Location: 123 W Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90291. (310) 822-5379
Date: April 5, 2016
Cuisine: American Small Plates
Rating: Bold flavors, many hits, a few misses, and uneven pacing
The Hedonists have long been frequenters of Wilshire, and so when chef Nyesha Arrington opened her own place in Marina del Rey we wanted to check it out.
Leona has a typical but attractive contemporary space with open kitchen, bar, and high ceilings.
There’s a pretty extensive porch too.
The problem with those high ceilings and hard surfaces is a nearly deafening din. LOUD, even at the end of the night with only a few people in it.
Ron brought as usual: NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rosé. VM 92. Pale orange. High-pitched red berry, orange zest and jasmine aromas, with suave mineral and smoky lees notes adding complexity. Spicy and precise on the palate, showing very good punch to its strawberry and bitter cherry flavors. Opens up smoothly with air and picks up a bitter rhubarb quality that lingers onto the long, tightly focused finish. This bottling showed more brawny character than many past renditions of this cuvée, but with no lack of vivacity.
The current menu. There aren’t that many dishes, and we were 13 people, so I ordered most of the menu and they brought 4-5 of each dish.
From my cellar: 2002 Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot. VM 96+. Knockout musky, soil-driven aromas of lime, chicken broth and crushed stone. At once dense and penetrating, with elegant but seriously intense flavors of lime, lemon, powdered stone and mint. Wonderfully light on its feet for a wine with this degree of power and thrust. Great building aftertaste shows superb density and cut. This should age like a red wine, and will be spectacular in 8 or 10 years.
COCTEL MIXTO. Local Seafood, Radish, Cilantro, Crispy Rice Paper. This was one of the weaker dishes. It was fairly hard to eat, and even harder to get the ceviche on the crisp.
Ron brought: 2007 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros. BH 92-95. Here too there is a very subtle influence of wood that frames ripe yet elegant and impressively pure aromas of citrus, spice hints, tidal pool and oyster shell notes, all of which are picked up by the highly complex and deep big-bodied flavors that are incredibly intense and quite unusually for Bougros, possess ‘hot knife through butter’ cut and delineation. An atypically elegant effort for the appellation.
2005 Faiveley Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots. BH 88-91. Strong wood influence currently dominates the dark berry and black raspberry-infused nose that precedes the somewhat woody medium weight flavors that are round and sweet with fine depth and complexity but the wood is not subtle and it causes me to question whether it will cause the finish to eventually dry out?
Brock brought: 2000 Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château. BH 88. This has opened considerably since last year with expressive, intense aromas of Vosne spice and a bit of toast followed by medium weight, beautifully defined flavors and solid length. The tannins are ripe though firm and show through on the lingering finish. The same mineral character of the 2001 is present here as well. Very solid quality here.
CRISPY SMELT. Kennebec Potato Crisps. The chips were a bit chewy, but this was some really great fried fish. Lots of batter, but light and crunchy and oh so delicious.
Chile de Árbol House Malt Vinegar took it to the next level.
Brian brought: 1996 Maison Champy Chambertin-Clos de Bèze. 94 points. A bit more mature than we were expecting, and clearly further along in development than my bottle three years ago. Nonetheless, this remains an enjoyable bottle of Beze and a nice example of at peak burgundy. My red wine of the night actually.
Ron brought: 1996 Maison Roche de Bellene Clos Vougeot Collection Bellenum. 89 points. Open for hours. Really tight at first; took a good 30 minutes to get anything off the nose. Darker fruits, oak, five-spice, and the longer it is open a touch of truffle. Medium+ weight, long finish due to integrated but prominent tannins.
“BACON & EGGS”. Potato Crusted Duck Egg, Smokey Bacon Broth, Chives. Super creative great tasting dish. The fried egg was seriously crusted in there in those yummy potato strips and the big chunks of crispy bacon were awesome.
Larry brought: 2008 Louis Jadot Grands-Echezeaux. VM 93. The 2008 Grands-Echezeaux is wonderfully expressive in its aromas and flavors. Clean, mineral notes frame an attractive melange of sweet red cherries, flowers, licorice and spices in this mid-weight, intensely long Burgundy. This is a classy effort from Jadot. Nice, but not yet in balance. Needs at least 10 more years.
FOREST MUSHROOM PIZZA. Tallegio Cheese, Tarragon, Orange Zest. Not a bad pizza, if a little earthy.
