Long Beach’s new Marlena restaurant from chef Michael Ryan and first-time restaurateur Robert Smith, which opened on October 2, brings Californian cuisine to the heart of Naples. There is a sense of privacy surrounding the restaurant, located in the three-decade-old former Russo’s space and sitting away from the main drag on 2nd Street.
Diners will find a seamless indoor-outdoor vibe at Marlena. Ryan’s culinary point of view reflects a local, seasonal, and globally-influenced approach synonymous with California bistros like République and Alta Adams. Although this style of cooking is common in greater Los Angeles, it is less so in Long Beach where only a handful of restaurants are cooking similarly, like Ellie’s in Alamitos Beach, Nonna Mercato in Bixby Knolls, and the now-closed Restauration from chef Philip Pretty.
Ryan apprenticed under chef Evan Funke for the first six years of his career including stints at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica and Felix in Venice. “I’ll still call Evan when something just isn’t working,” says Ryan. “His influence on my food is clear.” Ryan also helped to open the now-closed AR Cocina in Culver City, Winsome in Echo Park, and Faith and Flower in Downtown. Most recently, the Ryan overhauled the menu at Claire’s, the daytime beachside spot at the Long Beach Museum of Art.
“When Robert said he wanted something like Californian-gone-Mediterranean, I couldn’t believe how in the pocket it was for me,” says Ryan. A large, two-tiered Josper wood grill handles proteins like Black Opal and Creekstone steaks and California rockfish and octopus, while salads come topped with slivers of boquerones and ample Grana Padano. The wood-fired pizzas from Bestia and Gjusta alum Waldo Stout are particularly noteworthy, along with the desserts from Ryan’s wife Minnie Choe, who operates a bakery out of Kitchen Terminal in Redondo Beach. The lineup of sweets at Marlena includes a burnt Basque cheesecake and salted pistachio olive oil cake. Cocktails come from barman Dave Castillo, formerly of the Ordinarie.
Marlena is named after Smith’s mother-in-law, Marlene, whom he and his wife Jen moved to Long Beach from the Bay Area to care for in 2020. “Phonetically, it would be pronounced Marlena in German, her heritage,” says Smith. “As I was developing the food’s direction, I also realized that when separated, ‘mar’ and ‘leña’ means sea and firewood in Spanish, which captures our kitchen so well.”
Marlena is located at 5854 E. Naples Plaza, Long Beach, CA 90803, and is open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.