A Japanese eatery calls Chateau Marmont home
As we sit down for lunch, Reika Alexander admits that she has not eaten in 24 hours—a seemingly unfathomable amount of time for one of Manhattan’s busiest restaurateurs. At En Japanese Brasserie, the bustling restaurant she opened in the West Village 14 years ago, she promptly orders a bowl of traditional Japanese rice porridge to which she adds scallions, a few nori strips and a raw egg. “It’s healing food,” she says. The reason for the unintentional fast, she explains, was due to the frenzy surrounding the pending opening of her second restaurant, Chateau Hanare, across the country in Los Angeles.
Hanare translates to “little cottage set apart” in Japanese, and it’s a fitting moniker given that the cottage lies on the grounds of the storied Chateau Marmont, connected to the hotel’s courtyard through an interior pathway. The idea was set in motion nearly 10 years ago when Alexander was having a casual conversation with one of her regular customers, Chateau Marmont owner André Balazs.
“I told him about a concept for a really intimate, cozy, authentic Japanese restaurant where each room would have a different vibe. He said, ‘I love it, we should do it together,’” says Alexander.
For his part, Balazs, who has a history of doing business in Japan, explains that he “has always been interested in Japanese culture. Whether you study ikebana or tea ceremonies, it’s a very beautiful and mannered society.”
He initially suggested building the restaurant inside a Japanese-style hotel in New York that he was conceptualizing at the time, and later proposed a space in his London property, the Chiltern Firehouse, neither of which were quite right. Then he urged Alexander to fly to Los Angeles to check out a little Spanish bungalow at the edge of Chateau Marmont’s hillside “campus” (a word Balazs uses to explain the sprawling property, which now includes multiple Spanish- and Arts and Crafts-style cottages and two Craig Ellwood case study homes that surround the iconic 1929 era lodging). It was the perfect fit.
Alexander, Balazs and the Tokyo design firm AGE set about converting the space into a minimalist, East-meets-West-style abode—inspired by the Westernization of Japan in the late 1800s—with handmade furniture from Japan and a modern L-shaped garden punctuated with a snow-white pear tree. Questlove, another customer-turned-friend, created the jazz-centric playlist. Alexander found an apartment nearby and plans to be bicoastal, as does En Japanese Brasserie’s chef Abe Hiroki, who is overseeing the authentic kaiseki-style and à la carte menus, the latter of which features shareable dishes such as the daily homemade silken tofu. “We have such a beautiful food culture [beyond] trendy sushi with mayonnaise and fusion cuisine,” says Alexander, who grew up in Tokyo. “This really feels like walking into a friend’s traditional-style house in Japan…that just happens to be right off Sunset Boulevard.” 8097 Selma Ave., L.A., 323-963-5269; hanarela.com.
Written by KELSEY McKINNON.