Find throwback seafood dishes and old L.A. glamour at this new waterfront restaurant

A selection of seafood dishes on a table
Dishes at Dear Jane’s include, clockwise from bottom left, shrimp Louie, sand dabs with side dishes of broccolini and lemony potatoes, clams casino, Bougie fish sticks and stone crab claws.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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As dining rooms go, the open floor plan of Dear Jane’s sets up enough visual cues to convey the essence of the restaurant in less than 30 seconds.

Your eyes will first land on the far wall of mounted buoys that encircle the open kitchen and flaunt every color of the spectrum. Their arrangement is disarmingly tasteful — more art installation than nautical schlock — and the tint of the light cast over them draws out shades of orange that bring to mind neon-bright life vests.

The rest of the decor veers slyly neutral: the beige-patterned carpet of yesteryear’s midlevel chain hotels; tufted brown banquettes and chairs covered in butterscotch-yellow upholstery; and tables set with white linens on which speed-racing staff set down shellfish platters, shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller and blackened fish.

All of this serves as a backdrop to the view beyond the picture windows, framing Basin C in Marina del Rey harbor and its literal sea of boats. In daylight, the scene is a chaos of masts that fill the sky and blot out the apartment buildings across the water. At night, when floating shapes become indistinct, the darkness radiates calm and reflects the action back on the usually full room.

Three people stand in front of a large window showing a harbor in the background
Hans Rockenwagner, left, his wife Patti Rockenwagner, and Josiah Citrin, the main owners of Dear Jane’s, a seafood focused restaurant in Marina del Rey, are photographed inside the restaurant.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Part of the energy comes from the playful dissonance that hangs in the air: Why are all these people clamoring for an evening in a throwback Continental seafood restaurant?

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It has everything to do with the seasoned pros behind Dear Jane’s, a trio who’ve mastered the art of making retro relevant.

In 2019, chef Hans Röckenwagner and his wife, marketing executive Patti Röckenwagner, aligned with Josiah Citrin, whose Santa Monica flagship, Mélisse, was in the middle of a renovation at the time, to revive once-famed Dear John’s in Culver City. Actor Johnny Harlowe opened the restaurant in 1962 — supposedly at the behest of his buddy Frank Sinatra, who was an early regular. With two movie studios nearby, the dark, clubby haunt was a fixture for celebrities and other entertainment-industry types through the 1970s. Harlowe sold the restaurant in the ’80s and Dear John’s languished in various ever-diminished iterations.

Stone crab claws sit on top of a platter filled with ice
Stone crab claws are on the menu at Dear Jane’s, a seafood-focused restaurant in Marina del Rey.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Developers had slated the building to be razed in April 2021 when the Röckenwagners and Citrin landed on a strategy to throw the place a two-year farewell party. The chefs brainstormed a tweaked time-capsule menu of steak and potatoes, lobster Thermidor, chicken Parmesan reenvisioned into the compact shape of cheese-gushing chicken Kiev and, for an iconic flourish, Caesar salad composed tableside by tuxedoed servers.


The idea quickly found an audience. One could attribute its success to the reputation of its owners, a lust for the ephemeral that plays on the human psyche (let’s go before it’s gone forever!) and the honestly appealing food the chefs devised. The place also taps into the notion of Hollywood power and glamour that may never quite get baked out of L.A.’s cultural DNA. It’s the same engine of nostalgia that keeps some of our most entrenched Continental warhorses in business. I’m thinking of Musso & Frank Grill, Tam O’Shanter, Dan Tana’s in West Hollywood, Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills and Dal Rae in Pico Rivera.

Fast-forward through the worst of the pandemic: The demolition date for Dear John’s was pushed to April 2023, and as the date neared the owners began considering a succession plan for their throwback hit. They took over a vacant 1960s-era building on the marina, updated it gently and gave their Dear John’s blueprint a seafood spin. Dear Jane’s opened in September.

