Update Successful: Hermosa Restaurant Reboot

Sometimes you move forward while coming back. A place with a very modern design and food might seem dated in just a few years. That’s why some interiors can be casually discarded: “This place is 1995.” Many designers may suggest updating this restaurant with current trends, but it might actually make more sense to go the other direction.

and make it look like mid-century. Some looks never go out of style, although at the moment it can be difficult to know which ones might be.

Zane’s Restaurant opened in 2008, changing from a previous establishment called Italy’s Little Kitchen. When I reviewed them in 2017, this place had black walls and a dimly lit interior with incandescent bulbs that gave more of a light accent than actual light. It was a modern lounge that wasn’t that modern anymore and didn’t really fit with their menu of steaks, seafood and Italian delicacies. This selection of dishes has its roots in 1950s Italian-American steakhouses, and at some point it must have occurred to someone that it would be a good idea to redesign the restaurant to reflect that era.

That doesn’t mean they opted for red leather upholstery and checkered tablecloths – far from it. Instead, there are accents of 50s and 60s Scandinavian design with cool grays and wood accents. This room is tall and narrow. If the restaurant falls on its side, it can increase the floor space. When the walls were black, it created an endless stretching effect, but the ongoing painting and paneling work gives it character. The lamp in the center of the room, decorated with artificial plants, looks like a flying saucer overgrown with jungle. Smaller lights above the side tables help with their indirect glow. It’s an improvement in every way except one: the room used to have carpet, but now it has wood flooring, which negatively impacts the acoustics. Carpeting in a restaurant requires a significant amount of maintenance, so I can fully understand why the management made this decision. I’ve been here twice recently and planned to sit outside for a quieter meal both times, but cool and windy weather pushed us inside. It’s not as loud as many other restaurants in the area and conversation can be carried on in a normal tone.

Each meal starts with warm homemade bread and three appetizers: lemon hummus, balsamic oil, and roughly chopped tapenade. Tapenade is my favorite of the three, but large chunks of olives and vegetables are hard to pick up with a knife and fork. They really should provide a spoon because it’s worth getting every bite. We ordered a homemade salad on one visit, a Caesar on another. The house had a standard but good mix of fresh herbs and tomatoes with popcorn, goat cheese and croutons. I liked Caesar better because of the thick garlic dressing. If you’re here during their daily happy hour, grab a Caesar – the portion is small but enough for two, along with bread and sauces. We also tried their fried zucchini and fried Brussels sprouts from this menu. There were five courgettes, thick chunks, hot and crispy from the deep fryer, the sprouts were the larger portion. They were delicious and the balsamic vinegar was a good combination of flavors, but I found them a bit dry. Others at the table liked them this way and enjoyed the crispy outer leaves. Zane’s isn’t the best deal in town when it comes to money, but if you’re looking at this as an opportunity to try a variety of snacks, even if you’re a small group, this is a good choice.

Some cocktails are on this list too, and whether it’s happy hour or not, you can order a lemon basil martini or a cosmopolitan one. Both are hot-weather refreshers that have some sweetness and astringency, but if you prefer the stronger flavor of bitters, there are other great options. The bar program here is developed in-house, and The Zane is their pride: tequila or vodka with orange blossom, orjet, lemon, lime and candied orange. I recommend it with tequila because the smoke goes well with the sweet taste, but it works either way. Don’t Call Me Old Fashioned is another standout drink that mixes bourbon with chocolate bitters, plain maple syrup, and luxardo liqueur. This is a great interpretation of a classic.

On two visits, we tried mare spaghetti, branzino, chicken cutlet, king ora salmon, rib-eye on the bone, and salsicce blanco, the only offbeat dish on a fairly standard Italian menu. This is not a criticism of their other offerings, just an acknowledgment that there are many places to buy linguine, clams and Bolognese rigatoni. Salcicce bianco is a northern Italian stew in vegetable broth and wine sauce, usually made with spicy pork sausage, but here chicken sausage is made instead. Zane’s is unusual in that there is no pork main course. The only piggy item on the menu seems to be bacon topped with loaded potatoes. Switching to chicken won’t hurt this dish in the slightest. This is the only item I had this time, which I also tried on during a visit in 2017. I liked it then and I still like it.

I ordered this loaded baked potato just to have the only bacon item, but that smoky, greasy flavor was used so modestly that I couldn’t detect it. I was somewhat distracted by the steak, which was a good piece of meat, well cooked. Some steakhouses like the steak to be heavy, smoky, so the fat caramelizes, but they don’t do that here. This meat only seems to be seasoned with salt and pepper, and that’s basically what you taste, other than the rich beef. I had a steak in Italy in November, cooked very similar to this one, so maybe it’s a reflection of real European tastes. I love backyard steak BBQ with lots of charcoal when done right, but I would try it again anytime.

Zane’s salmon is grilled with minimal seasoning and topped with a mixture of fried zucchini, tomatoes and kale stew. Photo by Richard Foss

The best of the other dishes was Ora King salmon, also known as chinook salmon. This is the same type of fish that has the local name of the Northwest, or the one given by the Maori of New Zealand. Ora Kings are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are the healthiest, and because these ingredients affect the taste, they are also some of the tastiest. Zane wisely doesn’t try to embellish the fish, but fries it with minimal seasoning and tops it with a mixture of fried zucchini, tomatoes and baby cabbage in a stew. The portion is big and the taste is perfect.

The rest of the dishes were generally hearty but unworthy, although the spaghettini mare stood out for its generous amount of seafood. Chicken cutlet will appeal to those who like simple tastes, and it is well cooked. The only thing we didn’t like was the branzino. Cooking with olive oil, fried potatoes, garlic and broccoli overwhelmed the meat and when I pay $36 for a pretty small fish I want to try it. This recipe works well with halibut or other white fish that can be served in larger portions and are more satisfying.

We only tried two desserts: a six-layer chocolate cake and a pistachio cake. The chocolate cake was one of those rocks that are so dark and rich that it looks like the light goes around them like around a black hole, which is not bad. However, I was glad that there were other people at the table who could share this, because I would not have been able to finish the whole piece myself. The pistachio cake was the exact opposite, all light and fresh flavors and textures. If you have enough people at the table to share both, I highly recommend this because a bit of each is perfect.

Dinner at Zanes is what you’d expect given the location on the main corner in Hermosa, but two people can have a good lunch for around $120. After decades in space, they know their stuff and are a good choice for cooking that isn’t flashy but really really good.

Zane’s is located at 1150 Hermosa Avenue, on the corner of the pier. Open 17:00 daily, closed 20:00 Sun-Thursday, 23:00 Fri-Sat. Street parking, dining patio, some vegetarian options, full bar. (310) 374-7488. ZanesRestaurant.com. Ambulance

Leave a Comment