Chez Melange was opened in 1982 at The Palos Verdes Inn in Redondo Beach by Londoner and restaurateur Michael Franks, and former Bronx architect and line cook, chef Robert Bell. In a city with few fine dining options, save one old-fashioned French restaurant heavy on the cream sauce and your standard beachside surf n’ turf joints, Chez Melange’s nouvelle fusion cuisine was a breath of fresh air. Known for their extensive wine list and refined brunches, the restaurant became a Mother’s Day tradition for my family and many others in the South Bay.
The pair have opened several other restaurants since that time, including Torrance stalwart Depot, which opened in 1991, serving French-inspired California cuisine when no one in the South Bay knew what aioli was yet. Those restaurants are now under new ownership and still going strong.
After moving from The Palos Verdes Inn on Pacific Coast Highway to a less visible but more versatile space a few blocks down in Riviera Village, the partners’ creativity had room to roam. The front dining area was converted into Bouzy Gastropub, with warm woods, worn brick, and seriously stellar fish and chips adding a British feel to the global restaurant.
The large back room continued on as Chez Melange, even as a new bar room opened up in a back corner. The restaurant has transformed itself several times, and now identifies as three restaurants under one roof, under the umbrella of Chez Melange. The restaurants are The Oyster Bar, Sea Change, and Bouzy Gastropub.
The Oyster Bar
The Oyster Bar serves fresh and pristine seafood, including impressive shellfish towers. Not one to do anything so simple as shuck a few oysters, the chef has also created a number of enticing dishes like Smoked Salmon Focaccia, Ahi Poke, and a Hamachi Sashimi plate with avocado, peach chutney and Sriracha. Fresh chilled seafood is always pricy, but two people could easily eat for under 50 dollars before drinks, tax and tips.
The room formerly known as “Chez Melange” has transformed into Sea Change–a formal restaurant with a light and breezy interior that is undeniably sea-inspired. The menu, which changes daily, is all over the globe, with dishes like Lobster Kung Pao, Shrimp and Grits and a Hummus platter. They even have something for the old-school set with dishes like Lobster Thermidor and Veal Steak Diane. True to the name, Sea Change is heavy on seafood, which is cooked with a deft hand.
There is an array of eclectic fish specials. Last week they included Hawaiian Opakapaka with pineapple and macadamia Nuts, South Pacific Swordfish sautéed with butter, lemon, and capers, served over linguine, and Mexican Sea Bass with shiitakes, ginger, and soy served over Basmati Rice. You can also choose to have any fish of the day cooked to your specifications.
Definitely start your meal with the Artisan Baguette with fresh, sweet Pasture Butter. The butter is sprinkled with smoked salt, which may not be everybody’s thing. It is one of the best breads I have been served at a restaurant in a long time. True, we all have to adjust to upscale restaurants now charging for bread, but $4 is definitely worth it. You can also order fresh chilled seafood and pokes from the Oyster Bar for appetizers if you like.
On this particular evening, when the restaurant was hosting, we tried the Zarzuela, a Portuguese Seafood Stew with shrimp, lobster, clams, calamari, mussels, scallops, and fish in a tomato, sherry, and cream sauce. The sherry and cream really made this dish stand out from your usual bouillabaisse and cioppino. They even provided an additional crusty baguette to soak up the rich sauce.
We also ordered the New England “Dry Pack” Scallops,which are stored dry on the boat, not frozen. The scallops had a lovely sear on them, as you can see in the above photo, and was served with an apple reduction, and comforting corn and chorizo mashed potatoes. Scallops and pork are truly a match made in heaven, and the chorizo was the perfect nod to local Los Angeles flavors. Most main dishes at Sea Change are in the 20 to 30-dollar range.
The warm woods, comfortable booths and familiar pub feel make the Bouzy Gastropub one of my family’s go-to restaurants. We often grab Sunday brunch there, and it’s a more casual place to drop in for dinner without reservations. An unusual but favorite brunch dish is Eggs Panchitos: Scrambled Eggs, Ground Beef, and Chili Relleno on a sope topped with Frank’s Hot Sauce. You would not expect a sope to be the most memorable part of such an intense dish, but it really is. It is so fresh and light, intense with the flavor of masa. If you aren’t a fan of spicy egg dishes, you can’t go wrong with their brioche French toast, a longtime specialty.
For dinner you can order from the raw bar, and the menu offers many of the same starters and salads as the Sea Change menu. In addition, there are a number of sandwiches, burgers and plenty of “pub grub.” The “Knife & Fork” Pancho Burger takes my Eggs Panchitos to another level with the addition of bacon, avocado and a burger patty on a brioche bun. There is also a Japanese pork belly sandwich, Lobster Grilled Cheese, and an Ahi Tuna Burger with Wasabi Mayonnaise on the menu. The gastropub still serves my favorite fish and chips, now made with the au courant barramundi. Most dishes will set you back between 10 and 15 bucks.
The restaurant is understandably proud of their vast selection of craft beers, which include Amber Hefeweissbier from Germany, Old Speckled Hen Cream Ale from England, and the hyperlocal “24th Street” Pale Ale from Strand Brewing. In addition, you can order two dozen different bottled and canned brews from small breweries like L.A.’s own Golden Road Brewing or from as far afield as Belgium and Austria.
Creative handcrafted cocktails from mixologist Stryker Rearick are available in all three restaurants, and make Chez Melange more than just your average pub or fancy restaurant. At our hosted dinner we enjoyed an after-dinner drink, coffee and dessert all in one with the Espresso Martin. Made with a single shot of espresso, Absolute Vanilla Vodka, White Chocolate Godiva and Kahlua, the cocktail is served in an old fashioned coupe, or gimlet, glass with a cute torched marshmallow garnish. Cocktails range from $12 to $14, which is on the low average end for cocktails in L.A.
The restaurant features a wonderfully balanced, well-priced wine list. There is a wide sampling of grape varieties as well as countries of origin. Perhaps it’s a little heavy on the Italian, but there is something for everybody. Many of the markups are under $15, rising as the bottles get more expensive. You can get a glass of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, an Italian Vermento, or an Argentinian Malbec for as low as $12 for a standard pour or $5 for a 3.5 ounce taste. If champagne is your thing, a glass of Jean Philippe Brut from France is a mere $10. There are also a few bottles for the more serious wine drinker at prices that reflect that. Wines by the bottle max out around $120, but they do offer a Magnum if you are livin’ large.
The 37th Anniversary
It is usually a mistake to try to be all things to all people. An overly ambitious menu can be a red flag. Not only are there three different menus at Chez Melange, each one is extensive and varied. But I have never, in 20 years of eating at Chez Melange and its alternate personalities, had anything that was less than perfect. My only complaint is that they aren’t open for lunch. Bouzy Gastropub opens for Happy Hour at 4 P.M. and the others start serving dinner at 5:30. Chez Melange was originally named for a melange of cooking styles, but now it is literally a melange of restaurants. Judging by the crowd on a recent Friday night, they could probably open a couple more. And we would be thrilled.
On Monday, November 25th, 2019, Chez Melange will celebrate its 37th year in the South Bay with a special anniversary dinner. Partners Michael and Roberts will be entertaining the guests with stories from their many years in the restaurant, including “…the great, the good, the bad and the ugly.” Starting at 7 PM, Chez Melange will be serving their most popular dishes from their many years in business. Price: $95 per person, wine included, plus Tax and Service. For Reservations: (310) 540-1222.