Amidst the stretch of sushi restaurants, pizzerias, taverns and automotive facilities on Ventura Blvd in Studio City, sits— a sleek, sophisticated, fine dining establishment without pretention, but with that certain “city” vibe.
The Raphael family has been in the restaurant business for over two decades (as the former owners of Bel Air Bar and Grill which they sold in 2007). Dad Arnon helms the namesake Raphael, while son Alon, and now, daughter Shoshana, have taken turns managing. Wife/mom Terry, meticulously designed the modern space, as well as the evergreen exterior garden wall.
Since opening two and a half years ago, they’ve made changes that have only improved the restaurant. The space expanded over 100 seats with a dining room, two small media rooms and a roomy lounge/cocktail area. Last year, celebrated chef Adam Horton came aboard. Horton is one of LA’s most acclaimed young chefs and was named a “top five rising chef” and one of the “top 30 chefs under 30″ by Zagat.
The 48 hour rib steak prepared with a bacon onion confit on top of greens and a small side of pureed yams. Photo: Karen Young
Horton is a childhood friend of Alon Raphael. They always wanted to work together, so when the restaurant expanded, Horton left his head chef position at Saddle Peak Lodge in early 2011 to oversee the kitchen at Raphael. Award-winning bartender/mixologist Chris Parke joined a little while later. Together, Horton and Parke pair lively food and drink.
Horton describes his cuisine as “Progressive American” incorporating world flavors — a fusion mixing different cultural elements. The menu changes with what’s in season, as well as what spurs Horton’s culinary imagination on any given day. Horton has traveled and worked abroad and is most influenced by the eclectic tastes he has encountered in his experiences.
Hawaiian kampachi with a chile vinaigrette and topped with cilantro, crispy shallots and mix of lime. Photo: Karen Young
When Raphael first opened, the menu was traditional in that it consisted of starters and main entrées. Horton switched it up a couple months ago by creating an inventive small plates menu that is meant to be shared family style. The selections range in size, but you should average about three plates per person($7-$21 a plate—average plate is $12-$14).
There is so much that’s appealing on the menu that it’s difficult to make a decision, however, the servers are extremely well versed, so just ask for suggestions. The selections are divided into sections: Raw & Cold, Vegetable, Pasta, Water and Land.
To start we had the hawaiian kampachi which was perfectly dressed with a chile vinaigrette and topped with cilantro, crispy shallots and mix of lime for a strikingly refreshing taste. Next up was a generous bowl of crispy brussels sprouts —a combination of sweet and savory flavors with a hint of fish sauce. It’s positively addicting. For pasta, we chose the agnolotti — fluffy little pillows of delicate pasta filled with the deliciously rich flavors of sweet potato and parmesan.
Brussels sprouts—a combination of sweet and savory flavors with a hint of fish sauce. Photo: Karen Young
We divided the main courses between land and water. First to arrive was a very tender and flavorful 48 hour rib steak prepared with a bacon onion confit on top of greens and a small side of pureed yams. It’s accompanied by a bleu cheese filled crisp which is a light, rolled dough. A land dish I must try next time is the fried chicken about which I’ve heard raves.
For the water selections we chose two dishes: the charred octopus with a spanish influenced tangy soffrito and romesco verde sauce topped with a fluffed foam of “ajo blanco” (a sauce mix of almonds and garlic) — and the fragrant black cod prepared in light vietnamese spiced duck broth and herbs.
Black cod prepared in a light vietnamese spiced duck broth and herbs. Photo: Karen Young
The dessert menu looked too good to pass up so we chose two — the banana bread pudding with tempura bananas, peanut brittle and housemade peanut butter ice cream (probably one of my favorite desserts — ever). The second dessert, the Sicilian pistachio cake with candied rose petals and pistachio gelato was beautiful and innovative.
Raphael has a top flight wine list. We had the Provenance Cabernet Sauvignon 07 (Napa) which was deliciously smooth and rich. It’s the perfect place to taste different wines as there are over 50 offered by the glass.
Parke has created specialty and signature cocktails using fresh ingredients with the same seasonal culinary philosophy as Horton. The signature list includes the Lavender (Tanqueray gin, lavender, bitter lemon); Basil (Belvedere vodka, sweet basil, cracked pepper); Balsamic (Ketel One, strawberries, balsamic vinegar, lemon); Cilantro Karma (tequila, cilantro, roasted jalapeño agave nectar, lime); Autumn Rye (Bulleit rye whiskey, Benedictine, Drambuie, citrus twist). Parke’s twist on classic cocktails includes his own versions of a New Fashioned, Aviation and NYC.
Agnolotti with pumpkin and parmesan. Photo: Karen Young
In addition to dinner, Raphael offers a happy hour daily from 5-7 p.m.—or come by for a drink and some bites in the lounge. Also, check thewebsite or Facebook for occasional live musical entertainment in the bar/lounge area on various nights. Lunch is served Monday-Friday with salads, sandwiches and entrees ($12-$18).
Currently, Raphael is launching a Regional Wine dinner series. The first is June 13, which highlights Spanish wines, July 11, featuring French wines, and August 8 with Italian wines. The dinners are $75 per person and all