Is Culver City’s new Etta an Italian restaurant? In a way, but don’t start thinking it’s all giant meatballs and spaghetti. “We don’t need the red and white tablecloths,” says chef/owner Danny Grant, “I’ve got my grandma’s for that kind of stuff.” Grant and his What If Syndicate group out of Chicago are betting big on Etta as a comfortable California dinner destination, complete with a wood-fired hearth and hearty meats and vegetables cooked over flame. There’s plenty for Italian food lovers to point to on the menu, including pizza and pasta, but Etta is more than that.
“I’ve never viewed Etta as just an Italian restaurant,” Grant says. “It’s what I grew up eating.” That might mean fire-baked focaccia for one table, a burrata and heirloom tomato salad for another, or a 40-ounce bone-in short rib feast, accompanied by a pepperoni pizza and casarecce bolognese pasta. It’s all part of the rustic brick and leather charm of the brand new restaurant located at the Shay hotel in Culver City’s recently unveiled Ivy Station development.
So why is one of Chicago’s bigger restaurant groups expanding to Los Angeles to cook food that touches on the already prevalent California-Italian genre? Because they can, and because they want to, says Grant. Plus, who isn’t happy about adding more pasta and hearth-roasted meat to their diet? “We only want to open restaurants in markets that we enjoy being in,” says Grant, “and we really enjoy being here. It’s everything, from the people to the weather.” And then, of course, there’s the produce. “This is the first time in my life where I’m working in a market that has such unbelievable produce,” he adds, a common refrain for first-time operators coming from out of state.
Plus, Grant says, Etta can still play off of its Chicago heart while creating something new in Culver City. There’s room for both inspiration and innovation across the indoor-outdoor space with its rolling 30-foot bar and large, lush patio. “We definitely pull from the foundation of what we created in our other market,” says Grant, “but this is really its own living, breathing restaurant. It’ll have its own personality.”
That includes specific Etta “moments,” like porron and Polaroids, where the restaurant will actually drop a porron of wine and a Polaroid camera with a new film roll on a table. There are larger-format “picnic towers” for groups of diners (limited to just a few towers per night), plus only-in-LA options like dry-aged branzino from Liwei Liao of the Joint in the Valley.
The What If Syndicate plans to hone that balancing act starting tomorrow night at 8801 Washington Boulevard, before expanding with at least two other restaurants around the city in due time, including the upcoming Maple & Ash steakhouse in Beverly Hills. But first, Grant says, the focus is on creating something personal for Culver City. Local chef Brad Ray (NoMad, Antico) is on to oversee the menu moving forward, but Grant will be staying in Los Angeles for at least the next several weeks to make sure things are up to snuff. “We want to make sure that we’re here to support the neighborhood,” says Grant, “We want to be here, we love being here. We’re feeling really lucky to be a part of it.”