There was a not-so-distant point in the past when fanatical L.A. diners were forced to slog across the city to find a forward-leaning, chef-driven dining experience. But today, the neighborhood restaurant reigns, filling in gastronomic gaps that once peppered the city’s unfathomably high number of spread-out communities.
Sean Lowenthal’s Little Beast is one of these distinguished neighborhood gems, serving Eagle Rock from a historic craftsman home since 2013, and gaining a reputation itself as a place worth traversing the city for along the way.
“I always felt that the restaurants I wanted to go to were far from where I lived in South Pasadena,” Lowenthal says. “I wanted to create a place that people on this side of town could consider to be their own, without having to go far for something unique and delicious with a beautiful setting.”
The Savannah native and Denver-trained chef departed his sous chef position at the legendary Chateau Marmont in 2012. Partnering with his wife, Deborah Schwartz, Little Beast first debuted as a pop-up intent on exploring his newfound freedom through a New American lens.
Now a beloved neighborhood restaurant, dishes orbit around straightforward, expertly nuanced comfort food, sometimes laced with sophisticated global twists. It might be brussels sprouts with the faint trace of fish sauce, hummus with a spicy chipotle kick, slow-roasted short ribs with savory granola, or pan-roasted sea scallops with carrot butter and savoy cabbage. Things you’d expect to find at a place that caters as much to date-night couples as families out for an any-night bite.
Here, Lowenthal walks us through the inspiration behind six of his most beloved recipes, dishes that regulars and newcomers alike can’t get enough of at the Eagle Rock gem.
1. Salmon Belly Mousse
“We strive to have as little waste as possible, to respect the foods that we source. We reserve the bellies of the salmon that we serve as a main dish to make a mousse. It’s usually the part that would be discarded, as it would overcook if you left it on the fish. We try to make mousse with a lot of things. If I have snapper or halibut on the menu, I’d use the trim to do something like that in the same way. We serve it with white port gelee, pickled shallots, and slightly toasted fresh baked bread. This dish for me is about technique, integrity, and deliciousness.”
2. Brussels Sprouts
“This is our simplest dish and has been a staple on the menu for eight years. For us, it’s taking an ingredient that most people remember having as overcooked and awful as a child and making it delectable. There’s a balance of sweet, sour, and salty, and only slightly spicy, so the perfect combination of hitting all the flavor points.
When you sauté brussels sprouts in butter, and it starts caramelizing, it reminds me of buttered popcorn. You throw in our flavor bomb jalapeño-agave vinaigrette — the secret umami ingredient is fish sauce — which hits sweet, salty, sour, and spicy points, and it just brings it all together.”
3. Butternut Squash Soup
“We focus on serving ingredients that really speak to the season. This soup is a great representation of autumn; simple, with only four main ingredients. We sneak miso into the soup, which brings the flavor out of the butternut squash and brings that umami flavor into the soup that you can’t really pinpoint or identify. And because we’re using miso, it seemed undeniable to bring in some Asian garnish. So we looked toward furikake and sesame oil, which really tied it together.”
4. Little Beast Burger
“We consider Little Beast to be an American neighborhood restaurant, and what’s more American than a hamburger? I envisioned a burger that was not overly complicated, with only a few ingredients, so you were able to taste them all and taste the finesse and techniques that went into it. With too many ingredients, it becomes kind of a mockery, the idea gets lost. I wanted to have something that wasn’t trying to make people think differently about the hamburger, but something that they could identify with, done in a simple, really good way.”
5. Belgian Chocolate Pudding
“We’ve served this dessert since the day we opened, and it represents so many things to me personally. Chocolate pudding is one of the few desserts I remember as a child being in my lunch or school cafeteria. It reminds most people of their childhood or of a decadent pot de creme from Europe. The first farm-to-table restaurant I really fell in love with, Potager in Denver, they had a chocolate pudding on their menu, and I thought it was so brilliant to do that. It’s something I always went back for. And I wanted to use that as an inspiration to always have it on my menu as well. It is simple, familiar, delicious, and unforgettable.”