Woodside, that reliable Brentwood restaurant, is no more. Chris Schaefer and his wife, Chantal, have bought the place and renamed it Zax Restaurant (after their young son, Zachary). As executive chef, they hired Brooke Williamson away from Boxer. Just 22, she's already been sous-chef at Michael's, where she came up through the ranks, and, briefly, chef at Boxer.
The place looks almost exactly the same. They may have shifted the large landscapes and still-life paintings; I'm not sure. What happened to the one of pumpkins? Retired for the season? Nevertheless, the restaurant has the same casual, comfortable atmosphere with exposed brick walls, wooden library chairs and open kitchen--the kind of place where you don't have to dress up, just come as you already are.
Schaefer, who has put in time at Barfly on the Sunset Strip, Rix and, most recently, JiRaffe in Santa Monica, is definitely a hands-on owner. He's there most nights to greet guests at the door and keep an eye on the room. Zax is for all intents and purposes an entirely new restaurant, and Williamson has written a new menu, which will change seasonally. Right now she's featuring starters such as the Catalan-inspired piquillo peppers stuffed with brandade (that's salt cod, potatoes and garlic), with a warm plum-tomato salad. She does a nice grilled quail salad with roasted shallots. Crisp sweetbreads, though, may be harder to pull off: Mine came out overcooked. I liked the pretty salad of butter lettuce with prosciutto and shaved celery root in a puckery lemon vinaigrette.
A plate of bucatini (plump spaghetti, more or less) with cockles, (a delightful shellfish that you don't see often on L.A. menus), garlic and toasted bread crumbs would get me in for supper any time. Herbed ricotta gnocchi might work better with less of the mushroom broth, but braised beef short ribs (the dish of the moment, it seems, everywhere from New York to Los Angeles) is smartly paired with Israeli couscous and the gremolata more often seen sprinkled over osso buco.
It's terrific to see someone who has as much passion for restaurants and contemporary American cooking as Woodside's founders take over this appealing neighborhood restaurant. It's a great little spot and I'm glad we didn't lose it to some fast-food clone. Make a note.
* Zax Restaurant, 11604 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; (310) 571-3800; fax, (310) 571-3803; e-mail, email@example.com. Dinner appetizers, $7 to $11; entrees, $17 to $27. Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for lunch Tuesday through Friday. Valet parking.