Summer is here, and it’s high season for restaurant openings. Now it’s time for Dialogue, the tasting menu experience from Chicago chef turned Los Angeles restaurateur Dave Beran, in a location nobody was expecting — inside a food hall, where most chefs of Beran’s caliber would go the opposite way, using the opportunity to explore quick-service casual concepts. Beran’s fellow tenants make for strange bedfellows, including a stunt ice cream brand and a salads-and-bowls mini-chain.
News of his first solo restaurant, Dialogue, broke this week — but really, dining obsessives have been waiting for this opening, ever since Beran left his post at the helm of the shapeshifting restaurant Next last year.
Eater caught up with the chef to brush up on all the details. Here’s what you need to know:
Who is Dave Beran?
Dave Beran is an American chef, best known for his work as the executive chef of Next in Chicago. During his tenure at that restaurant, where he and chef-owner Grant Achatz would reinvent the restaurant and its tasting menu multiple times per year, Beran won the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Prior to Next, Beran was the chef de cuisine at Alinea. He’s a Chicago fine-dining all-star and a name to know.
What’s he doing in Los Angeles?
Beran headed out to LA in 2016, with the intention of opening his own restaurant. On his path, he did a series of dinners this year at Wolfgang Puck’s Test Kitchen.
What is Dialogue?
Dialogue is Beran’s first restaurant, and it will be located in the Gallery, an upcoming food hall on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. It is small — 800 square feet, with 18 seats, eight of which will be at a counter. Beran plans on serving a tasting menu.
So what do we know about the food?
Beran says when it comes to style, the most important thing is that he “tells a story with food.” He thinks of tasting menus like albums — pop album tasting menus have songs/courses that can be swapped out and rearranged — and he wants his to be the kind of album that’s like a book. “You would never take out chapter seven without having to change chapter six and chapter eight,” he says. He’s finding inspiration in Japanese kaiseki menus, which might nod to the previous growing season at the beginning of the meal and end with a look ahead toward the coming season.
He’s also trying to hit the right balance of what he describes as “super, super complex” dishes juxtaposed with dishes where “you just want to literally lay down and take a nap in a bowl... that course that just wraps its arm around you and holds on to you, and you never want to let it go.” He’s thinking about carrying elements from one course into the next for continuity, and he’s also thinking about ways to play with the space itself, whether adjusting the lights over the course of the meal or perfuming the room.
Wait, what is the Third Street Promenade?
The Third Street Promenade is a clogged tourist thoroughfare in scenic Santa Monica. It’s basically a pedestrian mall with way too many street performers, lots of chain retail, and easy access to views of the Pacific and also the Santa Monica farmers market. The restaurants along the Promenade tend to be chains, too, and a mix of mid-tier sit-downs or grab-and-go venues. Suffice it say, this is not where you’d expect a serious tasting menu joint to open.
So why on earth is Beran putting Dialogue in a food hall there?
Good question. Beran says he was approached to do ~something~ with this space. “It was through friends, and it was right after a big lease fell through for us. It’s weird, because it’s in a food hall... They talked to us about a sandwich shop. They talked to us about a few different concepts. I said, ‘I’m not going to open a sandwich shop for my first restaurant.’”
But he thought its compact size and proximity to the farmers market would make it an ideal test kitchen, perhaps even a temporary dining space, too, which was what Beran was looking for.
“We came up with the concept that evolved into Dialogue, which was basically to open a restaurant that was a test kitchen for us, open three or four nights a week to the public,” Beran says. “We started going through the logistics and the concept for that while still looking at other spaces. It was going to just be this temporary thing that would last six months, a cool way for us to start serving food.”
But as he moved forward with the Gallery space, he thought to be deliberately temporary was disingenuous. Why qualify the experience for his guests that way? “The more I kept looking at it, I was like, ‘Well, why would you open something intentionally mediocre?’” he says. “I don’t want to look at people when they eat and say, ‘This is just a hint and an idea of the future.’” Once Beran made the decision to think of Dialogue as a Real Restaurant, he upgraded the kitchen and tapped local artisans to start working on furniture.
Beran plans on insulating his guests from both the Promenade and the food hall itself. He will encourage guests to enter through the alley and come up an elevator; it’s how Beran himself enters the building.
The restaurant also won’t be directly accessible from inside the food hall, nor will its interior be visible to anyone strolling by. “Once you’re in the space, you’re in the space,” he says. For now, the plan is to keep the door locked. Beran is working on what technology will work best, but he’s hoping to give guests some sort of confirmation number that lets them in and out of the restaurant.
It’s not a “speakeasy,” he explains, but a practical solution. “Any time people see a door, they want to walk through it... If you’re paying $185 for dinner and $125 for wine pairing or whatever it ends up being, you don’t want a family in baseball caps with ice cream cones walking in to see what’s in there. Our solution to that was to basically have a door that’s always locked.”
Is there any precedent for this kind of location?
Beran points to New York City’s acclaimed sushi temple Masa: It’s inside the Time Warner Center shopping mall, which in turn is located in Columbus Circle, an extremely high-tourist area of New York City at the southwest corner of Central Park. (Per Se, another expensive tasting menu joint you might have heard of, is also in the Time Warner Center.)
In Tokyo, there are worthwhile restaurants in subway stations. And plenty of great LA restaurants are in strip malls, which aren’t exactly known for charm.
Isn’t everyone always saying fine dining doesn’t exist Los Angeles?
People do say that. But consider: While the white tablecloth places are pretty limited (Providence, a beacon of LA fine dining, is a notable exception, as is Melisse), there’s plenty of serious — and seriously expensive — dining experiences to be had in LA; many just happen to be sushi omakase restaurants, like Urasawa, Sushi Zo, N/Naka, and Nozawa Bar. And when it comes to more European-style tasting menus, there are several: There’s Curtis Stone’s Maude, Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec, and, coming soon, Jordan Kahn’s tasting menu restaurant from outer-space Vespertine. Beran will be in good company.
When does it open?
Beran’s hoping to open the first week of August. Construction is just getting started this week, but Dialogue is tiny, so he’s optimistic.
Anything else I need to know?
Beran hasn’t totally dropped the temporary idea. At Next, reinvention was built into the restaurant’s DNA, and Beran seems inspired by how Rene Redzepi was able to take the Noma concept and bring it to Japan and Mexico: “Noma took this idea and said a restaurant doesn’t need a space. A restaurant can be anything.” He also cites the Momofuku Ko move and the Saison move as potential harbingers of Dialogue’s future.
“I know no matter what, this restaurant, if it’s successful — which obviously I very much hope it is, otherwise I’m in trouble — it will outgrow the space,” he says. “But I don’t want to approach it with that concept of, ‘This is just a test kitchen until we find what we really want to do.’”
• Dialogue [Official site]
• Star Chef Dave Beran Lands 18-Seat Fine Dining Counter at Third Street Promenade [ELA]