It would be easy to pooh-pooh the notion of finding a terrific restaurant in a shopping mall, though there are certainly exceptions to the rule.
In general, shopping mall restaurants tend to, let us say, average out their dishes, so that they have a menu that works for pretty much everyone. This is not to say the food in shopping malls is bad; it can be quite enjoyable — just look at the array of eateries in Del Amo Fashion Center. But still, it appeals to many.
And yet, when we look at the culinary history of Manhattan Village, at the busy intersection of Rosecrans Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard, there have been some notable moments.
The most notable was Chef John Sedlar's St. Estephe, which wasn't just a great restaurant with a world-class reputation, it was where modern Southwestern cooking was born. Seriously. In a space right next to a Ralphs. The first branch of the now-defunct L.A. Food Show was there as well.
The Tin Roof Bistro is in Manhattan Village. And now there's also Brickworks Roasthouse & Grill, a strikingly tasty joint with a good look, a lively bar and a counter facing the kitchen that may be the best place in the house to eat.
Brickworks sits in the space that used to house L.A. Food Show. Sit at the counter, and you can watch as an army of cooks assembles an impressively long — and well considered — menu of dishes that are hard to choose among.
Does one begin with the very tasty skillet cornbread, made with green chiles and garlic? Or the fondue of Gruyere, fontina, white cheddar and Parmesan served all gooey and good in a cast-iron skillet? (One begins with both, if one can.)
Is there any way to avoid the fried oysters with olive relish? Or the Mexican shrimp with tomato horseradish sauce? And how about those deviled eggs — referred to on the menu as “Devilishly Delicious Eggs” — that are cayenne spicy and dotted with bacon?
They certainly do like their bacon at Brickworks; this is a Modern American restaurant after all. There's bacon in the admirably rich clam chowder and on the baby iceberg wedge. There's a barbecue bacon burger at lunchtime, and a bacon-blue cheeseburger, along with a grilled Scottish salmon salad made with candied bacon. The butter-braised pork belly would be bacon, were it sliced and fried until crispy. Perhaps someday.
Should you be in the mood for a big meal, there's a section of the menu that details two cuts of prime rib, along with four serious steaks, served with au gratin spuds and a garlic sauce. For $5 extra, you can add Port Reyes blue cheese to any one of the four steaks, which makes dishes like the “long and slow cooked” smoked barbecue beef brisket seem modest by comparison.
They're not, of course. The brisket is a chunk of meat served with housemade slaw, warm spud salad and pickled veggies — a very good plate of chow.
There are Asian touches as well, in the roast duck with plum sauce and scallion pancakes as well as in the Mongolian lamb sirloin. Ditto the seared ahi with wasabi-flavored potatoes and lemony ponzu sauce. (The ahi reappears in a salad with artichoke hearts, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, a deviled egg and caperberries. A really great salad.)
I should add that the wine list is reasonably priced, with dozens of options by the half glass and the glass. There's mixology at work in the bar (and sports on the big screens). It's a place to go for a fine meal or to sit at the bar nibbling on deviled eggs and sipping a Stags' Leap viognier. Afterward, if you need a container of milk, Ralphs is a short walk away. You don't even have to move your car to get there.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at email@example.com.