When Leona opened in the summer of 2015, I was there for their first brunch. I loved the casual, yet sleek vibe and the inventive, seasonal menu. Not to mention that adorable cookie stand? Too cute! So what’s next for one of Venice’s most-beloved spots?

Former Sous Chef Jennifer O’Neil, now Head Chef, is leading the way at Leona with a new menu and is introducing new concepts to the restaurant.

Leona
123 W. Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
http://leonavenice.com 

Chef Jennifer O’Neil

GOF blogger Tintin and I were invited in to taste Chef Jennifer’s new menu. Her menu is a beautiful blend of coastal California cuisine with a dash of Southern comfort. Chef Jennifer noted she is influenced by Southern hospitality marked by decadent portions and a kick back vibe.

Ahi Tuna Tartare
Roasted Beet Salad

For starters, we ordered the Roasted Beet Salad and the Ahi Tuna Tartare. The beet salad is served with herbed goat cheese, Chinese pine nuts, radish and an artful beet purée smear. The arugula salad served with the beets is lightly dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette.

The Ahi Tuna Tartare was delightful. The rare tuna is marinated in a sweet chili sauce but what separates this dish from others of the past is the rice cracker, which is paper thin and melts in your mouth. Everything together with the gooey cured egg yolk on the plate is a fantastic mix of flavors and textures.

Atlantic Cod
Zucchini & Squash

I feel like Atlantic Cod is a fish I seldom see as an entree option on menus. I usually associate cod with it being used in fish ‘n chips. I was a little hesitant to try it as an entree but I gave it a taste nonetheless and it proved to be one of my favorite dishes of the night. This firm, but flakey fillet sits on top a bed of a red quinoa and pea mash, then topped with fresh greens. What really makes the dish so unique is the porchini jus. The jus is served in a tea kettle and you can dictate how much gets poured in. Having tasted the jus and loving it, we poured it all in. Though this dish didn’t come with a side of bread for soaking up that savory jus, it did have a side of the Zucchini & Squash, which comes seasoned, then topped with feta cheese and basil. This savory side paired very well with the brothy cod dish.

Lamb Burger

The Lamb Burger was hailed by our server as being one of the favorite items by Chef Jennifer, so my expectations were pretty high. I do consider myself a burger aficionado, so it takes a lot to blow me away. Upon appearance, I was already won over by the bun to patty ratio; the bottom bun should always be half the size of the top bun and the top bun shouldn’t be more than 1/4 bigger than the meat patty. Burgers should center the meat as the star and not be overwhelmed by the bun. The bun is a supporting character. This bun is a Hawaiian roll, so it’s a little sweet and squishy to soak up the filling. The lamb patty is on top a bed of spinach (which wilts and soaks up the fatty, grassy lamb bits) topped with a Béarnaise aioli (too die for) and goat cheese. The Kennebec fries were perfectly seasoned, crisp on the outside but moist on the inside.

Togarashi Chicken

The Togarashi Chicken is a peppery chicken thigh served with a stewed tomato and risotto blend, which tasted like it was cooked with the jus from the chicken and topped with greens. I know many people scoff at ordering chicken as an entree, but lovers of classic American cuisine will appreciate this dish for it’s elevated simplicity.

Lorenza Rosé
Nutella Bombshell

I started with the Lorenza Rosé and I switched up to the Mathiew Corchet Sauvignon Blanc once the chicken arrived. Leona has a great wine list, offering a lot of variety by the glass. I just know I always love a dry white, so I didn’t get too experimental here.

For dessert, the Nutella Bombshell, a layered chocolate cake, with a cream cheese-based Nutella mousse and with candied peanuts sprinkled on top, inside a trendy mason jar. This dessert is so chocolatey and rich, that it’s portioned perfectly for 2 people to share.

Leona is expanding in ways that I think will work very well for their Venice beach patrons. I found out they are working on creating a happy hour menu (we will post once it’s ready) and the cookie window will get upgraded to a grab-and-go stand with coffee and other goodies to be announced. We have no doubts that Leona will continue to flourish in the Venice scene.

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