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by jen jones donatelli | May 6, 2013 | Food & Drink
One of the Innâ€™s canopied tents, complete with chandelier.
The rustic front gate.
Tuna with avocado, yuzu ponzu gel, radish, nori, and pickled leeks.
The fire-lit Church Room.
Pineapple and coconut tres leches corn bread, coconut ice cream, compressed pineapple, caramel, and shiso.
Bradley Miller, executive chef.
Hotties Channing Tatum and wife Jenna are Inn of the Seventh Ray regulars.
Niman Ranch pork belly and kuri squash puree with an anise cracker and smoked scallop mousse.
An outside view of the Innâ€™s romantic open-air gazebos.
Where does the “Sexiest Man Alive” prefer to dine? In the sexiest restaurant in Los Angeles, naturally. As part of his November People feature, Channing Tatum named Topanga Canyon’s Inn of the Seventh Ray as one of his top California spots, presumably for canoodling creekside with wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum. And he’s far from the only celebrity to favor the mountain hideaway; other regulars include Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jason Lewis, and Britney Spears.
What’s drawing them to this somewhat remote restaurant, outside the more well-trodden territories of Malibu and Los Angeles? “There is a sense of romance, a sexy vibe to the [Inn]—especially just before sunset,” says Keenen Ivory Wayans, who has frequented the restaurant for 15 years. “That’s what makes it a keeper on my list.”
Perhaps the vibe, as Wayans calls it, can best be attributed to the Inn’s unique nature-meets-nuance charm. Set in a shaded forest of sycamore, oak, and pine trees, the largely open-air restaurant overlooks a hillside waterfall and creek (complete with “singing” frogs after nightfall). Strains of spa-style music drift among canopied tents with chandeliers and gilded Buddha statues, trellises dotted with twinkling string lights, and semiprivate dining gazebos. On chilly nights, diners can sit near the fireplace inside the Church Room, so called because the onetime chapel still retains its stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant is a popular destination for proposals and special occasions; Fergie and Josh Duhamel celebrated Valentine’s Day at the Inn several years ago. “This is proposal spot [No. 1],” says Executive Chef Bradley Miller. “I’ve seen some million-dollar rocks come through that kitchen. People fall in love here all over again. It just has that magic about it.”
In a sense, people are also falling back in love with the restaurant. Before Miller signed on three years ago, the Inn was often dismissed as a weddings-only destination or the health-conscious province of hippie Topanga locals. “[Before], the kitchen was built for volume. [There] was decent food, but it wasn’t the level of fine dining that this location calls for,” explains 31-year-old Miller, a onetime Hell’s Kitchen contestant and former chef de partie at Patina. “I come from fine-dining restaurants where we [plated the food] with tweezers, but I wanted the food [here] to meet my idea of fine dining—not stark and stale, but upscale and fun.”
To that end, Miller revamped the menu, outfitting the kitchen with an array of molecular gastronomy toys, including an anti-griddle (a device that quickly freezes food instead of heating it) and five sous vide machines (which cook airtight bags of food in water). The result? Inventive, market-driven dishes enhanced by foams, gels, and compression—though Miller takes care to avoid a “gimmicky” approach. “People have this idea that they just want to come to a romantic place, but then they get hit with this food experience that’s just like, Wow,” says sommelier Stephen Jordan, who works closely with Miller to fine-tune the wine pairings.
Miller also takes advantage of the restaurant’s remote canyon location to find unusual seasonal fare. On a given day, he might be foraging for chanterelles with fellow Patina Restaurant Group alum Kevin Meehan, or he might be down the road at Inner Gardens farm buying raw goat’s milk, pheasant, or herbs. “It’s kind of a chef’s dream up here,” the chef says.
Of course, it’s been key for Miller to get the buy-in of owner Lucy Yaney, who opened the restaurant in 1975. Though Yaney was at first reticent to make changes, Miller was able to earn her trust by staying true to the restaurant’s long-held values—keeping the food local, fresh, and organic. Jordan does the same by curating a mostly organic and biodynamic wine list.
“The Inn was doing organic food before it was a thing,” says Miller, who is currently making strides to remove all GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the menu. “We were serving alkaline water, and now everyone has alkaline machines. Everything [Yaney] does ends up being a trend—she’s all about what’s healthy.”
Thanks to their combined efforts, the Inn is now being embraced by locavores, foodies, and discerning critics like S. Irene Virbila (who proclaimed that the food had gone from “inedible… [to] nuanced and delicious” under Miller’s watch). “It’s healthy yet flavorful, and there are a lot of gluten-free options,” says Wayans, who comes here for brunch almost every week after yoga class in Topanga. “It’s taken a step up from what it used to be.”
And as for its romantic reputation? Miller is intent on making the food itself an aphrodisiac. “An older chef once told me that couples who’ve been married 40 years have nothing left to talk about,” he shares. “I try to make the food so tasty and beautiful that they can’t stop talking about it. Running a restaurant is more about love than money or status—it’s all about making people happy.” 128 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga, 310-455-1311
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESSICA SAMPLE (INN); JON KOPALOFF/FILMMAGIC (TATUM)