Painter’s Tape resides in a diminutive strip mall just a few steps from the center of Gardena’s bustling restaurant scene on the corner of Western and Redondo Beach Boulevard. Opened in May, the casual spot serves a creative, chef-like approach to breakfast and lunch that seems to defy an easy categorization. And that’s totally intentional, it seems, as Painter’s Tape works an unconventional approach to things as simple as waffles or a fried chicken sandwich.
Chef Atsushi Takatsuki, who opened the restaurant with his family, has made this neighborhood spot a reflection of his upbringing. The name recalls Takatsuki’s family business, which was once a busy painting company in the South Bay. As a third generational Gardena resident, Takatsuki trained everywhere from Payard and Le Bernardin in New York City to locally at M.B. Post.
The idea was to bring “something cool” to Gardena, which isn’t lacking for interesting food options, especially when it comes to international cuisines. Just one strip mall over, there’s a massive collection of places with Thai food, Chinese hot pot, Korean tofu stew, and Japanese table-top barbecue. But Painter’s Tape is nothing like those places.
Start with the entrance, where a bar-height table holds copies of the menu and sushi bar-style checklist menus to make ordering (and eventual dish delivery) easier. The menu is segmented into breakfast-y things, lunch items, and sides. Those looking forward a kind of straightforward morning meal can get soft cheesy scrambled eggs, rosti potatoes with a pho sour cream and crunchy bean sprouts, or potatoes ‘saltado,” the latter of which came out a bit mushy. The rosti potatoes, however, truly remind one of the Vietnamese soup and cost a mere $6, the fresh bean sprouts adding a pleasant crunch.
The stewed organic rice is the most Baroo-like of the offerings, a gentle savory porridge with tabs of tangy plum, a tart tomato and chicken broth base, and a soft-boiled egg to bind it all together. It’s delicious. Red chili corn on a cob might work better if grilled instead of boiled, but the spicy aji panca chili butter keeps things interesting.
If those first few dishes are any indication of the general ingredient pool Takatsuki uses, it gets wilder with the mains.
There’s a pepper-fried chicken sandwich with honey mustard and a shabu-shabu steak bun that’s reminiscent of a good roast beef sandwich. Both are excellent, though the steak sandwich tends to fall apart a bit after a few bites. One of Painter’s Tape’s oft-used flavor profiles is the punchy sweet tartness of tomato, and it’s used again and again to elevate the dishes. It can also get a tad tiring, so be sure to order around them.
And though it’s not very pretty to look at, the curry donut, a bit like a molten hot croquette, is pure delicious comfort. It’s not necessarily original, but the execution is more thoughtful than the classic Japanese snack. While Takatsuki tends to play around with Latin American or other Asian flavors, most of the concepts of each dish tend to start with a Japanese outlook. Right now they have an active beer and wine license, but don’t serve either. If and when dinner ever starts, they’ll initiate the beer and wine menus.
Another notable element of the restaurant is the service aspect. Yes, one gets the sense it’s not a full service restaurant once they check off a half-sheet of paper with the items they want and present it to the cashier. But things get hairy once seated at a table. The checklists are posted vertically for cooks to come and drop off, while utensils, napkins, and water are all things diners have to acquire themselves at the front counter.
And once finished with plates, diners have to bus their own dishes to a station toward the kitchen. It’s all an attempt to reduce the need for a service staff, and helps keep prices ultra low. The best part is that not only is there no service charge here, there’s not even a tipline on credit card transactions, though Takatsuki says folks still leave cash tips in appreciation. He’s thankful because that’s the mentality that tipping often has in other parts of the world, that tips are just that: extra gratuity without the sense of obligation.
While many Angelenos tend to want to strike it big in the city once they return from various schooling and training around the country, it’s great to see a Gardena native like Atsushi Takatsuki open a thoughtful, and affordable, neighborhood restaurant in a basic strip mall. If the early reviews are any indication, the locals are pretty content with the new addition.
Painter’s Tape is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1725 W. Redondo Beach Blvd in Gardena. 310-353