Saltie Girl Is the Sunset Strip’s Splashy New Seafood Spot
What does it take to make a restaurant work on the Sunset Strip? It must be snazzy enough to tempt those who want to splash out on a celebratory meal. It must be inviting enough for folks who decide to pop in for a few oysters and a martini. And it must be compelling yet reassuring enough to convince locals to come back repeatedly. For restaurateur Kathy Sidell, expanding Saltie Girl beyond its original Boston location required her to consider this question, while simultaneously returning to her roots and rethinking her expectations. “I thought, ‘How can I do this in an original way?’” she says. Here’s where she netted out, and everything you need to know before heading to the Strip.
Location, Location, Location
Boston native Sidell fell in love with L.A. as a teenager, visiting the city with her mother. “I remember the trip so vividly. We went to Spago, we went to Casa Cugat Mexican Cuisine. I thought L.A. was just the most interesting place,” she recalls. With two of her adult children now living here (including son Ben, a pastry chef who now oversees desserts at the restaurant), the stars aligned to relocate.
Located halfway between the classic rock dive Whiskey A Go Go and the yuks at the Comedy Store, Saltie Girl opened in December in a prime spot in the Sunset Plaza. (And yes, there is a parking lot, though it tends to fill up early.) The vibe inside channels the glamor of the high seas, with halo-esque light fixtures, curved porthole windows, and warm, dark wood lending a low-key yacht vibe. The large, covered patio with white-and-teal banquettes is perfect for people watching on warm nights.
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From Boston to L.A.
Sidell spent her childhood sailing (and snacking on seafood) with her father, a banker who invested in some of Boston’s best-known talent early on, including chefs Jasper White, Todd English, and Lydia Shire. “My dad was insanely passionate about food and really fostered a whole generation of chefs in the city,” Sidell says.
Sidell’s early love of good food gave way to a passion for film, which led her to a first career as a producer, working with documentarian Errol Morris. In 2004, she ventured into the restaurant world with the burger-centric Met Back Bay in Boston. A small space directly next door was aching for the right concept, but lacking hoods over the stoves. Sidell took it as an opportunity to open the first Saltie Girl in 2015, a 30-seat Barcelona-inspired seafood counter offering crudos, tinned fish, lobster rolls, and the like. Using Met’s kitchen, she eventually added fried food and hot dishes. Six months in, Saltie Girl was a raging success, and Sidell has been eyeing an L.A. expansion ever since.
Seafood for any and every occasion
Sidell hopes that Saltie Girl will fill several niches in its new city. “A lot of the seafood in L.A. is either very high-end or very low-end. What’s lovely about Saltie Girl is that you can come in and have half-dozen oysters and a glass of cold rosé, or you can splurge on caviar, Champagne, and lobster.”
Although her roots are New England, Sidell considers the menu at Saltie Girl more global in theme. “We have fish from all over the world and we cook in every iteration,” she says. But when it comes to New England-style seafood, “we give the people what they want.” That means creamy clam chowder with chunks of potatoes and bacon; a covetable lobster roll drizzled with butter and served with housemade salt and vinegar potato chips; and baskets of golden-fried Ipswich clams. Platters of spaghetti topped with lobster, uni on toast, pastrami-smoked salmon, tuna tartare, moules frites, caviar, and seafood towers round out the menu. There are non-seafood offerings, like an extravagant pub burger with pork belly, crisp seasonal salads, and roasted vegetable sides. Expect a full array of wine, beer, and cocktails, too. It’s the kind of menu that offers a little bit of everything, and a lot of one very specific thing, that comes in a tin.
In The Can
Saltie Girl specializes in a mind-boggling array of tinned seafood options from around the world, currently clocking in somewhere around the 135 varieties mark. The options go way beyond sardines (although there are more than two dozen varieties of those on the menu). You’ll also find anchovies, octopus, mussels, mackerel, salmon, scallops, sea urchins, oysters, squid, hake, cockles, clams, branzino, eel, cod, trout, and tuna, among others, typically preserved in oil, though sometimes with lemon, garlic, chili, or tomato sauce. If you’re a connoisseur of such things, keep an eye out for brands such as Fishwife, Patagonia (yes, the outdoor gear company), Güeyu Mar, Don Gastronom, Matiz, and Ramón Peña.
“This has become a true hobby and passion for me [and] my whole team,” says Sidell. “We’re just so in love with these tins and so thrilled by their growth in the last few years. This year alone we’ve tasted tins that have never existed before, and the quality is just incredible.”
Elina Shatkin is a multimedia journalist, podcast producer and filmmaker. She is currently a producer for Good Food at KCRW and has previously worked at LAist/KPCC, L.A. Weekly, and The L.A. Times. Follow her here. Follow Resy, too.