L.A. Fine-Dining Vet Vartan Abgaryan Opens Bold New Venice Restaurant
Vartan Abgaryan is an L.A. chef who’s known for combining flavors and techniques in unexpected ways. At downtown’s elegant 71Above, he conquered fine dining while serving dishes like “chicharrón-style” octopus with Middle Eastern spices. He had a scallop dish at 71Above that was a riff on chowder featuring bonito, pickled ramps, and ramp-top kimchi. At Yours Truly, the more casual restaurant he’ll open on Venice’s always-buzzing Abbot Kinney Boulevard on Thursday night, Abgaryan has no shortage of similarly surprising combinations. But just as impressive as how he merges elements is how he maximizes the flavor of ingredients.
For Your Truly’s Nashville hot shrimp, Abgaryan (who was frying coconut shrimp at Outback Steakhouse 16 years ago) cleans big Australian prawns and cooks the shells in oil, which is then seasoned and used to fry the breaded shrimp. This results in a dish where the shrimp flavor isn’t overwhelmed by the balanced spiciness of every bite. There’s also some sweet milk bread and a purposefully overdressed slaw that adds balance to the plate.
For a pasta-free take cacio e pepe, Abgaryan wants to showcase potatoes. So he cooks fingerling potatoes in olive oil with roasted black pepper before flash-frying the potatoes until they're crisp. Then he builds a sauce that involves slicing larger fingerling potatoes to make stock, which adds depth to a dish that also features a bright egg yolk and cheese.
Abgaryan stuffs tempura zucchini blossoms with housemade ricotta, but the stems at the bottom might steal the show with their brightness and crispness. And the sauce spooned atop this dish is a great example of how the chef masterfully melds seemingly disparate things.
He’s correct. Anchovies and garlic taste even better with fermented Japanese citrus and a hit of spiciness.
At Yours Truly, with an 85-seat main dining room and bar, plus a 12-seat private dining space, Abgaryan is partnered with hospitality veterans Dave Reiss and Paul Pruitt. Abgaryan, who moved to L.A. from Armenia when he was nine, says he plans to open a couple other restaurants with this crew.
The chef has a lot on his plate, but he also seems refreshed after leaving 71Above, where he served elaborate prix-fixe menus with at least four courses to around 300 customers a night. He was so detail-oriented that he felt like like he needed to examine every dish closely when he was on the pass.
“There were moments where I was like, I’m going to seriously have a fucking heart attack here,” he says. “I would have to work a station a couple nights a week, just to not look at plates.”
A lot of the food he’s doing at Yours Truly, including an umami-packed carrot dish with XO sauce and burrata, is every bit as refined as what he did at 71Above. It takes 45 minutes to roast the carrots, which have to be turned every 15 minutes “so that the texture is correct.” And like he did at 71Above, Abgaryan is serving crispy octopus. But the à la carte format and the relaxed vibe on Abbot Kinney Boulevard give him more moments to breathe. He’ll be able to add specials once things settle down at Yours Truly. Yes, it’s ironic to walk away from fine dining right when the Michelin Guide is returning to L.A., but Abgaryan has bigger shrimp to fry now.
When he decided he would partner with Reiss and Pruitt to open Yours Truly, ideas for dishes immediately swirled in his brain.
“I sat down that night, and maybe 40 or 50 items spilled out of my head,” he says.
Then it was time to get to work, to revise and combine ideas until he finalized dishes like hummus made with avocado instead of chickpeas.
“We start with garlic and tahini,” Abgaryan says. “We also do some poblanos that are roasted with a little bit of jalapeño.”
Then he adds yuzu and white soy. The hummus is topped with a peanut-laden salsa macha. So this hummus, which comes with za’atar flatbread, is a little Middle Eastern and a little Mexican and a little Asian. It’s something that works for fans of hummus, guacamole, or sambal. It’s also a completely vegan dish, which is something that happened unintentionally.
The food at Yours Truly might be somewhat hard to describe, beyond saying that it’s modern Angeleno. But L.A., of course, is a city where easy descriptors matter much less than bold flavors and original voices.
“I’m completely cooking from my heart, with no holding back,” say Abgaryan, a chef who knows that the food he’s serving is his own, truly.
Yours Truly, 1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA, 310-396-9333