The Bellwether – Eat/Drink/Share at Studio City’s Favorite Neighborhood Eatery
By Michael Vallens
Famed Ventura Boulevard runs through the south side of the San Fernando Valley and has its fair share of quality restaurants, bars and hole in the wall establishments. That means that there is no shortage of competition, and one must stand out by making food that the people crave. With an eye towards what is currently trending in the culinary scene and the other eye towards the future, Chef Tom Hopson and Owner/Mixologist Ann-Marie Verdi have established The Bellwether as the premiere cutting edge neighborhood Bistro in the San Fernando Valley.
Upon arrival, I noticed the minimalist yet modern appeal of The Bellwether. There is also a sizable and well-lit patio perfect for people watching on the San Fernando Valley’s most famed boulevard.
It’s a well known fact that both Hopson and Verdi spent time working at the ever-popular Father’s Office at both Westside locations. This leaves customers with high expectations and with owner Verdi being the renown mixologist of the group, I knew that ordering a cocktail was first on the agenda. I was not able to make a decision, so I left it up to the bartender to choose my destiny.
I was presented with what is known as the Death or Glory, a gloriously made cocktail concocted with house infused citrus Mitchers US*1 Rye and grapefruit bitters. It was both smokey and citrusy while the aroma from the rye and grapefruit rind was warming to the soul. I was already sinking into my seat as if I was enjoying this creative craft cocktail in my own home.
When I first saw the first appetizer, the Hamachi Crudo Caesar, I thought that this dish was mightily easy on the eyes. It was both elegant and rustic; made with celtuce, baby heirloom tomatoes and Caesar dressing seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper.
The Hamachi was tender and mild and melded well with the crunch of the celtuce, acidity of the heirloom tomatoes and the zesty flavors of their Caesar dressing. I felt like I was dining on fine art and was glad to at least have photos as evidence of its existence.
Next, I was offered the Charred Octopus and was not disappointed in the least. Octopus is currently one of the more popular dishes across the culinary scene. So one has to perfect this dish in order for it to stand out in a crowed scene; and let me tell you, The Bellwether has produced an octopus dish that is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but made with Mediterranean inspired accompaniments like tabbouleh, preserved lemon, Greek yogurt and green olives which make for a truly authentic dining experience.
The third dish out was the Romesco, comprised of braised and charred leeks, roasted cipollini, onion sprouts all in a bright tomato sauce. This revelation of an appetizer was what The Bellwether does best; it brings the freshest ingredients that immediately transport the diner to the Mediterranean upon first taste.
The Meatballs were spectacular. They are made with a 50/50 mix of beef and pork and are simultaneously firm to the fork and contain a melt-in-your-mouth bite. They add ricotta and top with pecorino to the meatballs to add flavor and texture. The grilled ciabatta bread is the perfect partner to handle these sizable meatballs and the noteworthy tomato sauce.
The wondrous Strozzapreti Pasta was made with braised short rib Ragu, red wine and Parmigiano. The pasta was hand rolled and made fresh and simply paired with the rich beefy short rib Ragu to make a dish that native Italians would approve of.
The Bellwether has many things going for it, and the fact that Chef Hopson and Ann-Marie Verdi have the experience making LA’s most iconic and original gastropub burger from Father’s Office is one of them. So any burger/fries on the menu have big shoes to fill.
First the French Fries! The Bellwether has perfected the technique to create the crunchiest on the outside and smoothest inside to a fry that I have ever tasted. It’s the magical wonder of chemistry that make these fried spuds so unique and worthy of praise.
The potatoes are first cut and blanched to reduce the starch content. This is followed by a two day freeze, which allows the sugars to breakdown further. The result is a transcendent bite that one will crave for weeks after.
The fries were paired with house made Chai crème fraiche and a habanero carrot hot sauce. Each sauce offering it’s unique flavor profiles to the Bellwether’s awesome fries.
Rumor has it that the Bellwether offers a very special burger, a Patty Melt to be exact. This had me in good spirits because I love everything about a patty melt.
The Bellwether’s version is mostly traditional with a few twists; toasted rye bread with taleggio cheese, savory caramelized onions with a spicy Calabrian aioli. What Chef Hopson has done is elevate the patty melt to new heights and we are all the lucky recipients.
Lastly, I was brought the Jameson Bread Pudding, prepared with candied pecans, salted caramel ice cream and Jameson butterscotch. It was fresh from the oven and was steaming with lots of promise. The taste was rich and sweet with a kick from the Jameson. The ice cream’s caramel essence combined with the bread pudding to produce the perfect climax to this stimulating and thoughtfully prepared dining experience.
After a short and informative conversation with Chef Hopson, I could sense the pride and hard work all the folks have put into making the Bellwether a destination restaurant and bar for the lucky residents of Studio City and others in the know. Loaded with experience and the gift of foresight, the team at The Bellwether is destined for continued success and it is well deserved.
13251 Ventura Blvd. A
Studio City, CA 91604