On Thursday, Matthew Biancaniello opens Mon-Li at Malibu’s Calamigos Beach Club, the seaside hangout that belongs to the nearby 250-acre Calamigos Guest Ranch. Named for the mother of one of his partners, this 12-person bar operates in its own enclosed space on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Following numerous “cocktail omakase” pop-ups held at different restaurant venues across the city through the years, Mon-Li will be the former Library Bar at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel bartender’s first space he can call his own, with plans to remain indefinitely at the resort. This sense of tenure has the chef feeling liberated and excited.
“I have never had a home,” Biancaniello says. “To be working out of my trunk for the last five years, I sort of had it. But now I have a place where I can create and build and just see everything in front of me. Which will allow me to make the best work of my life.”
Biancaniello’s set 12-drink tasting menu is a mix of cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks using ingredients grown on property, foraged in the surrounding mountains and acquired at farmers markets. In addition, five food tastings will pair with a handful of the drinks. Overall, it will be a roughly two-hour experience with seatings throughout the night and personal interaction with Biancaniello.
“I’d enjoy my pop-ups so much,” he says. “But they would get so busy that I was losing that one-on-one experience with people.”
Mon-Li’s opening drink menu showcases the bartender’s notable creativity, gift for sourcing, and craftsmanship. He’s making his own beer from shrimp peels and wild herbs, and also put together a liquid “bread and cheese course” using sautéed Gjusta baguette-infused vermouth and a Parmesan cheese-infused vermouth. Another drink features frozen bananas, cream and chanterelles with an Ogo seaweed-infused bourbon and a burning pine cone.
He is also taking full advantage of the acreage around him. He has his own garden and bees on the property, with future dreams of building mushroom and quail farms, along with a greenhouse to support his vision.
“[Calamigos Guest Ranch] is right behind Solstice Canyon,” Biancaniello notes. “I’ve hiked there since I moved to L.A. and done a lot of my foraging here. Not realizing I was stealing nasturtiums from this property and from my future partners. So I knew exactly what I wanted to do here and went right at it.”