Until recently, Castaway was primarily a place to enjoy a drink with panoramic Valley views. That changed when Specialty Restaurant Corporation revamped the historic 400-seat restaurant in the Verdugo Hills and brought in chef Perry Pollaci. The talented chef presides over The Butcher’s Block in an exhibition dry-aging room lined with pink Himalayan sea salt that yields prized steaks. Snake River Farms zabuton is a rare cut of beef that translates from Japanese as “little pillow.” My server explained that zabuton is cut “from the eye of the chuck, right off the rib-eye, so the seven ounces of American Wagyu display impressive marbling. Pollaci broils steaks, forms outer sears on a plancha, and finishes by basting with garlic, thyme and butter. Each steak comes a la carte with a quenelle of shallot marmalade studded with sweet garlic chips and a “paddle of sauce” that includes glasses of horseradish cream, Bordelaise, Béarnaise, and chimichurri.
Ryotaro Isobe and Peter Park also run Feu Pho Kitchen in Studio City. Commonwealth, their dinner-only restaurant in Burbank, features reclaimed wood and brick walls, a copper bar, and wine-friendly, shareable small plates From the Garden, From the Sea, and From the Land. Their impressive Passion “Side Up” dessert riffs on a sunny-side-up egg and features a surprisingly savory flourish. A soft vanilla bean panna cotta “white” hosts a tangy spherified passion fruit “yolk” that’s showered with cracked black pepper and rests on cookie dust seasoned with thyme and lemon zest.
Gourmet Romano is a corner space from Karen and Serina Galstyan with just eight stools that showcases Roman-inspired pizza. A programmable three-deck oven with digital readout yields a supple, chewy multi-grain crust featuring dough that ferments for 72 hours before baking. The fast casual restaurant incorporates panoply of organic produce and imported Italian ingredients. Pizza also factors into atypical panini, with flatbreads folded around different combos. I was particularly impressed with the panini that cradles fluffy Italian ricotta cheese, silky Italian mortadella studded with pistachios, sea salt, fresh-cracked black pepper, and a welcoming drizzle of olive oil.
Lotus & Light is a modern Vietnamese restaurant in Lakeside Shopping Center. The airy space features white and light wood décor and a system of wall planters. The name refers to a spiritual poem that appears on the wall by the entrance and partially reads, “Inside my body there is a lotus, The lotus reflects the light of the sun and moon, The light of the stars reflects the light of my body.” Com tôm lón nuóng is certainly a stellar dish, featuring sweet “giant” prawns (possibly) with attached roe that are butterflied, charbroiled, and served over rice with sliced cucumber and tomato and an herbaceous, judiciously spicy sauce that’s blended to order with mint, cilantro, jalapeño, lime, and secrets.
Tonir Café is a homey Armenian restaurant with a stone façade and pastel green walls near Hollywood Burbank Airport. David Movsesyan, sister Gayane, and family debuted Tonir in 2011 featuring Grandma Siranoush’s recipes. A tonir is a wood-burning oven built into the ground that cooks kebabs. Here, they use charcoal to deliver delectable skewers. No matter the order, finish with Eldora, a feather-weight, accordion-like cake starring phyllo layers fused with condensed milk and butter that’s dusted with powdered sugar.