When considering restaurants on Abbot Kinney and the recent upshoot of many restaurants serving Southern cuisine around town, it’s only proper that the Venice hub would receive its own outpost. Govind Armstrong, of Post & Beam and before that, ROFL Café (I know) and 8 Oz Burger Bar, is as recognizable a chef’s name as any other in L.A. and adds himself as another well-regarded name on the Boulevard, the others being Joe Miller and Casey Lane.
Willie Jane is not only on Abbot Kinney, but lies on the contentious part of the stretch where locals are battling it out over whether a boutique hotel will be built in its place. Down the street from the over-two-decades-old Joe’s, behind which the hotel has also planned to put rooms, Willie Jane includes a back patio that could be the most beautiful al fresco setting, anywhere. A relocation might disrupt a lot of the restaurant’s, albeit young, identity.
It’s not an easy charge to have, to provide food worthy of a beautiful patio. Having last dined at the space when it was Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (after the Hart & the Hunter split) and being underwhelmed by it is cause to positively reprogram my experience with the dining space, and Willie Jane successfully did that.
Willie Jane’s food is a fresh take on Southern food with Californian ingredients. The biscuits, more fluffy than they are dense, come with burnt orange honey butter; the burrata, with peaches, smoked pecans and amaranth. Even the shrimp and grits, a solid rendition though the grits perhaps could’ve been buttered up even more, come adorned with sweet violet flowers. The black-eyed peas came with kale, nay collard greens, and were good. While Fried Mary’s Chicken was very juicy, the outside batter crisp could have been more so.
But my favorite was the line-caught swordfish, served with split pea puree, green tomato relish and served with sweet corn-ham hock beignets. I’ll always take notice with perfectly cooked fish, and the accompaniments weren’t just Southern for show but complementary in flavor.
Service was rather excellent, save, of course, for the fact that they knew I was media. But there’s something to be said about L.A.’s actor-as-server-stigma, or the haughty reputation that serves Gjelina down the street, and the preclusion of good service as a result. It’s refreshing to see Willie Jane rise above it (we were almost done with dinner by the time my dining companion, Dimitri, had discovered he and our server had the same acting teacher at Juilliard).
Probably the only thing that Willie Jane, as a decent dining choice of few on Abbot Kinney, cannot defy is the higher prices in comparison with choices serving stellar food in other L.A. neighborhoods. Google has moved in, income and rents are higher, and thus, I feel, somewhat changing the landscape of Abbot Kinney as a destination dining spot in that it is less so. Which, if you are the type to never go east of
the 405 Lincoln, as Venetians are, makes this point null and void. But Govind Armstrong’s Willie Jane puts up a good fight.
All food and drink were hosted.