When “Avengers” and “Community” director Joe Russo throws a party for the opening of his new restaurant Simone in the arts district of downtown Los Angeles, his people turn out for him. So “Avengers” stars Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Don Cheadle, Karen Gillan, Marisa Tomei and Pom Klementieff as well as Marvel honcho Kevin Feige were among those toasting the debut of the stylish bar and restaurant along with chef Jessica Largey.
“Joe is an epicurean, so it’s not surprising,” said Johansson of Russo’s first restaurant venture. The Black Widow star said she loves the downtown L.A. scene — the restaurants and especially the art galleries.
Russo’s director pals Jon Favreau, Taika Waititi and Feng Xiaogang were also there to celebrate. There was a mini-“Community” reunion, too, with Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown meeting up with Russo, who directed 21 episodes of the series.
Russo, whose production company with his brother Anthony Russo is headquartered just a few minutes away at City Market South, has become a big booster of the area. “We wanted to be disruptive and do something different — it’s called the Arts District for a reason,” he said at the opening. “I love the energy, what Bestia did, what they’re doing with Bavel and Rossoblu. Some of my favorite restaurants are downtown now.”
Russo said he was inspired by his travels as a filmmaker to come up with the kind of restaurant he would want to go to. “The whole space is curated based off of the experience I have as a diner, being fortunate as a filmmaker to be able to travel the world — to select my favorite experiences from around the world, and try to combine them into one space.”
Showing off the large table in the jewel box private dining nook, he said, “I love round tables for larger groups. In China they have lazy Susans.”
Scarlett Johansson with Iain McPherson
Getting the bar program right was a big priority for Russo. “I’m the kind of guy who does a lot of research in every area. I go to looking for the best. When I was in Edinburgh, I found a cocktail bar called Panda & Sons, and it became my favorite bar in the world.”
So Russo enticed Panda and Sons’ Iain McPherson to create the cocktail menu, with selections like California Calling, a refined cousin to a margarita with resposado tequila enriched with coconut essence and fino sherry, or Lost & Found, with rum, bramble (blackberry liqueur) and sweet beetroot vinegar.
As far as the food, Russo let James Beard winner and former Manresa chef Largey do her thing.
“Everything I’ve ever eaten of hers is mind-blowing,” he says of Largey’s cooking. “I’m an artist and I wanted to protect her creative process. I’m a sounding board.”
Russo likes the immediacy of restaurants as compared to the long gestation of film shoots. “I wanted to create a space where my extended family in Los Angeles could share great food and great drinks, and have a place that was warm and inclusive,” he said.
He’s particularly excited about McPherson’s mole cocktail, and said “Jessica’s Caesar salad is the best I’ve ever eaten in my life.”
California produce will play a large part on the menu, says Largey, “The produce in L.A., I think is the best in the country by far.” Meats and seafood are sustainably sourced from “incredible places,” she promised.
Largey is originally from Ventura, Calif., but hadn’t spent much time downtown. “That was one of the big draws to come back,” she said, “It’s exciting to meet a whole new side of the city, there’s a really great community here.”
How does she describe the food? “It’s very Californian produce-centric, bright and fresh. But I’d rather cook for people than try to put it in a box,” she said.