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Josiah Citrin branches beyond the Westside with Openaire at the Line Hotel in Koreatown

Josiah Citrin branches beyond the Westside with Openaire at the Line Hotel in Koreatown
Chef Josiah Citrin at Openaire, his new restaurant at the Line Hotel in Koreatown. (Sydell Group)

Four years after opening in Koreatown, the Line Hotel has a new food and beverage lineup led by a longtime Westside chef.

Josiah Citrin, best known for his precise cooking at fine-dining stalwart Mélisse in Santa Monica, has taken over most of the boutique hotel’s dining offerings, including the main restaurant space and room service. He replaced Kogi founder Roy Choi.

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The cornerstone of the Citrin era, the restaurant Openaire, debuts Sunday in the same light-filled greenhouse space previously occupied by Choi’s Commissary. The menu is built around seasonally driven California cuisine, a departure from the French-New American tasting menus at Mélisse and from the Korean-influenced food his predecessor brought to the hotel. So instead of fried chicken with cheesy corn and gochujang or ddukbokki with rigatoni, there will be Snake River Farms sirloin with yu choy and honeynut squash with parsnips, pumpkin seeds and manchego.

A dish at Openaire features Caledonian shrimp, hominy, Tokyo turnips and herbs.
A dish at Openaire features Caledonian shrimp, hominy, Tokyo turnips and herbs. (Chase Daniel)

Citrin’s involvement in the Line, which also includes its banquet and event menus, lobby bar and pool deck food stall, marks a significant expansion for his personal brand. To date, the chef has remained almost exclusively rooted west of the 405: Besides the 19-year-old Mélisse, Citrin owns Charcoal, a lively neighborhood spot in Venice where everything is cooked over live fire. (He also runs the Dave’s Doghouse hot dog stand at Staples Center.)

“I’m really excited about coming here — it’s just a different audience, a different part of town that I know but don’t really know,” Citrin said during a recent poolside interview at the Line. “I was getting a little bored during the day.”

The chef swap, announced over the summer, also signals a surprising turnabout for the Line. Choi, after all, is one of the city’s most prominent Korean American chefs and one of Koreatown’s earliest champions. He had been involved in the Line from the start, a seemingly integral part of the property’s identity.

But several years in, the Line was in need of “new life,” said Andrew Zobler, founder and chief executive of the New York-based Sydell Group, which runs several boutique hotel chains including NoMad and Freehand. “We just wanted to generally relook at it and see how we could rebirth it.”

Openaire is located on the hotel’s pool deck. The space, which previously housed Roy Choi's Commissary, recently got a makeover with new furniture and plants.
Openaire is located on the hotel’s pool deck. The space, which previously housed Roy Choi's Commissary, recently got a makeover with new furniture and plants. (Chase Daniel)

The relationship between Sydell and Choi will continue — the chef is in the middle of building Best Friend, his newest restaurant, which will open in Sydell’s Park MGM in Las Vegas in December. In an Instagram post announcing his departure from the Line, Choi wrote: “I leave with head high, heart full, and proud.”

“In L.A. it was just time to do something different,” Zobler said. “If I can be a little blunt, I think the mistake that we made — and I made it as much as anybody — was that people didn’t want so much to have a Korean-influenced restaurant in the hotel because you were in the middle of Koreatown. ... From a financial perspective, it wasn’t a home run.”

Although that might seem counterintuitive, hotel guests who wanted Korean food were heading into the neighborhood to eat, and Koreatown residents who wanted non-Korean options were leaving the neighborhood to find them, Zobler said. By bringing a market-driven, California-casual dining experience to the Line, the hotel hopes to appeal to both groups with food that is less well-represented in the neighborhood. (That being said, there are a number of New American restaurants within a few blocks, including Here’s Looking at You and Le Comptoir.)

And by teaming with one of the region’s most-decorated chefs — Citrin was awarded two Michelin stars for Melisse when the influential ratings guide had a Los Angeles edition about a decade ago — the Line hopes to keep pace with rival hotels that have been aggressively luring big-name chefs.

In just the last year in downtown Los Angeles alone, Providence’s Michael Cimarusti opened Best Girl at the Ace Hotel DTLA, the Tasting Kitchen’s Casey Lane opened Breva and Veranda in Hotel Figueroa, and New York chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara opened an L.A. outpost of their NoMad restaurant in the hotel of the same name. There’s also José Andrés’ and Aitor Zabala’s new tasting-menu-only Somni at the SLS Beverly Hills and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s namesake restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, which opened last year.

Honeynut squash, parsnips, pumpkin seeds and sherry honey at Openaire.
Honeynut squash, parsnips, pumpkin seeds and sherry honey at Openaire. (Chase Daniel)

Citrin said some people might incorrectly assume that the food “is going to be precious — I really didn’t want to go that way,” and he has tried to make what he calls his “Line 2.0” menu approachable, which is to say the dishes will be familiar restaurant food such as steak, pasta and chicken. He’s given himself license with Korean flavors: cooking steak with doenjang, a fermented soybean paste, and serving a scallion seafood pancake in the lobby bar.

Choi’s former Pot restaurant space is not part of the Citrin deal — Sydell is still figuring out what to do with the tucked-away spot on the ground floor — and two bars run by the Houston brothers, Break Room 86 and the Speek, will remain the same. The hotel also recently installed an Alfred coffee shop in the lobby.

The lobby at the Line was recently redone by designer Sean Knibb to encourage more group gatherings.
The lobby at the Line was recently redone by designer Sean Knibb to encourage more group gatherings. (Chase Daniel)

Citrin said he hopes the Line gig will help him become more familiar to a wider swath of Angelenos, and provide a change of pace after nearly two decades at Mélisse.

There might be more changes ahead: Citrin’s lease at the Santa Monica spot runs out in January, and he has remained tight-lipped about the restaurant’s future. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said “negotiations for the lease were settled” but declined to elaborate.

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For now he’s splitting his time between Koreatown and the Westside, shuttling between the buzzy hotel and the fine dining mainstay, separated by 12 miles along Wilshire Boulevard, every day. Although Citrin has served as a hotel consultant in the past, this is his first time leading a hotel’s food and beverage operations.

“It’s huge,” he said, “but I’m up for the challenge.”

3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 381-7411, www.thelinehotel.com/los-angeles

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