clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

James Beard Award-Winning Duo to Open French Japanese Bistro in LA’s Arts District

Courtney Kaplan and Charles Namba of Tsubaki and Ototo are taking over the former Church & State space for the debut of Camelia

Courtney Kaplan Charles Namba the 2023 James Beard Awards. 
Courtney Kaplan Charles Namba the 2023 James Beard Awards. 
Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The James Beard Foundation
Cathy Chaplin is a senior editor at Eater LA, a James Beard Award–nominated journalist, and the author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Los Angeles.

The owners of popular Echo Park restaurants Tsubaki and Ototo, Courtney Kaplan and Charles Namba, are opening a third restaurant in the Arts District this spring in partnership with Sprout, the LA restaurant group owned by Mike Glick behind Republique, the Rose Venice, Yangban, and Vespertine, among others. Located in the former Church & State space that most recently housed the ambitious Brazillian restaurant Caboco, Camelia will seat 100 diners and serve a French Japanese menu.

Inspired by Kaplan and Namba’s travels to Japan, as well as Namba’s French culinary experiences cooking in places like Thomas Keller’s now-closed Bouchon in Beverly Hills, Camelia brings a Tokyo-style French bistro to Los Angeles. “What would a French restaurant in Tokyo look like?” says Kaplan. “And how can we interpret that through the lens of LA as well?” Kaplan and Namba envision Camelia’s menu to be structured like a classic French meal but with influences from Japanese flavors and ingredients, like swapping lemon for yuzu or using Japanese fish instead of Mediterranean ones. The flavors will be “a touch lighter,” says Kaplan.

Church & State, Arts District 2019.
Church & State in 2019 before being transformed into Caboco.
Wonho Frank Lee

The beverage program will have as much sake as wine, given Kaplan’s affinity and depth of knowledge for the beverage. (Kaplan took home the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine or Other Beverages Program in 2023.) “Oftentimes in Japan, you will see a lot of attention paid to the sake program as well [as wines in French restaurants],” says Kaplan. “I love pairing sake with non-Japanese food, just to sort of demonstrate how versatile sake can be.” In addition to sake and wine, the beverage menu will also include cocktails and a full bar.

On the design front, husband-and-wife team David Rager and Cheri Messerli of Weekends will revamp the industrial dining room and patio that was originally built in 1925 to serve as the West Coast headquarters for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco). Camelia will seat 60 diners inside and 40 outside. “When you go to a bistro, they tend to be high energy, they’re fun, they’re not serious, stuffy places,” says Kaplan. “We want to bring that same sort of energetic but really warm and welcoming environment. [That] is what we’re looking to create.”