Los Angeles is more than a mouthful. California’s entertainment capital is vast, immense, with mile-long avenues and nearly 20 million inhabitants (in the entire metropolitan area). It also features a wide variety of all types of cuisines at all prices. Everyone here loves to eat, whether it’s cute brunches by the pool, messy tacos at one of hundreds of food trucks, long outdoor dinners or picnics and barbecues — all houses have their own small barbecues — near sports stadiums and concerts. The city boasts a mild climate, high salaries (about $90,000 gross per year, on average) and limitless cultural and gastronomic offerings; there are countless novelties, openings and closings, and one can find an appealing ambience every day in almost any area. Now, the Netflix streaming platform is taking advantage of this mix of ingredients to open its own restaurant in the city.
But don’t expect to find the Victorian dishes from Bridgerton or the kids’ waffles from Stranger Things. Rather, the concept of Netflix Bites, as the establishment is called, is to avail itself of another successful element of its catalog: reality cooking shows, specifically, Chef’s Table (the most successful show in that genre) and its pizza- and barbecue-themed spin-offs, as well as Iron Chef, Everyday Baking with Nadiya and Nailed it. The restaurant’s unique menu was created by six chefs from those shows: Australian chef Curtis Stone, who has two Michelin-starred restaurants, Gwen and Maude, in California, and was named the best chef in the world in 2016; Dominique Crenn, who has three Michelin stars; Rodney Scott, a specialist in barbecue and flame-cooking (he was also Donald Trump’s chef); Californian fusion-cuisine expert Ming Tsai; pizzamaker Ann Kim; British pastry chef Nadiya Hussain, who served Queen Elizabeth II; New York-based Algerian chocolatier Jacques Torres; and chef and writer Andrew Zimmern, who years ago participated in the show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, where he tasted foods that were disturbing, to say the least. Four bartenders from the Netflix show Drink Masters — Frankie Solarik, Julie Reiner, Kate Gerwin and LP O’Brien — are also participating in the venture.
Between them, the chefs have created a dozen starters, four pizzas, five main courses and half a dozen desserts, along with 12 cocktails and a handful of “Spanish-style” gin and tonics. As the restaurant manager, Ann Kleinhenz, a German with two decades of experience in gastronomy in the U.S., explains, the latter drink is more full-bodied and stronger than the often-spare combinations of gin with a splash of soda from the United States. Kleinhenz belongs to the hotel group that Stone manages, Curtis Stone Events, which is behind the Netflix pop-up restaurant that opened on June 30 and will close in mid-August... if they don’t extend the season, as they are hinting they might do, before heading to other locations in the country (although no one can confirm this).
The restaurant’s menu is of average length and includes a varied selection of dishes; it’s not cheap, but it is affordable, given the high prices of the city’s restaurants. Stand-out appetizers (priced from $15 to $25) include Curtis Stone’s creation, steak tartar with pickles, capers, shallots, cured egg yolk and shiso leaves, as well as roasted cauliflower with smoked tajine and Espelette pepper and stewed mushroom bites with caramelized onion and sesame, both of which were designed by Crenn. The latter dish comes straight out of Iron Chef, but that’s only true of four items on the menu; the rest are the chefs’ personal dishes, either from their restaurants’ menus or specifically created for this restaurant. For example, of the four pizzas ($25-27), all of which Ann Kim created, the pie with pork, kimchi, shallots and sesame comes from Chef’s Table: Pizza, but the most original and outstanding pizza is new: it is topped with fermented Minnesota pickles, smoked onion, ranch dressing, dill and potato chips. Yes, potato chips. It sounds messy, but it’s one of the menu’s most requested and beloved dishes.
As manager, Kleinhenz has said on more than one occasion that the restaurant does not aspire to Michelin stars; some users complained on review websites that the dishes were not perfect because the chefs themselves were not present on site. “They are specific dishes that are only available here; for example, each cocktail takes about 15 steps to make and everything is homemade,” the manager explained during the visit to which Netflix invited EL PAÍS (the newspaper went to try it again later, with a normal reservation). Kleinhenz admits that there aren’t any reservations available in the coming weeks; the restaurant has 45 tables that can accommodate about 300 people at a time, all of which are booked, despite the restaurant’s long hours (they serve dinner nightly, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., as well as brunch on weekends). Anyone who fails to show up for their reservation, which is made through a local app on which you enter your credit card (payment is not required), is charged $25 per person.
The restaurant’s location is one of its most charming aspects. It features a lovely — very Californian — patio decorated in neon colors, with big trees, soft lights, benches and some Netflix-style touches (cushions with the name of the platform printed on them and portraits of the chefs). Netflix Bites is centrally located on Fairfax Avenue under a hotel, near the hotel’s pool, giving it an open-air, private feel. The wood-fired oven is also housed in the courtyard, while the bakeshop and butcher shop, where they prepare dough and treat and smoke the meats, respectively, are located a little further away.
Main courses include Rodney Scott’s Alabama-style dish of smoked pulled whole hog with ribs and collard greens, and the crab curry with garlic, crispy shallots and naan, which, at $65 is the most expensive dish on the menu. Desserts add to the expense; they include Jacques Torres’s box of chocolates ($30); two fun kits for building your own desserts, which come with the ingredients and are ready (and easy) to assemble ($22 and $25); and Nadiya Hussein’s crunchy orange and chocolate baklava with clotted cream. On average, a dinner for four people of two pizzas, a starter and a dessert to share plus a cocktail for each guest costs about $50 per person; if you order a main dish, it is not difficult to go up to $80 per head. That’s not an exorbitant price, but it is somewhat higher than average in a city where a street burrito, one of the cheapest meals you can find, usually costs about $15 ($20 with a drink).
“The chefs started working on the menus in mid-April,” says Kleinhenz, who was present throughout the process and has worked on big events like galas and awards shows before. “We had about eight weeks to set everything up,” she adds. They explain that finding a place was the most difficult part, until they finally found the Short Stories Hotel to set up the bar, tables and everything else. The advertising was done with large billboards placed in the city and, especially, through word of mouth. Until now, Netflix had held events and set up some pop-up stores, but it had never done a restaurant before. It sells the experience; the restaurant’s slogan is: Watching is good. Eating is better.
However, current events may prevent it from becoming a fun summer experience in Los Angeles. You can’t take the place out of its context and the historical moment the film industry is experiencing. It is not easy to forget that the screenwriters’ union and the actors’ union have paralyzed the world of entertainment with strikes, in which they have been trying to negotiate an improvement in their working conditions since May 2 and July 14, respectively. They are fighting against the big platforms, including Netflix. Protests and pickets are occurring all over the city, which supports the strikers and is beginning to feel the effects of the work stoppage: there’s no filming in the streets and none scheduled for the future, causing many citizens to leave because they cannot afford their rent or pay their bills. In addition, there has been a chain reaction in consumption. It is a complex situation that will take a long time to resolve. That also leaves streaming platforms in a delicate position, with a very damaged public image. Paradoxically, Netflix Bites is located less than 1,000 feet away from the main headquarters of the screenwriters’ union. Eating the food will be fine, but in this town, you have to see it to believe it.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition