Photography by Drew Clayton
“After 14 years, I feel good that we’re doing better and better,” says chef and owner Joanna Moore. “Nowadays, it’s a lot about change and flocking to the next thing, but we’re holding it down here. I can hope to maintain that.” The 49-year-old Venice resident—she lives a few block from the restaurant—understands that as well as anyone else who’s seen the neighborhood undergo a transformation.
“It’s changed. There’s a lot of activity now. People want to be here because it’s happening and embodies the Venice lifestyle,” explains Moore. That lifestyle is the casual, beachside pace of life set in one of the city’s busiest blocks. High-end, designer boutiques and destination restaurants for gourmands have replaced the few nondescript shops, a far cry from the neighborhood that Moore remembers.
“It was a lot more sparse with just a couple of dive bars. It was a place where I could always discover something new, like junk stores—you couldn’t even call them vintage shops—that you had to seek it out,” recalled Moore.
Moore grew up with four brothers and sisters in Santa Monica where she walked to school at Franklin Elementary. In those days, Montana Avenue was just a neighborhood street with a local market and a hardware store. She then attended what was formerly known as the Westlake School for Girls in Holmby Hills and then the Art Center where she studied painting. Moore’s path into the dining world wasn’t the traditional one of a chef or restaurateur. With no formal training or experience, Moore went in with her own idea: “I was a naïve 25-year-old. I thought I was going to open a café and do the restaurant part time in a style that I knew how to do—not formal and just a limited menu of soups, salads, and baked goods.”
A big part of Moore’s cooking and California sensibility is using fresh, local ingredients. Down to the small-production beer and wines on offer, everything on the menu is procured locally. From produce off of Coleman Farms—Moore credits their dry farm practice for the deep flavor of their vegetables— to meats from Paso Robles’ Windrose Farm—they supply rabbit for the restaurant’s wintertime ragú—and pasture beef from Marin County, Moore’s food choices are driven by where the ingredients come from. Small, organic farmers have unpredictable work, and I want to support them. My menu says, ‘We are proud to serve organic, farm-raised food.’ I want diners to be moved by delicious food and then realize it’s organic,” said Moore.
That space is designed by Moore herself, using a minimalist approach and woods including the thick-cut woods at the bar that overlooks the kitchen. While Moore kept the design the same after last year’s fire, she decided to keep the kitchen open.
“The restaurant is an extension of the California, casual, laid-back atmosphere. I love the Pacific coast, which is expressed here with an environment that’s casual and quality of food that’s high.”
And now 14 years in, Moore never loses inspiration from her Southern California surroundings. She can often be found surfing the waters of Venice and Malibu and hiking the Santa Monica Mountains. “Restaurants are so intense, so I know when I need to get into the ocean, which is healing and where I get grounded. I go the opposite direction when the stimulus gets high—slow and low.”