Putting in the time, so to speak, has paid off for chef Ray Hayashi, a longtime R&D chef for Mike Simms and David Lefevre at their mini South Bay restaurant empire of Manhattan Beach Post, Fishing With Dynamite, and the Arthur J. After 10 years, Hayashi finally got the opportunity to open a restaurant of his own on February 14. Partnered with Simms and Lefevre, Hayashi and his wife Cynthia Hetlinger lead the kitchen at Ryla, without a doubt Hermosa Beach’s coolest new restaurant opening.
The former Laurel Tavern space gives way to an arresting, innovative ambience from designer Bells and Whistles with a stunning Tokyo cocktail bar to the right (there is a television on because this is Hermosa), and two main dining areas to the left that conjure a dimly lit izakaya. “We were going for a modern Japanese theme focusing on minimalism with pops of color and greenery. It’s a pretty dark restaurant so we wanted to highlight bar, which has a Japanese whiskey program and sake,” says Hayashi. The high-quality cocktails are on par with other Simms/Lefevre restaurants, with the refreshing Tenjaku highball topped with yuzu bitters or the delightful Grandma’s Cigarettes, a tea-infused Suntory Toki and Laproaig number resembling a Penicillin with ginger liqueur and honey.
The food is also snacky and mostly Japanese, with some Taiwanese flourishes and influences from Hetlinger’s upbringing in Taipei. Together, Hayashi and Hetlinger have composed an appealing menu of Peads and Barnett tonkatsu, Flannery beef New York strip steak with port wine tare and broccolini, and a very good tonkotsu miso ramen with the heated spike of serrano chile oil.
Start with an ethereal Hokkaido milk bread served with tobiko-topped nori butter or hibicus-laced Kushi oysters. A white sesame caesar salad adds a nutty quality to the little gems, topped with fantastic white anchovies. Fried agedashi tofu nabs a luscious Santa Barbara uni accent while a hot chicken karaage with charred scallion mayo isn’t quite as spicy as the Nashville variant but certainly tries.
Servers will recommend the pricey but substantial fried rice studded with Chinese sausage and absolutely bombarded with shaved black truffle, while ox tongue curry rice rounds out the menu. For dessert, there’s a brown butter mochi cake or the very impressive matcha tiramisu served in a wooden sake box.
All in, it’s a homecoming for Hayashi, a Japanese American chef who grew up in Gardena and calls the South Bay his hometown. “David [Lefevre] helped me to become a partner, helped me to become a leader, to motivate your crew and ‘find your food.’ It took me years, but I definitely learned a lot through the entire process in design and construction. It’s really exciting to see it come into fruition,” says Hayashi. The chef says working with Hetlinger in the kitchen has been a great experience as well: “She’s one of the most talented seafood chefs I know and she’s so easygoing and easy to work with, and patient. It’s been a real pleasure to able to work with her.” Hetlinger’s previous work as sous chef of the two-Michelin starred Providence certainly comes through with the black bass dish, swimming in makrut lime coconut broth, mussels, and root vegetables.
Stepping into Ryla around 5 p.m., a solid shot of golden sunset light fills the space, a great feature for opening so close to the ocean. Hermosa Beach has had its share of new restaurants, though Ryla is its most promising opening of the past few months. Somewhat more isolated than its famous neighbor to the north, Manhattan, Hermosa’s more tight-knit community and more laid-back vibes are an ideal backdrop for Hayashi and Retlinger’s first restaurant.