Chefs Jill Davie and D. Brandon Walker set out to create an ambitious restaurant that locals can call their own
By Jessica Koslow
Move over, Mitsuwa. Interesting restaurants have been popping up all along Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista, but the best may be yet to come.
Once a place where bartenders in tight-fitting nurse getups slung stiff cocktails for live rock band audiences, former nightclub The Good Hurt at 12249 Venice Blvd. is undergoing a transformation to reopen this fall as The Mar Vista — the first “for the public” restaurant for local chefs D. Brandon Walker (who goes by Chef D.) and Jill Davie.
“The neighborhood is changing so rapidly, and we want to be a part of it,” says Davie, who has had ties to Rockenwagner, Josie and Venice Beach Wines and made TV appearances on the Food Network, “The Next Iron Chef” and “Shopping with Chefs.”
For now, a square chunk of storefront on the north side of the block between Centinela Avenue and Grandview Boulevard is boarded up. But in short order, designer Greg Swanson explains, The Mar Vista’s finished space will feature natural wood and natural light — all the better to showcase progressive Los Angeles cuisine, says Chef D.
And, perhaps most importantly, The Mar Vista is a concept driven by a commitment to give back to the community.
Chef D is executive chef of the St. Joseph Center’s Bread & Roses Café, a nonprofit restaurant in Venice that feeds the local homeless. He also leads St. Joseph’s Center’s Culinary Training Program, which offers an education in classical French cooking techniques to people grappling with barriers to employment such as police records, homelessness and disabilities.
The Mar Vista will serve as an extern site for the Culinary Training Program, employing two trainees every seven weeks, and donate excess food back to Bread and Rose Café.
Two Chefs, One Vision
When asked which chefs she admires, Davie is quick to reply, “Julia Child,” who presented her with the Food and Wine Baby Chef Award in 1996.
Then Davie squints her brows and thinks a bit more. “Barbara Tropp of China Moon Café in San Francisco,” she adds, “because she was tiny and kicked butt.” Seems fitting, since Davie is 5’1” with a noticeably athletic build. She was a high school soccer star who founded the women’s team at Venice High School and now practices hot yoga.
Hours later via text, Davie tacks another chef onto her influencer list: Nadia Santini of Dal Pescatore, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Lombardy, Italy, where Davie dined while doing a culinary tour through Italy. “She’s an amazing chef and is the reason I only wears skirts in the kitchen,” types Davie.
After helping to launch Venice Beach Wines, Davie found herself plotting her next move. Not one to sit still, she launched Cranked, which takes the less-than-perfect fruit that nobody wants from the farmers market and puts them through her grandma’s hand crank to form a sweet dessert. Of course, extra goodies can be added — like whipped cream, vanilla meringues, crunchy quinoa, peach chamomile syrup, local bee pollen, basil and mint.
Serving as the corporate chef for Sunkist for 11 years and being a chef in L.A. for more than 20 years, Davie began to wonder what happened to the bruised fruit left over when the farmers packed up at the end of the market. That’s when the idea for Cranked bowls came to her. She began to crank with the kids of her now-business partner in The Mar Vista, Demetrios Mavromichalis, owner of Venice Grind and The Wood and one of the founders of the Mar Vista Farmers Market.
“Forty percent of the nation’s produce goes to waste. California grows 80% of the nation’s produce. Cranked offers awareness and an opportunity to get kids involved,” says Davie, who cranks at events like birthday parties and children’s book fairs. “It’s a way to start a conversation.”
Cranked bowls will be on the menu at The Mar Vista, and the cranking will be done on a cart tableside.
“I never wanted to open a restaurant if it was for my ego,” explains Davie. “And I never wanted to do it alone.”
And then, the project began to take form.
The first piece of the puzzle was the support and enthusiasm of Mavromichalis, a longtime champion of Mar Vista’s independent business ecosystem. When Pepy’s Galley, the diner inside the former AMF Mar Vista Lanes, closed in 2014, Mavromichalis offered Pepy’s employees jobs at The Wood. He’s long been sweet on the idea of Davie and Chef D. launching a restaurant in their own backyard.
The second piece fell into place when Chef D. and Davie met, ironically, at The Good Hurt, where Chef D. was wearing his musician hat that night. Chef D.’s philanthropic path was very appealing to Davie.
It was just a matter of time before Chef D. opened his first restaurant. And Davie seemed like the perfect partner: energetic, bubbly and a kindred spirit who loves to “play with food … in a good way,” as she puts it.
Jorge Rivas, who graduated from Chef D.’s Culinary Training Program eight years ago, will be The Mar Vista’s chef de cuisine. Rivas previously worked as executive chef at the Blue Plate Restaurant Group (Blue Plate, Oysterette, Blue Plate Taco).
A Meal with a Side of Music
On a recent Tuesday night, live jazz played inside the future restaurant as a select group of food writers previewed a few dishes from The Mar Vista menu.
An intimate affair, passed hors d’oeuvres — Turkish pops and flaxseed avocado toasts — greeted the guests as Chef D., Davie and Rivas welcomed guests to dine together around a long table dotted with hefty loaves of sourdough bread alongside small dishes of butter sprinkled with black sea salt.
For starters, they served a refreshing summer tomato-melon salad and gazpacho — or, as Davie calls it, “California in a Bowl” — with an ember-roasted melanzana in the middle and arugula, dehydrated black olives and crunchy sunchoke chips on top.
Next up was the L.A. Lau Lau, inspired by Chef D.’s wife, whose family hails from Hawaii. Floating in a broth, steamed collard greens (instead of banana leaves) wrapped nicely around a delicious blend of halibut, oxtail, beef cheeks and smoked yucca bursting with flavor.
And for the entrée: a pulled pork spare rib meatball along-side Anson Mills grits from South Carolina, with an added local touch of fresh corn niblets mixed in, plus crispy black kale for crunch.
Of course, the grand finale was a Cranked bowl, which Davie furiously, and joyously, hand cranked with a team of two graduates from St. Joseph’s Center’s Culinary Training Program.
“We have 40 years of being a chef up here,” Chef D. said, beaming as he stood beside Davie and Rivas.
Before any dish had been plated, the three chefs stood before their invitees, laying out their mission for The Mar Vista to be a place where locals gather to eat, hang and hear music.
A dropdown “Murphy Bed” stage is part of The Mar Vista plan, with live late-night sets of mellow music from singer-songwriters as well as jazz and bluegrass artists.
Later, on a Sunday morning, Davie is sitting at a long wooden table on Venice Grind’s back patio, sipping on a four-shot short cappuccino, preparing for her day ahead as chef at HopSaint Brewing Company in Torrance, where she’s been consulting for the past few months.
“So many chefs live in and around Mar Vista,” says Davie. “Hans Rockenwagner, Mary Sue Milliken [Border Grill], Raphael Lunetta [JiRaffe], Josiah Citrin [Melisse, Charcoal] …”
Add to that list chefs Walker and Davie, who will be working in the culinary trenches close to home to create a new restaurant that, in Chef D.’s words, will “elevate the neighborhood’s restaurant standard and provide a location that locals can proudly call their own.”
For more information, visit TheMarVista.com.