Jessica Largey’s reputation precedes her. The chef is most widely associated with being the chef de cuisine under David Kinch at Manresa, the Los Gatos restaurant known for its thoughtful exploration of seasonal produce which earned two Michelin stars in 2006, and subsequently upgraded to three in 2015. Largey was named the rising star chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2015, and has also done stints at notable restaurants such as Providence, Bastide and The Fat Duck. This, among other reasons, is why film director Joe Russo—known for his work in the Marvel-verse as well as on popular series Community and Arrested Development—and Bruno Bagbeni, who also financed the now-closed Bastide, were eager to back Largey and the project at Simone.
Stakes for Largey and both investors are high, considering the volume of competition in DTLA’s Arts District. There’s perhaps no hotter neighborhood in Los Angeles right now, especially when it comes to culinary concepts. Within an earshot of Simone, you’ll find heavy hitters like Bavel, Everson Royce Bar, Manuela, Bestia and Rossoblu. And in the not-so-distant future, Soho House will open.
But there’s no one better suited to take it on than the level-headed Largey. Her poised and measured persona is evident as she approaches the table to present a behemoth of a ribeye accompanied by a cornucopia of globally inspired pickles, salads and sauces that could best be described as California banchan. Watching her team work behind the glass walls of the open kitchen, there is a composure and aesthetic not too dissimilar from what you might find at the newly redesigned The French Laundry in Yountville.
The rest of Simone has a vibe all its own. The building dates back to 1921 and was used as a photography studio for the past 35 years. Interior designer Deirdre Doherty kept the original brick walls, but added in bronze and glass elements to create an elegant industrial deco feel. Entering the space, you’ll walk through Duello, a 25-seat bar dreamt up by Scotsman Iain McPherson, whose Edinburgh speak-easy Panda and Sons consistently graces the “World’s 50 Best” list. For the cocktail menu, he’s created a storybook theme that takes drinkers on a journey through distinct chapters in Arts District history: wine and sherry-based cocktails honoring its past as a wine producing region in the 1890s; tiki and sour drinks referencing its citrus farming period in the 1920s; cocktails inspired by the 1970s artists that gave the neighborhood its name; and modern, experimental drinks paying tribute to its current iteration.
The dining menu is stacked with heirloom varietals of produce manipulated into myriad forms—charred, smoked, pickled and roasted—and turned into either accoutrements or stars of the plate. As such, the menu is very vegetarian-friendly, with highlights of my experience being meat-free dishes like the charred squash with nectarines and macadamia salsa, the latter of which has similar tones to Sabina Bandera’s peanut and chile de arbol salsa at La Guerrerense, and is good enough to bottle and sell as a side venture.
Largey is no stranger to south-of-the-border flavors. Another standout dish was sturgeon wrapped in hoja santa, an herb used in Latin American cooking with earthy notes of tarragon and mild eucalyptus. The selection of sturgeon is not only great from a sustainability perspective, but also because the hearty, oily fish stands up when steamed in the sacred plant’s leaves.
On the sweet side, expect balanced desserts like the cheesecake, done in the spongy Japanese style that’s more of a fluffy, sliceable souffle. Topped with gently pickled plums, it’s a real celebration of California’s bounty and this particular part of Los Angeles.
449 S. Hewitt St., DTLA
Cocktails, $14-$19; small plates, $6-$26; larger plates, $38-$180; desserts, $12
Hours: Sun. & Tue.-Thu. 5:30-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11:30pm