A half-block away from the bustling Cha Cha Cha in the busy Arts District, Hearts & Flame opened this week in the former Inko Nito space at 225 S. Garey Street. Though the interior is reminiscent of the former Japanese robata bar, the menu is fully coastal Italian. Hearts & Flame joins the assembly of coastal Italian restaurants popping up around Los Angeles, with the April opening of Capri in Century City and chef A.J. McCloud’s Sparrow at Hotel Figueroa.
Heading up Hearts & Flame’s kitchen is Tuscan-born chef Michele Brogi, who brings with him 35 years of experience at a number of restaurants, often Michelin-starred, in Florence, Lyon, and London, including Aubergine by Gordon Ramsay. The recent LA transplant describes his menu as 80 percent classic Italian, while drawing the remainder from his cooking experience. Though Brogi loves seafood, meat, and organic produce from Southern California, he sources his cooking oils and cheese directly from Italy.
Brogi’s dinner menu draws influences from various parts of Italy and will change with the seasons. Starters include house-made focaccia, caponata, and a bottarga di muggine (cured fish roe) with celery and lemon dressing. There are also crudo options, antipasti, grilled vegetables, and an ancient recipe for a tagliatelle bolognese. Note: All pastas are made in-house, with the exception of spaghetti, which Brogi imports from a respected producer.
Brogi also makes good use of former Inko Nito’s customized robata grill for his seafood offerings, serving chargrilled octopus, prawns with beans stewed in tomato sauce and sage, and halibut in a spicy tomato sauce. Also prepared on the grill is Brogi’s meat course with thinly sliced chicken breast over porcini mushrooms and caramelized onion. Other options available include an 11-ounce ribeye, a lamb loin, and a beef cheek that’s slow-cooked for 24 hours.
As for the space, gone are Inko Nito’s climbing vines and stone tables. The owners also shifted things around in the kitchen to favor an open-floor model. Diners can glance directly into the kitchen to see Brogi and the team at work, or have a pasta dinner out on the patio. In the coming months, Hearts & Flame will try its hand at lunch and cater to the bar crowd with late-night bar service.
Hearts & Flame is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, but is closed on Mondays. Reservations are available via Open Table.