There’s been a lot of buzz lately regarding the expanding dinner options down South Bay way. Manhattan Beach in particular is only getting stronger as a standalone culinary destination, thanks to chefs like David LeFevre, whose upcoming Arthur J steakhouse should arrive soon.
And then there’s Michael Fiorelli, the former mar’sel chef who decamped in order to bring some Love & Salt into the world. Since its debut in November, Fiorelli (with the help of young chef Rebecca Merhej) has done much to bring the bring the South Bay up another level. So what do the critics think?
Three Stars All Around: Both Patric Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine and Besha Rodell of LA Weekly lauded Fiorelli’s cooking, dropping three stars apiece on the joint. Even Merrill Shindler of the Daily Breeze and Time Out got in on the triple-star action.
Says Kuh: "It is a tricky balance that Fiorelli strikes. He knows the Italian canon and the classic repertoire, bridging the two with more offhand contemporary gestures, like heaping seared cauliflower leaves on mascarpone polenta." [LA Mag]
And Rodell: "Plate after plate, the food was better than expected, more carefully composed, just straight-up surprisingly delightful. There is a lot to love at Love & Salt." [LA Weekly]
And Shindler: "I’m already looking forward to going back for the tortelloni with lamb neck and tongue broth." [Daily Breeze]
Time Out’s three stars were, to say the least, a bit less shiny: "There are better eateries in the area, and I think Love & Salt can catch up—it just needs a little more love, a little more salt, and less breadcrumbs." [Time Out]
But That’s One Seriously Expensive Branzino: Both major critics agree that certain large-format dishes are either overpriced or unwieldy — or both. This is particularly true of the $65 branzino, a fish that can be had for half to a third of the price elsewhere. Plenty of other folks agree that the overall menu cost is a bit hard to swallow, even in that part of town.
"Why would I pay $65 for a huge branzino that I have to share with the whole table…" [LA Weekly]
"I can’t say I’ve tried the branzino: At $65, it’s about twice what a sea bass costs at Scopa Italian Roots ($32) or at smoke.oil.salt ($36)." [LA Mag]
"The rabbit porchetta looks good," he said during a rare moment of positivity. "It costs $75," I said, pointing out that it was meant to feed two to four people, and the black mood came back." [LA Weekly]
"[For menu items] you have your choice of quite small and expensive or larger and expensive." [Yelp]
Prepare to Eat Communally: Not only is this a trend that won't die, it's become tiresome even for the folks who know they'll be eating side-by-side ahead of time. This is particularly true at Love & Salt, where just about everyone complains that the seating is too cramped, that you're basically just sitting on backless stools, and that there are even a few seats with nothing but a cement pillar in front of you for company.
"The service was only okay and the communal seating is fine but the 'chairs' are only backless stools which are really uncomfortable." [Trip Advisor]
"This is yet ANOTHER small plate restaurant with community tables" [Yelp]
"With the communal seating option you are definitely touching knees and elbows with strangers and yelling to try and hear your dinner mates." [Yelp]
Don’t Skip Dessert: Shining young star Rebecca Merhej’s desserts are a showcase unto themselves. Just ask anyone.
"Vibrant flavors carry on to some very notable desserts" [Gayot]
"Maybe even end it with an almond caramel tart, the crunch of almonds countered by a scoop of soft gelato." [Time Out]
"A bright lemon tart and fudge-like chocolate-y tart were both good ways to complete the meal. So were the rosemary cookies, sweet and aromatic." [Darin Dines]