Josie Le Balch Celebrates Her Restaurant's 12th Year On Pico Blvd. In Santa Monica

Wednesday, 6 Feb 2013, 9:02:00 AM

Brenton Garen

Skewered Mediterranean seppie, beluga lentils, merguez sausage, toasted mustard seed oil.
Photo by Brenton Garen
Skewered Mediterranean seppie, beluga lentils, merguez sausage, toasted mustard seed oil.

For more than 25 years, Josie Le Balch has been wowing the culinary community in Los Angeles and across the country with her progressive American fare that showcases French and Italian influences.

This year marks the 12th anniversary of her restaurant Josie at 2424 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica.

At Josie, her alluringly uncomplicated menu is a reflection of her healthy approach to eating as well as her flair for flavor-rich combinations.

She has orchestrated an original melody of classic cuisine and comfort foods, ranging from the enticing Short Rib Tagine to Pan-Seared Duck with Savory Hawthorn Berry Sauce to her the homey rib-eye steak with Pop’s Peppercorn Sauce.

The Mirror recently spoke with Le Balch about her restaurant.

How has the restaurant evolved?

It’s about constantly being innovative and being aware of new food and ingredients trends but also maintaining the integrity of our particular style of cooking and keeping it consistent. I’m always looking at interesting and unique ingredients; they inspire my recipes and keep things fresh. Many of the existing dishes were on the original menu but we mix it up. So whereas the Tagine dish started out as cod fish, over the years we’ve mixed it up and it’s been a short rib version or a lamb version.

What have been some the most memorable moments?

There are so many!

On opening day, my brother came in for dinner and I cooked him a steak using my dad’s original copper pots. Then there was the time when Alice Waters was here for dinner during the first year and was the first person to sign the wall just inside the door to the kitchen – that started a tradition. And Robert Redford signing the first plate; another tradition that continues on. Nancy Reagan and Merv Griffin coming in with the Secret Service at 10 a.m. to analyze and get familiar with the restaurant’s layout for security purposes because they were coming in for dinner that night.

But, really, every day is a memorable day – I like the dance on the line, when everyone’s got their game on it and everyone’s rocking and having a great night!

What have been some of the challenges in running the restaurant?

Everything! From trying to coordinate people and personalities to our making sure we’re getting the best quality ingredients from our purveyors.

And of course, finding ways to be more cost efficient during slow times.

Many restaurants don’t make it past the first several years. Why do you think you’ve been successful in your venture?

Consistency with our menu and service and talent. I find the best people and mentor them and they stay with us. I like to provide an environment where they thrive and can develop their skills and talent. Also, I’ve been doing this a long time – from Ma Maison to Saddle Peak Lodge to Remi to The Beach House – so I’ve taken all the experiences being in this business and applied them to the running of my own restaurant. You have to love this business and get satisfaction out of it to survive! I’m still psyched about dancing on the line for 12 hours almost every day – okay, well almost every day!

How often do you make changes to the menu?

We’re constantly making changes because the menu is seasonally driven -- we’ve been trendsetters in that regard for a long time. Every Wednesday night is our Farmers Market dinner -- three courses for $35. It’s where we showcase what’s at the market that day.

Do you have any mainstay items that have remained since the opening year?

Our Tagine, The Campfire Trout, the Buffalo Burger, and the Endive salad are still on the menu along with a seasonal savory tart. And then there’s our quiche, it’s my father’s original recipe but I make it with wild mushrooms and Gruyere. We serve this as an amuse.

Our Tagine is made using classic Moroccan seasonings and spices and we just change up the protein – sometimes we showcase short ribs and other times it’s lamb or seafood. Our ‘Campire Trout’ is a whole boneless trout that we serve with Blue Lake green beans and a Lemongrass Nage.

Are any of your family members involved in the restaurant?

The restaurant is my family! My niece has been a hostess, my husband works with me and in spirit, my dad’s always here; pop’s always looking down on us!

How old were you when you started cooking?

I started cooking as a teenager -- kind of by accident. I was grounded so my dad made me come to the restaurant so he could keep his eye on me. One day I’m doing my homework in the wine room and the dishwasher didn’t show up. That was it – I was hooked!

For more information about the restaurant, visit www.josierestaurant.com or call 310.581.9888.

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