San Francisco transplant Angler is set to make a major splash in Los Angeles, as Joshua Skenes’ innovative seafood-focused restaurant opens in the somewhat unlikely location of the Beverly Center. Angler is the latest and the most ambitious restaurant to join a fresh crop of spots, including Cal Mare and Yardbird, on the recently refurbished ground floor.
Diners will forget they’re in a mall once inside Angler’s luxurious yet relaxed northern fishing lodge setting, with stuffed marlins above the bar, a large aquarium previewing the catch of the day, and a bounty of flowers and fruits decorating the wood-burning hearth. Blankets on the backs of chairs and cushy sofas in the lounge area add to the cozy rustic ambiance, while the Psychedelic Furs and Dexy’s Midnight Runners liven up the new wave soundtrack.
It’s unlike any other restaurant in the city, and Skenes acknowledges that serving L.A. customers can be quite different than in San Francisco. “It’s very different in the details and similar in the underlying ethos. L.A. is its own market. The people want what they want here, and I have tried very hard to be aware of that in not only the menus but also the environment and the style of service,” he says.
The menu changes nearly every day, and Skenes, who earned three Michelin stars at San Francisco’s tasting menu-oriented Saison, is taking a more elemental approach at Angler, where smoking and aging techniques take center stage. The vegetable dishes also make use of fire and embers for complex preparations involving beets, mushrooms, artichokes — and a showstopper Hasselback potato with Taleggio cheese sauce.
Every detail is carefully chosen: The table gets a set of condiments in varied containers: a silver octopus shaker holds smoked salt, while pickled peppers rest in a crystal dish alongside a cruet of house-made hot sauce. The octopus motif continues to bowls decorating the bar and the restroom tissue holder. Cocktails like a Watermelon Spritz or a White Russian made with sherry and ember-infused cream are playful, yet carefully constructed. A hefty wine list, which makes use of Saison’s massive collection, runs more than 100 pages, packed with French burgundies that ascend to stratospheric prices, as well as plenty of more affordable options.
Each item at Angler is presented in its own unique vessel, adding to the distinctive character of the dishes. Delicate Pacific ruby fish rests on matching flowered pink china, while big eye tuna fills a cut glass plate that mirrors its crystal-like tomato jelly topping. Other unexpected presentations include a large head of radicchio with radicchio X.O. sauce, a sweet and savory dressing with shallots and garlic that play up the caramelization of the grilled vegetable, for which the server provides a bib to catch any errant beet juice. Smoky flavors — Skenes really likes embers — reappear in the toast with embered bread sauce topped with thick slices of black truffles.
While the vegetable preparations can be elaborate, seafood and meats are presented more simply — some plucked out of the aquarium just before they’re cooked, others raw like the oysters and clams. With less-common live seafood choices like abalone, king crab, box crab, purple sea urchin, Pacific sheepshead and starry flounder, Skenes tries to source as much as possible from California waters, which Skenes says is not easy given the present wholesale system.
“We need more localized, more direct sourcing from the fisherman themselves — which means higher quality,” he explains. But Skenes says that since he has been working directly with fisherman for 10 years on procuring live sea-life, “at this point it is much easier for us.”
Free-range antelope is served as a tartare with lettuce leaves and herbs to wrap it, Vietnamese style, or as a T-bone that should satisfy the Keto diet crowd, while a whole pastured chicken has a burnished skin like a Peking duck.
Desserts include a basket of jewel-like fresh fruits, a soft-serve sundae with very salty caramel and a chocolate and hazelnut budino-like custard served in a cocoa pod and covered with nibs.
After visiting the city for years, Skenes is ready to settle in. “I love the diversity, the people, the products. I’m going to stay here for a good portion of the years to come,” he predicts.
So will Angelenos turn out for antelope prepared two different ways, elk and wild boar, not to mention sea cucumbers and salt and pepper scorpion fish? “In California, people are willing to try just about anything,” Skenes says.