Cafe Stella owner Gareth Kantner to open Libre in Echo Park's Jensen Rec Center
Echo Park is in the throes of growing pains, with a host of new bars and restaurants cropping up along Sunset Boulevard at an unprecedented rate. First came 15 (which recently changed hands and will soon become Allston Yacht Club), then Lot 1, then El Prado, then the Park. Soon a Two Boots pizzeria will open up next door to the Echo, and after that an ice cream parlor will open next door to Two Boots.
On Saturday night Echo booker Liz Garo's new bookstore, Stories, will open in the space that formerly housed Sea Level records. Next door to Stories at 1712 Sunset Blvd., Cafe Stella owner Gareth Kantner and his wife, Christine, will open a 2,700-square-foot restaurant called Libre (hopefully in about nine or 10 months). Got all that?
Kantner says the food at Libre will be "Italian peasant food mixed in with tapas from around the world -- French, Moroccan, Spanish" and more. "I've been doing French food for so long that I just wanted to bust things wide open, that's why I'm naming this restaurant Libre, which means freedom." He lists off some of his favorite upcoming menu items: suckling pig, roasted chestnuts, milk-fed veal, three-inch thick steaks, hand-torn pasta, and blood sausage from Spain with Greek yogurt and cumin. The food will come from small-lot producers who are "artisan minded."
The planned look of the space can best be described as monastery-chic, with 24-foot ceilings dripping giant chandeliers attached to burly ropes and pulleys, rustic wooden tables, abundant floral arrangements, loads of candles, and "lots of fire." The fire will come from an Argentinian-style wood-burning oven and grill, and Kantner is importing wood from the South -- such as peach wood -- to burn in it. There will also be a full bar and a stone-walled wine cellar with a private dining room.
The kitchen will be "wide open" and "very theatrical, they'll be doing lots of things that I can't tell you about yet," Kantner says. Adding to the drama will be a giant rough-hewn wooden table in the middle of the room that the food will be brought to before being delivered to the tables. "So you see everything happening right in front of you," meats and cheese being cut and sizzling savories being plated.
If all of this plays out as Kantner describes, Libre promises to be Echo Park's most ambitious and adventurous effort to date. And if it succeeds it's quite possible that this bustling, largely Latino neighborhood will become the dining destination that its many new investors are banking on.
What that means for the current mixed-income vitality of the neighborhood remains to be seen. Right now Mexican restaurants such as Happy Tom's, Rodeo Grill, Barragan's and even the legendary Tacos Ariza taco truck on Logan do a booming business and the park is full of people from all walks of life (and all ethnicities). As long as that remains the case, and rents in the area don't soar to Los Feliz-ian levels, then all newcomers should be welcomed.
Libre, 1712 Sunset Blvd.
-- Jessica Gelt
Libre logo, and photo of the type of Argentinian wood-burning oven that will be used in Libre, provided by Gareth Kantner.