Hal’s revamped menu brings new flavors and old favorites to the table

By Jessica Koslow

Executive chef Lee Garman combined Southern and south of the border flavors to create Hal’s new menu
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner

Sometimes a restaurant becomes so enmeshed in your memory that it becomes synonymous with family and home. That’s the way I think of Hal’s Bar & Grill.

In the late ’80s, Hal’s was one of the fancier restaurants in Venice. It was ultra cool, hosting live jazz and serving the most diverse crowd of artists, celebrities and locals on the Westside. My family and I would excitedly settle into one of their booths to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Hal became a true friend.

At some point during our meal, Hal would slide in next to whoever was at the end of our booth and chitchat about everything from art and entertainment to world headlines and local happenings. He was warm and welcoming, and when he smiled at you, you felt special, a characteristic he shared with my stepfather, the late actor-dancer Gregory Hines. They were kindred spirits and good friends.

The night of my high school graduation, my family rented out the entire restaurant. I felt like a big shot because I got to invite my good friends to a sit-down dinner at the hippest restaurant in the neighborhood.

In her early 20s, my sister worked as a hostess at Hal’s for three years. To this day, she and Hal remain close friends.

Our family even has a running joke about Hal and how he likes the lights low. Whenever the dining room lights would dim, we would look at each other and say, “Hal’s here.”

And so it was with a heavy heart that I heard in April 2015 that Hal’s was closing, but rejoiced when the restaurant announced it would reopen down the street in the former Primitivo space and launch an additional location at Runway Playa Vista in April 2017.

Over the years, Hal’s Bar & Grill has had to weather the storms of a drastically changing neighborhood and rising rents, but has landed surefootedly in Playa Vista.

This past November, Hal’s announced another change: the arrival of a new executive chef, Lee Garman, who has marked his arrival with the unveiling of a new menu.

“This new menu has a lot more comfort, slow food,” explains Garman, who comes to Hal’s via Trejo’s Cantina in Woodland Hills and Plan Check, “food that takes time to make and needs a lot of love: collard and mustard greens for ravioli and salads, slow-cooked foods like red beans and rice.”

The fresh collard green salad is a small mountain of healthy living bursting with sharp flavors — blue cheese crumbles, crispy bacon and candied pecans — tossed in a honey cider vinaigrette, with a beet pickled egg on the side.

The pan roasted sea scallops show off the chef’s love affair with Mexican flavors.

Avocado toast with heirloom pico de gallo is among the new dishes on offer at Hal’s
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner

“Mexican: It’s such a complex and rich culinary tradition,” Garman replies when asked about his favorite cooking style.

The scallops are floating in a bed of esquite — an exquisitely creamy, limey, cotija cheesy Mexican street corn — with added swirls of guava jelly. The duck asada tacos, sweetened with pineapple and passion fruit chutney, are another popular and scrumptious new addition.

This New Year’s Eve, Hal’s will be offering live music and a prix fixe menu, featuring your choice of blackened halibut, prime rib or cacio e pepe, sorrel salad and Pavlova dessert (a meringue-based cake with whipped cream and fruit on the top). Each seating (one from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at $45 per person, another from 7 to 9 p.m. at $60 per person) includes a glass of Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux Rosé. Those dining during the second seating, can enjoy an additional glass of Ballerine Brut Etoile Rosé.

But never fear if you’re hoping to revisit some of Hal’s classics in the new year. Regulars will be happy to see that Hal’s signature dishes are still on the menu, including the Caesar salad, turkey burger, organic half chicken and the restaurant’s beloved original burger, which is now called the “off-the-menu” burger.

They’ll also be delighted at the irresistible new additions, like the braised short rib, house made pasta with queso fresco, cotija and pink peppercorn, and the salted caramel mousse and sweet potato pudding, shaped into a perfect scoop by vanilla gel sitting atop a shortbread cookie.

You could say these dishes are the perfect balance of old and new.

On a recent Saturday night, my mom and I sat facing each other in a well-positioned booth at the newer Hal’s in Playa Vista. We were reminiscing about the good times we’ve had at the restaurant over the years and deeply satisfied with our meal from the new menu, when the lights dimmed.

“Hey mom,” I said with a smile, “Hal’s here.”

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Hal’s Bar & Grill

12751 Millennium Dr., #140, Playa Vista | (310) 751-6834 | halsbarandgrill.com

1025 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | (310) 396-3105 | halsplayavista.com

 

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