A masterful raconteur
Claim to fame: An Alinea and Next veteran in a Santa Monica food court
Reason to go: Get up close and personal with a great chef
To look out for: Unexpected beverage pairings; sometimes rogue, always brilliant
To be filed under oddities: A fine dining restaurant in a food court, presented with a frisson of urban grit. At Dialogue you pay for your meal in advance, then you receive emailed instructions on how to find the place: via a dodgy back alley, past some general unsavoriness that doesn’t exactly smell rosy, through an unmarked door that you’re given a code to, up a service elevator that spits you out into said shut food court. There’s another anonymous entrance to your left, it leads to Chef Dave Beran’s dining room. Once you’re there you’re effectively transported to a private party. Dark, masculine, without a trace of the real world outside, the room’s sole window clogged with bottles of homemade vinegars. All attention is drawn to the open kitchen and to a majestic bouquet of foraged fennel flowers on the dining counter of this snug 18-seater. Dialogue is reminiscent of one of those exclusive, tiny restaurants in Japan, the kind you need a personal reference to get into. Except Dialogue isn’t stiff like that, it’s called Dialogue, after all, not Monologue. Chef Beran loves to chat with his guests, making this one of LA’s most intimate culinary encounters. He is eager to answer questions and will regal you with stories from his former workplaces, Alinea and Next. His staff is equally chummy, yet never in that cloying “My name is Linda, I’ll be your waiter tonight”-kind of way.
Beran’s 21-course menu is a voyage through the seasons in three, savory- to sweet waves, each one more intense than the previous. This is how you end up with a petit four of bitter chocolate with cherry and preserved cherry blossoms in the middle of your meal. And at that particular moment it makes perfect sense as it’s beautifully paired with the same sparkling red Parigot-Richard Mousscaux Rouge that accompanied the preceding rich, autumnal squab with squab leg rillettes, Thai long peppercorn crème fraiche and begonia flowers. A dish that in turn was prefaced by silken fresh yuba with koji fermented plum and Thai basil. Surprising flavor combinations are de rigueur; king crab with a velvety popcorn-buttery sauce, earl grey tea and orchids, for example. Ingredients appear and morph over the course of the meal. This is intellectual eating, Beran keeps you guessing, but he does so with a disarming sense of humor, and impressively, he also shuffles the music himself.
Would it be hackneyed to reference haikus here? Ok, great, we’re doing it anyway. Beran’s cooking is an eclectic ode to seasonality, his menu reads like an unedited Basho poem. His gastro-journey ends with “a carrot pulled from the snow”, presented in the paws of a petite ceramic bunny, the dehydrated sweet vegetable dusted with sugar that falls in a flurry of “snowflakes” around the rabbits feet. The rodents are a symbol of wealth in Japan, go figure.