The Chestnut Club Is Serving Up Big Dishes From a Tiny Kitchen

Thanks to a little help from chef Antonia Lofaso
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With a cocktail program by barmen Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni, a swoon-worthy agave selection, and gorgeous decor, it seems there’s nothing the Chestnut Club in Santa Monica is lacking. But turns out there was just one thing: food. Now, thanks to a food menu by chef Antonia Lofaso (Scopa Italian Roots, Black Market), imbibers have something delicious to fortify their stomachs for the night of drinking ahead.

This past July marked the first anniversary of Moix and Livigni’s bar. Settled in the old 14 Below space on Santa Monica Boulevard, it developed a following of loyal neighborhoodies and cocktail fans. But for some reason even though it’s a dedicated cocktail bar, folks kept asking for food. “The Westside really likes food with drink,” says Moix. A lot of people would come here, and everyone is like, ‘Man, if you had food, anything, it would be perfect.’ The reason this kitchen happened is 99 percent of our regular customers are saying please bring us food.”

Moix and Livigni considered buying snacks like nuts and jerky for the bar, even using a gourmet snack distributor. But nothing seemed right. Sure, Truxton’s American Bistro is right next door but that was never an option for the guys. “We have no control over Truxton’s, what they cook and what they do so we would have to depend on them to do a good job. It wasn’t worth the risk. And people expect better from us,” explained Moix.

So they approached Chef Antonia Lofaso, whom they work with at Black Market and Scopa. She immediately jumped on the idea only requesting they set up an area where she could plate the food. Since there is no kitchen at Chestnut Club, a very small one was built to the right of the bar where the fireplace used to be, adjacent from the VIP area. It features a raw bar with a glass partition so guests can drool near the oysters but not over them. Chef Antonia will put in some hours in this kitchen in addition to at her other restaurants, at least in the beginning.

The food will be prepared at Scopa and then brought over to the bar. But her bar food menu here isn’t an extension of Scopa’s, says Moix. And nor is it merely fancified nuts in a jar. It was important to Moix and Livigni that they provide their guests with the options to either have something to nibble on or satisfy their hunger for dinner. Folks can either just order a snack of oysters, smoked trout rillettes, peel-and-eat shrimp or fill up on a barbecue short rib sandwich or a meatball hero. There’s even a chocolate cream pie for a dessert option (best enjoyed with anejo tequila).

The menu currently has nine items but will slowly expand depending on the needs of the guests.

A few food-friendly cocktails have debuted as well but they’re also perfect for enjoying on their own. “It’s a weird challenge. In some restaurants the drinks are too savory and too heavy and they’re a meal in themselves. You gotta be mindful that not everyone is going to eat, they just want to drink,” explains Moix.

Enjoy the Martinique Negroni, a rum version of the classic, with, well, everything on the menu. But especially with the short rib sandwich. The Dark and Stormy, made with both fresh ginger and ginger beer, has the perfect bite and brightness to complement all foods. And the Imperial Prince of Wales—a light cognac and champagne cocktail that first appeared at La Descarga when Moix ran the cocktail program—pairs well with the oysters and shrimp.

The kitchen will serve food til 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends. But since it’s brought in from Scopa the chances of popular items selling out is high. So if you want that short rib sandwich, get there early!

https://cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2014/07/arrow40.png The Chestnut Club, 1348 14th St., Santa Monica, 310-393-1348

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