Sunday Brunch Reigns Supreme at Tavern
By Jen Jones Donatelli
Sunlight streams in through the atrium’s glass ceiling (maybe too bright for some), as Tavern’s bevy of brunchgoers sip on seasonal Bellinis and nosh on Larder Cobb salads and lemon ricotta pancakes. As always, the faces are varied—pick a Sunday and the crowd likely includes recognizable regulars like Reese Witherspoon and James L. Brooks alongside Brentwood socialites, food bloggers clamoring to try chef Suzanne Goin’s latest creation, and well-to-do soccer moms freshly showered after morning SoulCycle jaunts. The common denominator? A sense of foodie-fueled fun—driven by one of the Westside’s most vibrant brunch scenes.
“There is a relaxed festiveness that happens at brunch at Tavern—the space really comes alive during that time,” says sommelier and co-owner Caroline Styne. “It’s a fabulous place to hang.”
It’s not surprising that Tavern swiftly became Brentwood’s power-brunch haven upon opening four years ago. Following in the footsteps of Goin and Styne’s other LA eateries (Lucques and A.O.C.), the restaurant carried an impressive pedigree, and Eater anointed the spot “the new black” after Anna Wintour visited early on. Plus, the time was just right to introduce a stylish new concept in Brentwood, according to Stacey Snider, DreamWorks SKG Studios principal partner, cochairman, and CEO.
“Brentwood has a lot of great spots, but it surprisingly lacked a central watering hole,” says Snider, a regular who lives nearby. “As food-conscious an area as this is, there was this vacuum. Tavern fits the bill—it hits every need and addresses every mood.”
To that end, the restaurant’s key vision has indeed been to accommodate virtually any type of occasion—whether it’s a girlie lunch date for Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling or a high-powered Obama fundraising dinner. Influenced by NYC’s Balthazar, Goin and Styne designed Tavern with the vision of seamlessly going from early morning through late night. They chose a sprawling space on San Vicente that had previously housed Hamburger Hamlet, creating three distinctly different spaces within. In front sits The Larder, a bustling quick-service area with a farm-to-table feel; in the center, ground zero for happy hour, the low-lit “Blue Room” (which Goin correctly calls “sexy and moody”); and in back, the aforementioned atrium, a formal dining room with real trees and abundant natural light.
This versatility has made Tavern a favorite with celebs like Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, and Dustin Hoffman, as well as its loyal Westside regulars. “There is something for everybody—it’s like a three-part restaurant,” says head bartender Christiaan Rollich. “The thing that brings it all together is the philosophy and integrity with the way everything is made.”
Like Lucques and A.O.C., Tavern’s menu changes seasonally; most everything is made from scratch each day. Rollich likens the kitchen to a “nonstop machine” constantly in motion—from the bakers who work overnight to the pastry chefs who show up before sunrise. Even Rollich often reports to work at 4:30 am to start making fresh juices for The Larder and prepping his market- fresh ingredients and homemade liqueurs. “There are no shortcuts to what we do,” says Rollich. “Everything has to be perfect.”
Though the restaurant stays steadily busy from opening until closing, brunch is one of the busiest service times. “Brunch is sort of becoming a big deal here,” says executive pastry chef Christina Olufson, adding that the brunch menu receives the most Yelp reviews. The buzz around brunch is partly due to Olufson herself—her “Chef’s Choice” basket is one of the most popular picks, featuring treats like monkey bread, almond croissants, and bacon-topped pecan sticky buns. She also uses a Pacojet to experiment with different ice cream flavors, using fresh produce from the Santa Monica Farmers Market; her latest flavors are lemon verbena ice cream and labne (strained yogurt) sherbet.
The hard work seems to be paying off for Goin’s young protegé. Named one of Zagat’s “2012 Los Angeles 30 Under 30,” Olufson is now getting her due. And she’s not alone—it’s been a big year in general for the Tavern family. Along with relocating A.O.C. in February, Goin and Styne have expanded The Larder brand to include three additional locations (one at LAX, one in LA, and one in Beverly Hills), and they’re getting ready to open a wholesale bakery on Robertson to accommodate the high demand from the new Larder offshoots, plus Goin is releasing her first cookbook in seven years this October, focused on dishes from A.O.C. and featuring wine notes by Caroline Styne. “We actually didn’t mean for it all to happen in one year, but it just sort of fell into place like that,” says Goin. “We feel like [The Larder] is a concept that works in every neighborhood.” But fear not, brunch aficionados—home base will always be Brentwood, where stylish Sunday repasts reign. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., LA, 310-806-6464
photography by jessica sample (chef, crostada); michael bezjian/wireimage (hoffman); ben gabbe/getty images (wintour)
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.