SPRING PEA “RISOTTO”. Burrata Cheese, Red Wine Reduction, Quinoa, Almond Crumble. Very soft, with a tapioca like texture to the risotto, but I loved the mix with the burrata and it was light, refreshing, and delicious.
2002 Dominus Estate. VM 92+. Red-ruby. Cool, shy aromas of currant, blackberry and licorice, with a leafy, medicinal aspect. Dense, fat and structured but also quite penetrating and powerful, with black fruit, licorice and herbal flavors and a strong impression of extract. This offers noteworthy energy in the mouth, and finishes quite claret-like, with fine-grained tannins and sneaky length. A sample from another bottle that had been decanted for 24 hours showed a suaver texture but had not lost its solid tannic spine. Offers excellent potential but not quite the length of the 2001. Champy notes that the pH of 3.87 is the lowest in recent years here.
1994 Peter Lehmann Shiraz Stonewell. VM 88. Ruby-red. Aromas of redcurrant, chicory and smoked meat complicated by herbal nuances. Thick, ripe and suave, with lovely fleshiness but not at all overly sweet. Finishes with dusty tannins and good length. Rather subtle, sophisticated shiraz. Also tasted: 1998 The Barossa Chardonnay, 1995 Mentor Barossa Valley, 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley*, 1998 The Barossa Shiraz*, 1996 Eight Songs Shiraz Barossa, 1998 Botrytis Semillon Sauternes Barossa.
2000 Château Calon-Ségur. VM 90. Full red-ruby. Musky aromas of tart red berries, smoke and meat, with a light medicinal nuance. Suave on entry, then rather tightly wound, even a bit youthfully dry. Fairly rich wine, but the redcurrant, smoke and spice flavors are presently dominated by solid underlying structure. Finishes firmly tannic, with sneaky persistence.
2005 Chanticleer Cabernet Sauvignon. 87 points. This blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Sangiovese captivates immediately with aromas of cassis, fraise des bois, Morello cherry, cantaloupe, spearmint, tarragon, cedar, and vanilla. It offers luscious, ripe, dark-berry fruit, juicy natural acidity, and creamy oak notes. The silky, mouth-filling Cabernet shows its tannic structure only on the slightly drying finish, which is also imbued with a gorgeous, long-lasting blackcurrant note. A mere 405 cases were produced.
MEATBALLS DE CORAZON. Piri Piri, Crispy Plantains, Roasted Beef Jus. We had high hopes for these, but it was like they dumped 2-3 times too much seasoning in the meat balls rendering them VERY salty and a bit too spicy (even for me, mostly because of concentration). Not good at all.
2001 Neal Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate. 92 points. Nice black cherry, plum, currant up front. Typical earthy H.M. notes throughout. Smooth tannins on the end, good finish.
1991 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. 91 points. Evolved, almost fully mature Cabernet nose that combines black fruit and cedary and earthy elements. It’s just a touch short on the finish, which is surprising given the lovely aromatics and good mid-palate depth.
BULGOGI BRAISED SHORT RIB. Roasted Bone Marrow, McGrath Mustard Frills. The meat was very tasty. Some thought it a bit salty, although compared to the meatballs this didn’t bug me.
Fun evening and some great eats.
Food was very creative and about half of the dishes were great. Most others were just “good”, but a few, like the carrots and meatballs were oddly off. Leona either need a bit of a menu tune up or there is too much kitchen variation. Still, I really enjoyed the plating, interplay of textures, and flavors of most of the dishes. There was some nice novelty to them as well, which is rare, so I was basically impressed by the food.
Service tried real hard, and the were SUPER NICE in accommodating our giant table. I picked all the stuff off the menu and they did a good job sequencing it and bringing a large number 4-5 of each dish. After 2 dishes I tried to scale back the number to 3-4 but we got a new server (shift turn over?) and the message never got through. The result was we had too much of each dish, leading to skipping dessert, and people being full too early in the progression. This was mitigated by the reasonable pricing. More serious, was that at the end of the night, with the mains, even though the place was emptying, the gap between dishes grew very long. I’m sure the kitchen was a bit overwhelmed with our giant size, but combined with too much food the slow pacing altered the meal momentum and “agitated the locals” (i.e. the dinners).
My biggest problem with Leona has nothing to do with food or service, and this is in the context of some really good food, is the noise level of the space. It’s just WAY TOO LOUD. Really, this is taking “loud is cool” to ridiculous levels. We couldn’t hear each other. I’m not a supporter of this trend — put up some sound dampeners.
Price was super reasonable for all we had.
Wines were great — of course 🙂