried out of the sweltering heat, taking refuge at a table in the shade for fear of ending up like this poor chap sitting just outside the restaurant (below, left). Inside, spots of color dot the interior like a rubik's cube but don't interfere with the otherwise casual, minimalist decor (below, right) by Kris Keith of Spacecraft (the design team behind Echo Park's newest gastropub Mohawk Bend). The comfortable atmosphere is conducive to lazy afternoons unwinding, drink in hand, from the beachfront chaos outside its doors.
The first thing to jump out at you about Larry's may be the twenty-six beers they have on tap at the bar (below). There's also a nice selection of bottled beer, wine and cocktails.
The beer list is a nice mix of local, domestic and imports. Hop-heads may be inspired to look beyond the Green Flash West Coast IPA towards the less hoppy brews that dominate the list. Something like the smooth, malty Old Speckled Hen could be a welcomed change of pace. This visit, our party sampled the Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, yeasty and fraught with fruit and spice, as well as the Double Dog (below) - an 11.5% ABV double pale ale by Flying Dog. From the cocktail side of things, the Coco Cabana (below, right), made with soju, lime, mint, and coconut cream, was a perfect refreshment to beat the heat.
You'll find similarities between Brendan Collins' menu at Larry's Venice (below) and his menu at Waterloo & City, which we are big fans of. Transplanted to Larry's are the charcuterie plates, potted meats and pates for which Collins is known. We were delighted to find that his creative pizzas had made the transition from Culver City to Venice as well. The prices, with nothing costing more than $15, make it easy to share with friends. We came with a few friends of our own, including Aaron of Savory Hunter. (You can check out his thoughts on the meal here.)
The potted chicken liver and foie gras parfait (below) was an immediate group favorite. Encased beneath a gelatinous sweet potato jam, the rich chicken liver and foie were balanced with a palatable sweetness. It was accompanied by house-made pickles and an ample portion of toasted brioche.
The duck and pistachio pate (below) was well-balanced in a similar fashion. The duck, which may have been too rich on its own, was speckled with nutty bits through out. The tasty pate was served with a seasonal marmalade, house-made pickles and toast.
Hoping to repeat our previous experiences with Chef Collins' pizza, we tried the pizza special - a chicken pesto pie made with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and black olives (below). The thin, crispy slices did not disappoint. In a city sorely lacking in stand-out pizza options, the two pies we've now tasted from Collins' kitchens have been some of the best.
The organically fried chicken caesar baguette (below, left) with fried egg and bacon (which we asked to be served on the side, below right) was a minor conceptual misfire. A beautiful-looking dish made with tasty ingredients, the presentation - somewhere between and a sandwich and a salad - proved difficult to eat on its own (let alone share). We loved the anchovies, the egg, and the thick slabs of bacon, but were hoping to find more of the fried chicken. The dish came served with french fries, which were crispy and undeniably good.
Another savory treat came in the form of the juicy 6 oz. lamb burger (below), served on a ciabatta bun. The house was kind enough to slice it into quadrants for us to share. It was served along with a hefty house-made pickle and, thankfully, another side of those addicting fries. Did I mention how good the fries were? In addition to ketchup, a harissa aioli provided a sweet and smokey dipping refuge for our fries.
The peach cobbler (below) was a pleasant summer dessert. Topped with a scoop of ice cream and a crumbly crust, the cobbler featured fresh peaches buried beneath the surface, still ripe with a little bite.
The sticky toffee pudding hit the table and was quick to make new friends. Our forks fought for the moist cake, soaked in buttery toffee sauce. A rich, burnt flavor cut through the sweetness of the dish as a dollop of ice cream slowly dripped into the mix.
The food may be a rung or two up from the pizza stands and tourist traps that line the boardwalk but the prices hardly reflect it. Collins' food is really the only thing imported from the team's Culver City restaurant, highlighting a casual experience that embraces the eclectic character of the artsy beach town. Like the canals, muscle beach, or the notorious '420 Doctors' before them, let's hope that Larry's becomes a mainstay in the ongoing culture of Venice.