Travis Lett's new Japanese-leaning izakaya on Venice's Abbot Kinney is a beautiful and boisterous restaurant serving top-notch ramen and creative small plates with seasonal ingredients.
Travis Lett is on a roll. He's given Venice all the hot, super successful "gj" spots near the beach. There's Gjelina (still difficult to get in after 18 years in business), Gjelina To Go and Gjusta. Geez. You'd think that would be enough. But then he just opened MTN restaurant, down the street from Gjelina and GTG (as the cool kids call it) on Abbot Kinney in Venice.
His "Gj" restaurants are all about fabulous California dining. There are lots of local ingredients, prepared in a fresh and unique way. So Lett decided to take a bit of a departure with MTN by using a Japanese izakaya theme.
Of course everything is made in house. That's no easy feat given that there are noodles, broth, and gyoza on the menu.
There's a whole ramen section at MTN. When I visited, there were five different kinds that incorporated different proteins from crab to pork, chicken, and vegetables. The spices vary, but you can be assured to get a multi-day simmered broth that buoys its carefully chosen ingredients.
You may want to ease into the ramen. The bowls are large, and beautiful, like all the dishware. You can split it and the waiter will kindly bring you two smaller bowls and spoons to slurp seaweed, dashi, black bean paste, and tomago. It really is other-worldly delicious, and I'm not even a big ramen fan.
Perhaps start with some smaller plates first before jumping into your ramen bowl. There's pickled vegetables, warm baby bok choy, and big sur sea vegetables with a ponzu olive oil dressing. Expect Japanese takes on vegetables like red miso with shishito peppers or turnips with kombu dashi, yuzu greens, and hemp seaweed.
A fish section covers sashimi like kanpachi with yuzu shoyu or there's an irresistible channel island black cod with sake kasu, miso, and kimchi cucumber. It will be everything you want it to be.
There's also a few different kinds of temaki hand rolls. Vegans can enjoy natto temaki, but there's also snapper with avocado and shiso giving it a different taste than your typical Japanese restaurant.
Carnivores will delight in grilled jidori chicken hearts (if you're into that sort of thing), pork cheek or a spicy garlic wagyu beef tataki. The spice is real and the beef is divine. It's slightly offset by cucumber and ponzu.
MTN is now taking some reservations, but don't plan on an intimate evening. It's loud and dark in a wood-laden setting with backless stools. You'll be sitting at the bar, elbow to elbow with fellow diners, or you'll be sharing a group table with others. But those other people will happily tell you about the amazing dish they just had so you may relish in the communal vibe.
Travis Lett has another winner on his hands with the new Japanese izakaya MTN in Venice.
1305 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice