Jason Neroni isn’t here to play. Every restaurant he’s ever worked at throughout his 30-year cooking career has been someone else’s expression — New York City spots like Le Cirque, Tabla, and Blue Hill, and Los Angeles spots like Osteria La Buca, Superba Snack Bar, and even the Rose, a menu that he oversees and has helmed for seven years, serving millions of people at the bustling Venice restaurant. But the menu at his new Culver City restaurant Best Bet is entirely his. Opening July 25, Best Bet’s opening completes a nearly four-year journey at the former A-Frame space.
Ask the veteran chef about the menu, and he could speak for hours about each section, from the time it took to perfect the montanara pizza dough to the third iteration of his famous cacio e pepe. But he’s more apt to discuss the design, filled with art and pop culture references that defined his childhood. A lightsaber from a Star Wars set stands at the pass between the bar and kitchen, close to a haunting photo of Keith Richards shot by Pascal Shirley at Desert Trip in 2016. Toward the bathrooms, a thoughtful array of artwork from Neroni himself, New York City graffiti artist Chaka, Brooks Kossover, and Neck Face add color to a lesser-seen part of the space. Overall, the design is dark, contemplative, and focused, a fine place for a date night or celebratory dinner, but not too fancy to be an every-week visit.
Though originally announced as a pizza restaurant, Best Bet has morphed into a California Italian menu with pizza as a main component. Neroni’s wood-fired pies straddle New York City and Naples, puffy on the edges but with a sturdier crust. Sized about 11 inches across, they’re good for two to share. The Ode to Pepe draws a line to the famed pizzaiolo Frank Pepe, with confit tomato and a dusting of pesto powder. The fried montanara pizza, something pretty unique in LA, comes topped with taleggio fonduta, arugula pesto, and crunchy olives.
Neroni made his name in LA as a pasta man, however, and the orecchiette is what he calls the third version of cacio e pepe, first made at Osteria La Buca in a more classic style, then with miso butter at the Rose, and now with pink peppercorns and caciocavallo. Sweet corn raviolo captures the height of summer with smoked corn husk and optional lobster topping.
Other dishes include a fritto misto that blends southern Italy with East Coast seafood shack sensibility, and a vertical rotisserie similar to an al pastor trompo will feature duck legs marinated in warming spices. While working in New York, Neroni’s favorite spot was Lupa, famed for its veal saltimbocca. He does a rabbit version at Best Bet with speck and black truffle butter. The precious poussin Milanese fries a deboned 1-pound bird that recalls Friday nights as a teenager eating fried chicken and playing Street Fighter at Shakey’s.
And to start, expect a torrent of carb- and vegetable-oriented dishes, including the tomato leaf-encrusted burrata sourced from Puglia; a garlic knot using the previous night’s spent pizza dough but dusted with 24-month Parmigiano; a ricotta zeppole giostra resembling a savory churro, topped generously with shaved black truffle; or a cherry tomato salad with colatura brodo and buffalo milk ricotta.
Desserts come from Neroni and Rose pastry chef Jose Mariscal. For Best Bet’s opening menu, diners can choose between a budino with salted chocolate gelato, goat milk panna cotta with Andy’s Orchard cherries, or a burrata gelato with in-season olallieberries and mulberries laced with grape vinegar.
Inside, there’s room for about 50 diners, plus another 60 outside on the sprawling patio. Many of the dishes wouldn’t be possible in this small of a space, so like the Rose, Best Bet uses a commissary to handle making dough, pasta, and other bigger prep items.
As for staff management, Neroni says cooks and servers are given competitive hourly wages. Anyone who works over 25 hours is offered health insurance, and the four percent service charge listed on the menu is fully distributed to pay for insurance or staff appreciation. And finally, tips are pooled between the front- and back-of-house and distributed according to a set system, with full transparency shown in a log placed on the break table. Executive sous chef Angel Morales, who’s worked with Neroni for 12 years, helps lead the kitchen while Dane Borgstrom acts as director of operations.
The Orange County native — who grew up in New York City but established himself as a main player in Los Angeles — finally feels at home. Between the Rose and Best Bet, Neroni will be busy this summer, but if the colorful plates, blistered pies, and ice-cold cocktails are any indication, expect the latter to be one of the Westside’s most talked-about dining destinations and toughest tables to get.
Reservations are available on OpenTable, with walk-ins available for neighbors and locals. Best Bet serves Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with more days, lunch service, and brunch to come.