Boat buoys hang from a wall inside Dear Jane's, a seafood-focused restaurant in Marina del Rey.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

As a child of the 1980s who grew up near an East Coast port city, I have my own sentimental streak for this style of restaurant. I passed through Dear Jane’s doors for the first time and blinked at the split-level room configuration and the gorgeous low-slung tongue-and-groove ceiling. Faraway memories lit up my brain with two words: Chart House. There was a location of the higher-end seafood chain — which was founded in 1961 and based for years in San Diego — in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. My family went a couple of times for special occasions. Sure enough, the Dear Jane’s space was previously a Chart House outpost.

The cocktail list leans tiki and lighthearted; a sky-blue number blending tequila, coconut syrup and Cointreau name-checks Jane Jetson. As at Dear John’s, the bartenders here are adept at bracingly dry gin martinis, which I much prefer to set the pace while extracting the meat of Santa Barbara stone crab claws from their expertly precracked shells, or swiping shrimp through a sauce that properly clears the head with piercing horseradish.

There are fun, swanky fish sticks striped with crème fraîche, dotted with caviar and accompanied by an eggy seven-layer dip — a counterpart to a similar whimsy Dear John’s fashioned from tater tots — but mostly the cooking gracefully favors classic over camp.


Citrin and Röckenwagner give bacony clams casino a respectful upgrade with smoked piquillo peppers, chorizo and bread crumbs scented with Meyer lemon. Servers materialize tableside to whisk together the ingredients for what is essentially Thousand Island dressing (yes, I spy ketchup in there) to ladle over shrimp Louie. I’m happy to double up on shrimp with a course of garlicky scampi tangled in tagliolini, the strongest among four pastas.

A fish-shaped blue tray holds fish sticks
Bougie fish sticks are on the menu at Dear Jane’s, a new waterfront restaurant in Marina del Rey.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Expect fish to be cooked exactingly. The brown-butter lemon sauce for trout amandine has the right proportions of silkiness and acidity. The herbed, hard-seared blackened redfish craze of the ’80s meets today’s piscine ubiquity — salmon — and they make a fine cross-generational pairing. Best of all are delicate, filleted sand dabs — a Pacific flatfish that, as I said when I first reviewed Dear John’s, should show up on more local menus — sharpened with lemon juice and capers.

Two of the splurgier entrees missed the mark during my meals. The overall texture of heavily breaded, crab-stuffed prawns was unappealingly bouncy, and the taste verged on fishy. A buttery sauce a l’orange flattered lobster with its finespun perfume. The meat itself was flabby, though, and the thatch of fried spinach gave the dish nothing more than a crinkly, empty sort of crunch.

And though much of the service is gracious, I miss the guiding presence of a veteran like Hank Kelly, the dining room captain at Dear John’s. He reads the mood of guests with unusual finesse and charms while multitasking over tableside Caesars. I’m hoping Kelly ventures west if his current place of employment vanishes in three months; the owners are negotiating for another lease extension, but the outcome is uncertain.

These restaurants are so defining of what it means to eat and live in Southern California — that they’ve earned a place of honor for all time.

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In every other way the owners have already set up Dear Jane’s as the incontrovertible heir apparent. The chicken parm is already on the menu and a pleasure as ever. Peek behind the red-velvet curtain to the right of the entrance: It reveals a tucked-away bar that replicates Dear John’s, down to a similar collection of portrait-heavy period art curated by Patti Röckenwagner with the help of gallerist Robert Berman. Nothing can duplicate history, but with a martini in hand, the embrace of wood-paneling and a flickering fireplace feels mighty close.


Dear Jane's

13950 Panay Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 301-6442,

Prices: Most starters $22-$45, soups and salads $16-$18, pastas $30-$45, desserts $15.

Details: Open 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Valet. Full bar.

Recommended dishes: Santa Barbara stone crab claws, fish sticks with caviar, sand dabs, scampi, chicken parm.

A person sets a table at Dear Jane's
Tables are set inside Dear Jane’s before the restaurant opens.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)