If there’s anything our ninth grade biology class taught us, it’s that Charles Darwin was a guy with a very impressive beard. And you know, evolution. As we’ve gotten older, most everything else we learned with Mr. McKinnon has faded from memory, but the evolution thing has proved itself over and over again.
So it is with Leona, a restaurant that just keeps evolving. The dishes at this Venice restaurant haven’t changed dramatically since we started visiting, but keep getting a tweak here and there. Yep, the lamb belly wontons have been on the menu since the beginning, but we’ve probably had a slightly different version every time we’ve had them. A crudo became ceviche, but some elements carry over from one dish to another. It’s really rare to sit in a restaurant and watch the chefs essentially play with their food and experiment in real time.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The twist on fish and chips has changed a couple of times, only for the better. The "Adult Frosted Flakes" began as a bowl of actual cereal, but has morphed into more of a cereal-flavored pudding that we’re still not that into, but can see the thought in. Overall, appetizers are definitely the highlights here (those lamb belly wontons), but make sure you leave room for the bulgogi braised short rib too.
It seems like we’re not the only ones who are into Leona. The place is packed most nights of the week (and for weekend brunch) which given that it lies on the sad section of Washington Blvd. that could be Venice, and might be Marina del Rey, is a big accomplishment. And the place is fun - it’s loud, but not shouting at your tablemate kind of loud, the music is good, and many bottles of wine are being ordered. It's equally suited to a celebration as it is a date, or even dinner with the parents.
Most of all, we just like coming back to Leona to see what's going on - which dish they've been messing with this week, and how things have changed. Charles D. would have been a regular.
These have been on the menu since Leona’s early days and boy are we glad. They come on top of a salty and delicious broth, are kind of rich, and something we always order. Just get them.
This thing is insane. It involves a bird’s nest made of potato with a duck egg nestled inside, many large bits of bacon, and a bacon broth poured over the top in front of you.
The ceviche is one of those dishes that seems to change pretty regularly here. On the night we last had it, it was snapper with sweet potato chips and toasted quinoa, and it tasted excellent.
A brunch and lunch-only option, the burger is good, not great. It’s super simple - fontina and caramelized onions on top of a patty that we suspect has more than just ground beef in there - and definitely tasty, but not fall all over ourselves great. The fries on the side though are pretty damn special though.
If you were to try and count how many times this came out of the kitchen, you’d loose track pretty quickly - most tables around us ordered it. If the richness of short ribs and marrow are your thing, then you won’t want to miss this.
The fish is also something that changes a bunch at Leona, but is always a good choice. We had a super crispy loup de mer that came with very in season tomatoes.
Certainly crispy and ducky, but not our favorite. This was frankly, just a bit boring.
Just because something has the texture of baby food, doesn’t mean it has to be terrible. Case in point: these carrots.