Nyesha Arrington plans to open her first restaurant, Leona, on Washington Boulevard in Venice at the end of the month. Arrington will serve as executive chef and partner, along with owners Breegan and Kristian Vallas.
The "Top Chef" alum says she's been essentially working on the menu for the entirety of her culinary career. She dubs it "progressive California cuisine," drawing inspiration from multiple cultures and their cuisines.
"That's very quintessential Los Angeles dining," said Arrington. "The lines are a little blurred now with chefs drawing inspiration from a larger scale."
On the menu, Arrington has a dish inspired by the Korean bulgolgi her mother made when she was a child. It's a slow-braised short rib with roasted bone marrow.
"For me, this dish invokes visceral memories of seeing her [mom] cooking in the kitchen," said Arrington. "Generally, bulgolgi is a quick-cooking meat on a grill, and we've kind of like nuanced the dish in a way to have a slow-cooked, warm hug from the inside kind of feel from the braised meat."
Other dishes include a sweet corn ice cream made with fresh tumeric, served with white peaches, white peach and corn salsa and rose water; and a "chicken brick" made with slow-cooked organic chicken between two layers of crispy chicken skin, served with a salsa verde.
There's also a cocktail mixto to start, made with chilled watermelon and tomato jus, a variety of local seafood, avocado, cilantro flowers and crispy rice paper.
The restaurant will have a chef's counter, banquette wall, communal tables, wine bar and outdoor patio. Breegan said she and the team went for a refined but approachable feel for the decor, including exposed brick inside and out, plush leather, high ceilings, brass elements and a palm leaf wall paper.
And as for the name, it was the original street name for Washington Boulevard before it was annexed to Los Angeles.
"Being that we are on Washington Boulevard, and pulling some history from Venice and the culture here, we thought it was a strong feminine name that also had relevance for the three of us," said Breegan.
The restaurant will open with dinner and plans to add weekend brunch service and lunch. And instead of a cocktail program, beer and wine for now.