As Downtown slowly grows back to life from the harsh blight of the pandemic, the Ace Hotel on Broadway and its adjoining operation The Theatre at Ace Hotel are among the first green shoots of hope.
The hotel started booking as the first concerts in town took stage at the theater this summer. Its restaurant had been shuttered since the pandemic lockdown’s onset and a new concept and operation, LOAM, just opened under the direction of executive chef Joshua Guarneri.
Intended to provide all-day service to hotel guests and the community, the rollout is still in soft opening mode.
“Currently we’re just open for dinner,” Guarneri explained.
“The former coffee bar, which we’re now calling LOAM To-Go, will have grab-and-go sandwiches, pre-packed salads, things like that,” Guarneri explained.
He expects to serve breakfast and lunch menus by the first week of November.
“Breakfast and lunch will be a less formal format than dinner,” Guarneri said. “More casual-style service, similar to how Republique works: You order at the counter, get a number, you sit down, and we bring it to you.”
Guarneri is an East Coast native and a veteran of high-profile kitchens in New York City. He grew up in eastern Connecticut and took time as an itinerant cook, after graduating high school. He then attended and graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, before heading to New York City.
Guarneri served as executive sous chef to April Bloomfield at The Breslin for six years. Four years ago, he moved to Los Angeles to join Bloomfield in opening Hearth & Hound on Sunset Boulevard.
Despite positive reviews, the restaurant struggled to survive in the wake of sexual harassment accusations leveled at Bloomfield’s partner, restaurateur Ken Friedman. Hearth & Hound folded after only a year, in January 2019. Guarneri then opened Bar Avalon in Echo Park, as executive chef in August of that year, to positive reception and reviews, until the pandemic descended.
Last October, Guarneri began working with the local nonprofit No Us Without You. Founded by Damian Diaz and Othon Nolasco, No Us Without You provides food for unemployed restaurant and service workers.
“I knew Othon and Damian just through the industry because they had a hospitality company,” Guarneri said.
“They told me what they were doing, and I was more than excited to jump on board with that. I was helping on distribution days and helping keep their inventory up on nondistribution days. Interacting directly with the families and getting them food was part of it. They’re still definitely helping the community. I would love to still volunteer, but unfortunately I’m not able to at this time because of the opening of the restaurant.”
Guarneri joined the operation at the Ace Hotel in March. He lists the differences between New York and LA’s dining scenes and sensibilities.
“People tend to eat a little bit differently out here than they do in New York,” Guarneri said.
“In New York, it’s still a little more formal. People still like fine dining a bit more in New York. Here they want it to be more casual, a little more relaxed. Definitely, it’s more veg-forward here for sure.”
His approach to LOAM is similar.
“At LOAM, I think it’s closer to how people do want to eat,” Guarneri said.
“It’s more veg-forward. We still have some proteins available. I think people are more in tune with what’s in season and market driven here for sure.”
According to Guarneri, LOAM’s menu showcases vegetable versatility.
“We’re not just presenting vegetables in their natural state,” Guarneri said.
“We’re putting a little fermentation on things. A couple of dishes, we’re roasting vegetables. The same vegetable is presented sometimes, in the same dish also raw. We’re putting a nice char on greens. We’re just trying to do a little more than just give you the vegetable. (We) take it a step further and show you a little bit more of what we can do with the vegetable.”
Certain dishes on the menu are already standouts.
“Our kohlrabi salad has become a sleeper hit,” he said. “I think people aren’t really familiar with what kohlrabi is. We’re getting a lot of feedback. People really, really are into it. I think they’re just surprised by what kohlrabi can be.”
It’s not all about the vegetables at LOAM.
“Our hanger steak is doing really well,” Guarneri said. “We also use Flannery Beef, which is Holstein cattle. It’s primarily dairy cattle. People are really responding well to that, and they’re native to California.”
That kohlrabi salad is joined by other intriguing options for starters on the LOAM menu, including a beet salad with cured egg yolk, sprouted fenugreek and horseradish; crispy Brussels sprouts with walnuts, labne and pomegranate molasses; and fresh blue prawns served with preserved lemon and piri piri sauce.
On the main dish portion of the menu, the hanger steak is served with turnip, black garlic and fermented plum. Other tempting choices include grilled salmon with sugar snap peas, Meyer lemon and chamomile; bucatini amatriciana pasta with fresh chili and basil; roast chicken with grilled Bloomsdale spinach and pistachio; and carrots and maitake mushrooms served with a barley and dandelion salsa verde. Sides include crispy potatoes with anchovy, cabbage and lemon; collard greens with tomato and chili; and chickpea-battered cauliflower with a fermented romesco sauce.
It all seems timely. Accordingly, the new bar selections include a menu of zero-proof cocktails and low-ABV beverages.
“I think that working with local producers, local farms, and cooking sustainably and seasonally is extremely important,” Guarneri said.
“That’s the direction I want to continue on as a chef. Just being responsible and making sure we’re taking care of the right people. Representing our community well is a big one for me.”
The chef has been a proud resident of Downtown since arriving in Los Angeles. He walks to work at the Ace from his home near Pershing Square.
“I am part of this community. During the pandemic, it was hit hard with people being out of their offices, but it’s coming back. Definitely, as a restaurant, we want to be part of the Downtown community. Aside from being a hotel restaurant, we want to engage local residents who live here and get them some nice fresh, approachable, craveable food.”
at The Ace Hotel
929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles