David Rosoff Is Back in Silver Lake With Bar Moruno (But That’s Not All)
To say that David Rosoff is a seasoned operator in the Los Angeles restaurant scene would be doing the man a disservice. Since beginning his career in the industry three decades ago, Rosoff has held various general manager and wine director positions at some of the city’s most notable restaurants, including Michael’s, Campanile, all of Mozzaplex, and most recently Hippo and Triple Beam Pizza, earning plenty of acclaim along the way. Now, he has founded his own hospitality group called Intent to Dine, and is kicking things off with not just one, but two splashy restaurant openings (including the return of a beloved previous concept) and a retail store that together forms a dynamic culinary destination in the heart of Silver Lake.
Bar Moruno is the much-anticipated revival of the five-year dormant Spanish restaurant that Rosoff founded with chef Chris Feldmeier — formerly located at the Original Farmers Market and then Grand Central Market. It reopened in March, in its largest and most fully realized version yet, alongside Rápido, a tiny gourmet grocer that sells wine, canned cocktails, imported tinned fish, and prepared foods (plus bread from the Santa Monica-based baker Jyan Isaac). Causita, a Nikkei Peruvian restaurant helmed by chef Ricardo Zarate, will debut in April … all within 3,250 square feet on Sunset Boulevard.
We sat down with Rosoff to chat about how each of the three spots complements one another, why Silver Lake is the ideal neighborhood for the entire project, and what’s exciting about opening restaurants in L.A. today.
How do Bar Moruno, Causita, and Rápido fit together? Did you always envision several concepts together, or did it happen organically?
David Rosoff: At the start of 2021, when I formed Intent to Dine with my business partners, the idea was to survey the city, see what real estate was available, see what chefs were available, and try to make something work. We heard that this space — with two restaurant units plus a retail store — was open, and we knew we loved the location. After we finished the deal, one of my partners turned to me and said, ‘this would be a really good spot to put the Spanish concept back into.’
It’s been five years [since Bar Moruno in Grand Central Market closed] and Chris and I have remained very close. But I don’t think either of us believed we would ever have the opportunity to relaunch Bar Moruno. When I reached out to Chris, he was very quickly on board. I had also been talking to Ricardo about doing something, so Causita made perfect sense for the other restaurant space. The retail store wasn’t something we were necessarily looking for, but it didn’t take long to find a direction for it that would be complementary to the restaurants, and a good precursor to the restaurants, since we knew it would be the quickest to open. Rápido is sustainable long-term as a standalone operation, and the goal in the not too distant future is to do counter service lunch out of it, too.
It’s curious — this combination of all three concepts reflects the type of holistic business model that crystallized over the pandemic, when restaurants pivoted to becoming groceries, among other things.
Yeah. It’s a funny space because from the outside looking in, it definitely looks like three distinct spaces. But you can walk through the shared back of house. There’s one main kitchen. It really has to be a symbiotic operation. There would be no way for separate operators to come in here and try to run each section separately.
Do you feel like your experience running sister restaurants next door to one another — first at Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca, and later at Hippo and Triple Beam Pizza — has given you a predilection for creating “plex” style operations?
Now that you mention it, opening multiple venues next to each other has been a big part of my history. I think it helps create a synergy that gives people more than one reason to come into your immediate area. It doesn’t even have to be that somebody has a full dinner at Bar Moruno, it could just be that they have a glass of sherry there and then they go to Causita for dinner. And maybe they grab a couple of bottles of wine at Rápido, too. It doesn’t make any sense to have three things next to each other that overlap but can’t contribute to the success of the others.
What does it mean for you to be opening these restaurants in Silver Lake? Do you live in the neighborhood?
I can walk home from here in about 10 minutes. As we were building the restaurant, I had a walking loop around the neighborhood so I could see everything that was happening. It feels great. I’m born and raised in L.A., so I certainly have known Silver Lake for a long time. People in the neighborhood here want to explore, they’re receptive, they’re open to new ideas, and they want experiences, but they don’t want them to be pretentious or contrived. We have some very nice neighbors and we’re happy to be on this stretch of Sunset, right on the triangle where there’s a farmers market twice a week, and where there’s the vibrancy of people walking around. That’s not always the case in L.A.—it’s hard to find a pocket like this.
What’s different about this revival of Bar Moruno, compared to its past iterations?
It’s very similar. I think it’s just a better place in time. It’s in the proper venue. This is the type of space we always wanted it to be in. We were in two public markets, so we were limited in what we could do. I was very proud of the space that we built in Grand Central Market, but the partnership there just didn’t work out. Five years later, we feel the concept is just as fresh as it was back then.
When you say it’s the right place and the right time to bring back Bar Moruno — in addition to Rápido next door — does that have anything to do with the increasing popularity of tinned fish?
Yeah. We felt several years ago that there was a movement toward sherry and vermouth, and tinned fish and things like that. You can see the groundswell of support when you read through blogs or pay attention to what’s happening on social media. So you can see it coming, you just don’t know how long it’s going to take for it to reach the mainstream. I think that being in Silver Lake, we’re a lot closer to the epicenter than we might have been before. When we opened Rápido a month ago, the receptivity was immediately palpable. People were walking in and filling up bags with tinned fish. Instead of looking at the wall and saying, ‘Ew, sardines. Why would you eat those?’ They were like, ‘Oh, my God, look at how many sardines you have.’ So that was just thrilling to me, and confirmation that this could actually work.
And the popular Santa Monica bakery Jyan Isaac also sells its bread inside Rápido?
They had approached us a couple of months before we opened, looking for an east side retailer. It’s such a small space, but there was an area behind the counter that wasn’t being used, so it was perfect. Five days a week, we have bread delivered fresh at eight o’clock in the morning. It’s pretty terrific.
What’s your approach to wine at Bar Moruno versus next door at Causita?
We don’t work with anything that’s not at least organically farmed. It doesn’t have to be certified because certification is tricky in some places. I just need to know about practices, I need to know that there’s no poison being sprayed into the soil. Beyond that, if it’s biodynamic, great, if it’s natural but well made and it tastes good, even better. Regionally, I tried to keep them separate, so that it would make sense.
I largely stuck to what I had done five years ago at Bar Moruno here, which is Spain; the deep south of France (Languedoc and Roussillon), which flows into Catalonia; plus a section I call “islands and volcanoes” — anything growing on an island or in volcanic soil — and includes a little bit of Greece and Italy, which was hard to avoid because it’s like a second home to me. I just drilled that down to two great varieties, nebbiolo and sangiovese, and that’s all I’m representing here.
Next door at Causita there is more of all the other French stuff. Loire Valley, Jura, Burgundy, Champagne, Austria — some grüner veltliner and riesling — and we’ll also have a little feature section of South American wines, which is not really in my wheelhouse, to be quite honest. I’m gonna learn a little something here. A little bit of Chile and Argentina, and there’s an importer I work with who’s bringing in some natural Peruvian wine.
What about right now in Los Angeles makes it an exciting time to open a restaurant?
It’s a very hard thing to assess, given where we are, coming out of the pandemic, because everything changed so dramatically. Everybody had to pivot or die. What the public needed out of a restaurant changed dramatically. Now that people are out and about again, will they just revert right back to where they were in 2019 in terms of how they use restaurants? Will their patterns change? Will they be looking for different kinds of things? I don’t know the answer to that.
But I do think that people will return to restaurants and see them as havens. And I think they’re going to be so relieved to be served and to be able to relax and break bread with their friends for two hours in this kind of setting. As cool as Zooming while you’re getting delivery was, this is what people want to be doing. And so I’d like to think that smaller, more creative, more hospitable places will be the trend — places that feel warm, that feel authentic, that have an intention; where you can walk in and sense that there’s a point of view.
Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.