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Replete with tiled floors, dangling lights and an open kitchen, the historic space breathes new life.

French Open

by Lesley Balla | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Angeleno magazine | March 6, 2014

A lot of people reminisce about Campanile when they first walk into République, Walter and Margarita (or Marge, as she’s known) Manzke’s new French-inspired restaurant and bakery on La Brea. You can see it on their faces as they stand near the army of hosts, or overhear conversations at one of the communal tables. “The bar was completely different,” they’d say while looking at the massive space. “It was turned this way. And there was a fountain right here. And I remember this one time I dined there, it was…” And their voices trail off to some distant memory of grilled cheese sandwiches and celebrities.

It’s bound to happen. The Manzkes, along with restaurateur Bill Chait, turned what was one of L.A.’s most storied restaurants—where Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton served rustic Italian and seasonal American cuisine for almost 25 years—into a Parisian paradise for escargot, tarte flambée and charcuterie.

Most recognizable for anyone who dined at Campanile are the bones. Built for Charlie Chaplin in 1929, the building still retains the vaulted ceiling and skylight; the fortress-like walls and windows around the top; and even the tall, lit box on the roof that inspired the name (campanile means bell tower in Italian). But it’s completely different now: There’s new life here—a discernible new energy. Sitting at one of the high-top tables near the window on a busy Saturday night, I thought: This must be what it felt like in Campanile’s heyday.

The design is stunning. While remnants of the past remain, the space has been meticulously restored, from the gorgeous patterned tiled floors to the custom-built stools lining the bar. Between the open kitchen and bakery, communal tables and dangling lights add urban appeal. Someone at a table next to me commented that it felt very “downtown.” That’s no mistake: Chait, who helps operate République, also owns Bestia in downtown L.A. He and Walter are also partners at Petty Cash on Beverly Boulevard.

But what has everyone buzzing, of course, is the menu, much of which changes daily. A culinary power couple, the Manzkes rose through the Los Angeles dining scene together. Walter was executive chef at Patina for more than six years, where he met his future wife; Marge became sous chef at Mélisse. The two moved to oversee three successful restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula, came back to work at Bastide, and then helped put the Arts District on the map with the much more casual French bistro menu at Church & State. They opened two restaurants in the Philippines, but République is their first endeavor stateside as both chefs and owners.

Marge, who trained as a pastry chef, really excels at breads and desserts. In the mornings, her buttery, flaky croissants, éclairs and bombolini are fantastic with coffee or espresso; and her desserts, like a hunk of chocolate cake or light vanilla panna cotta, are fantastic. When you sit down to a table at night, the almost 2-foot-long breadsticks are wonderful to munch on while you look over the menu. The complimentary baguette served upon request is airy inside and crisp outside; absolutely spring for the Normandy butter over the “ordinary” butter. It might cost $5 more, but it is a dream.

I was bowled over by Walter’s food at Church & State—it’s always impressive when seemingly simple food like steak frites and roast chicken gets elevated by a chef of his stature—and he’s brought along some of his greatest hits, like garlicky escargot, served in its own cup and topped with a buttery puff pastry; the tarte a l’Alsacienne smothered with Gruyère; caramelized onion and Nueske’s bacon; and the amazing charcuterie. A salad and a board of those rustic pâtés, rabbit ballotine, rillettes and dreamy duck liver mousse make a fine light dinner any night of the week.

There are a lot of moving parts in the kitchen, including a wood-burning oven, rotisserie and a full-fledged bakery, allowing the Manzkes flexibility to easily update the menu when inspiration strikes. Salads and vegetables, like crisp baby gem lettuces with citrus and avocado—or sprouting broccoli charred on the grill and topped with romesco, almonds and breadcrumbs—serve as starting points or side dishes. Maybe it’s a throwback to the previous tenant, but the handmade pastas are wildly popular, especially the spaghetti rustichella flecked with chunks of Dungeness crab.

There are both moules and steak frites—plump mussels swimming in a white wine broth or a beautifully grilled strip loin—and either way you look at it, the fries are a highlight. Duck leg confit comes with roasted mushrooms and escarole, and braised short ribs with creamy potato mousseline and red wine sauce. It’s recognizable food, just done infinitely better than most around town.

Given the talent, the menu and the space, it’s easy to imagine République sticking around to become an enduring L.A. classic.

What to Drink
Ask Beverage Director Taylor Parsons for help selecting wine. He actually got his start at Campanile, and after turns with Spago and Osteria Mozza, his expertise is unparalleled.

Where to Sit
There’s a table to suit every mood, including more traditional seating in the very back. The high-top flanking the bakery is popular for groups.

Daytime Dining
The sun-drenched space is perfect for a morning nosh, and extended breakfast and lunch offerings are slated to arrive this month.

624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.

Cafe and bakery hours: Mon.-Sat., 8am-5pm
Bar and bistro hours: Mon.-Wed., 5-10pm;
Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm