Abbot Kinney’s newest culinary and cocktail hotspot wants diners to feel at home
By Jessica Koslow
“There’s an old joke in the industry,” Chris Carver, Neighbor’s director of operations, says smiling. “When it comes to restaurants, only three things matter: location, location, location.”
Enter Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where there’s a place to get a bite or a drink at almost every step. And Neighbor, in the spot where Willie Jane operated for eight years until November 2016, is one of the newest restaurants to open. It’s just a few doors down from Felix Trattoria, which occupies the space where Joe’s Restaurant stood for 24 years.
“It feels good to launch a concept on a street that is a real destination,” says Neighbor owner Kristian Vallas. “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for about 17 years, so it’s special to create an experience for our friends and neighbors, many who live in walking distance.”
Carver, who helped open downtown L.A.’s Bestia and has worked hands-on with Bill Chait (The Rose, Republique) over the last nine years, says the street’s built-in competition begs the question: “What do we do to separate ourselves from the hoard?”
That was Carver’s mission when he was brought on board in mid-July.
“My consulting job here ends when there’s an A hanging in the window,” he says.
Neighbor’s secret weapon to ensure their A is Chef Joshua Luce, who earned a Michelin star at Picholine Restaurant and helped open Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. as their executive sous chef.
“He’s genuine and genial, with no hubris,” assures Carver.
His resume seems right at home on Abbot Kinney: sous chef at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, chef tournant at Alain Ducasse Enterprise, and lead line cook at Jean-Georges Management.
“We are filtering back the philosophy of Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges and doing it in our own way and telling our own story,” says Luce, whose arms, covered in tattoos, tell their own stories.
Luce feels no pressure occupying space on Abbot Kinney. He’d like people to feel as if they were being invited into a home.
“We love being out here on a big street and sharing product with as many people as possible,” says Luce.
Carver adds that working in Venice for the first time has been quite entertaining.
“Venice has its own character,” he begins. “I’ve been in L.A. for 11 years, but mainly on the Eastside. And Venice is a completely different beast — so much more laidback, exceptionally more casual.”
How so? Well, “everyone thinks they can bring their dog inside,” he says, laughing. “And they have their flips flops in their hands, not on their feet.”
And for drinks: People drink tequila and mezcal on the Westside and bourbon and whiskey on the Eastside.
Neighbor’s menu emphasizes seasonal local product and presents fare from around the world.
“We get inspired globally,” says Luce.
“I don’t believe in one signature dish,” he continues. “If you look at our body of work, that’s the signature. Come next year and the menu is different, and that’s the new signature.”
Menu standouts include the garden peas salad with burrata, cashew crumble and flowering mint, and the hamachi sashimi with daikon, avocado, nasturtium and golden trout roe.
Neighbor now offers a bar food menu from 5 to 7 p.m. and 10 to 11 p.m., with delicious snacks like a fried chicken sandwich and popcorn ($3). The most expensive item on the bar menu is $15.
Happy hour is daily from 4:30 to 6 p.m. — all cocktails are $10.
“Neighbor is about the people,” says Vallas, “and the experiences you have while visiting. We aim to offer unique spaces within one location, so guests can choose their own adventure each time they come: relax in the warm and welcoming lounge, settle in with a glass of wine, have a cocktail at the marble bar, lean back on a tufted sofa in the garden, or sit for a romantic dinner in the open-air, backyard bistro. We want to keep the experience fresh and charming.”