Ten years after opening her eponymous restaurant in Santa Monica, tonight chef Josie Le Balch opens Next Door by Josie right beside it, inter-joined by way of the kitchen. We took a peek inside this afternoon to find Le Balch and crew a lot calmer than expected, amid a polished space of concrete floors, dark wood tables and chairs, walls hung with corks and horizontal bottles of wine, and a gleaming bar. Le Balch says it looks even better when the sun goes out. What will you be eating here?
What we were thinking was just some kind of casual everyday lunch addition (something this neighborhood can use) turns out to be more of a cool market-punched gastropub. There are four Cali beers on draft (including Stone pale ale and Racer 5) and a seriously spirited selection of victuals that finds another great menu hitting the town.
The menu starts with a selection of small snacks that includes bacon and caramel popcorn ($5), sweet and smoky BBQ potato chips ($4), deviled eggs with duck cracklings and pickled beets ($6), and a house pickle jar ($4). The next section includes bigger snacks and appetizers, with our first forerunner a wild game chili with cheddar and house-made Frito's ($9), watermelon salad with crispy pork belly, harissa, and cilantro ($11), a wedge of mushroom quiche ($9), and grits with molasses-glazed bacon and spicy shrimp ($13).
For anyone whose eyes are starting to glaze over the ubiquitous charcuterie section, wake up. The options here certainly sound a step beyond, with a country ham from Virginia, attic aged ham from Cali, and mochetta and salumi from Cremenelli. Curated California cheeses are also available.
Perfect for daytime are a soup and sandwich selection, with one daily soup and a chili, plus handheld options for a duck confit banh mi ($14), a dry-aged burger with house-made Thousand Island ($15), and "sloppy" roast pork sandwich with aged provolone and fried rapini ($14). Entrees bear such reminders of Le Balch's Saddle Peak-ed past as an elk chorizo in a curry coconut broth of P.E.I. mussels ($19) and a "staff meal" penne with Missouri jowl bacon and spicy tomatoes ($17). Six-dollar sides like roasted baby beets in brown butter with hazelnuts and shelling beans with pesto vinaigrette and roasted tomato continue to highlight the symbiotic strengths found in the union between Santa Monica restaurants and the Santa Monica's farmers market.
With a menu and space like these, Next Door Josie is already the first fall restaurant to get pumped for. In Le Balch's skilled hands, it probably won't be long before it's another Santa Monica institution.
Next Door by Josie, 2420 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica. 310-581-9888.