Crudo e Nudo, Santa Monica’s shrine to raw fish and seafood, will get a hot-headed sibling in mid-January, when owners Brian Bornemann and Leena Culhane team up with their neighbors, Chez Tex owners Hayley and Jesse Feldman, to open an as-yet-unnamed restaurant in the Chez Tex space, three blocks south and just beyond the Venice line on Main Street.
Chez Tex has one of the Westside’s few wood-fired grills, so Bornemann plans to expand both what he makes and how he makes it at the new restaurant. At 1,200 square feet, double Crudo’s tiny space, the new restaurant will serve cooked food, including species that don’t swim. “We’ve maxxed out the ability of what we can serve raw at Crudo, with as many as 10 items on the menu,” he said. “Now we’ll have the opportunity to use other proteins and veggies we couldn’t use. Black cod, skate, ray, and we’re going to add in feathers — duck, quail, pheasant, chicken.”
“But no four-legs, no quadrupeds,” he said. “We want to use something that’s underrepresented, underutilized. You can get a steak anywhere. It’s time for something a little bit more fresh.” Vegetables will be ember-roasted overnight.
The ambiance will change as well: “This’ll be a proper, beautiful restaurant space,” he said. “A little more of a sexy nighttime vibe.” Culhane, who’s in charge of design, gets to work on a bigger canvas, with 50 seats indoors, including a banquette and a bar, and another 20 seats at sidewalk tables. She’s already overseeing off-site construction of the banquettes, and making ceramic dinner plates and aperitivo trays to enhance a “proper golden hour,” with wine and beer, sake, and snacks starting at 5 p.m.
Chez Tex’s owners have been looking for a partnership like this for a year. Hayley Feldman has handled publicity and social media since the restaurant opened six years ago, while Jesse has handled operations and administrative work. Bornemann and Culhane were looking to expand, and both couples liked the idea of collaboration among equals with everyone supervising their own turf.
“We admired their collective values when it came to ingredients, sustainability, and community,” said Hayley. “We want to divide and conquer as equal partners.” Chez Tex will shut down for two weeks in early January to prepare for the re-opening. Jesse sees the partnership as more of a transition than as one place closing and another opening up. “We’re making the change with excitement, not regret,” he added. “This is the next chapter for this space.”
Another collaboration — with Sawtelle Sake, a small, local sake maker — will help define the menu. The company is going to create customized kojis Bornemann can use to make marinades tailored to a specific dish: one for a mushroom skewer, another to marinate a duck leg sausage.
It’s a pandemic-era hat-trick for Bornemann and Culhane, who have already opened two successful places: Crudo e Nudo, scaled to its space constraints, in Los Angeles, and Bella Dea in New York’s West Village, a time-share with Breakfast by Salt’s Cure designed to put more of the day’s hours to work. This time, they’re half of a quartet of specialists: Nobody does everything, and everybody does what they’re best at.
The new place is slated to open just weeks before the Crudo e Nudo partners hit a February 1 deadline to pay a controversial wastewater facility fee levied by Santa Monica against net new seats in permanent parklets. Los Angeles, which has its own set of regulations, won’t allow a parklet at the new restaurant, and for now, Bornemann and Culhane have decided not to think about Crudo’s fate, beyond attending council meetings and insisting that the city should rescind the tax.
“We have until February to figure it out,” is all Bornemann has to say. For now, he’d much rather talk about the grilled mackerel he’s going to get from a local supplier, just in time to serve it.
The yet-unnamed restaurant will be located at 218 Main Street in Venice.