Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Personal chef Danielle Bernabe took us to her local restaurant and bar, which is not a pickup joint, she swears.
When I walk into Jones to meet Danielle Bernabe, I feel like I've walked onto the set of a Disarrono commercial. Except for one guy with tattoos all over his face, everyone looks as if they've just whitened their teeth that very day. It's 11pm on a Thursday night, and the throng of singles look ready to exchange at least digits in the inviting yet mob-like atmosphere.
The bar, set up in a square for easy conversation and/or winking at strangers, is up a few steps from the restaurant. It's a stage for those having dinner to watch the mating rituals of the beautiful people in LA.
Danielle and I get a table on the side with a perfect view. Covered with the standard Italian red and white checkered table cloth, it feels carved into the wall, far enough from the action. Covered on each side by a heavy hanging screen, we feel like voyeurs. We can watch, but nobody can see us. The bar's darkness and the tablecloth make me feel like I'm in some sort of Soprano lair. This might be the place where serious orders take place. Not just food orders.
Danielle: This is a good view, but I usually watch from my perch.
She points to a few seats at the bar that face the restaurant and stand a bit higher than the others.
Laurenne: You have your own perch?
Danielle: Yep. It's my spot. I love to watch people and guess what they're about. Is that his mistress? Are they on a first date? Are they in a fight?
Laurenne: What's the craziest thing you've seen from your perch?
Danielle: That would have to be when I sent Topher Grace a drink. On accident.
Laurenne: The guy from That 70s Show? On accident?
Danielle: Yeah! I thought he was Tobey Maguire, who is a vegan. I'm a vegan chef, so I thought it was destiny. I was too scared to send him a drink, so my three friends each chose someone too. We all sent drinks, and mine just sat on Topher Grace's table next to his martini. He didn't even acknowledge that he got it. But all the other people did, and it become a game of the entire bar sending drinks to each other. I have never laughed so hard in my life. All the bar was in on it EXCEPT for Topher Grace. Everyone was cracking up but him.
Laurenne: He never even said 'thanks?'
Danielle: Nope! And the waiter told him it was from the girl in the white hat. I know this because the waiter is my neighbor. I love that hat.
Laurenne: You know the waiter? You're a total regular, huh?
Danielle: A few times a week. I would come here every night if people wouldn't judge me for being here every night.
After much debate, we order the Oven-Roasted Chicken Salad and the Vegefina pizza. I trust Danielle since she's a chef and has tried everything on the menu. I go for a boring house Cabernet, but Danielle gets her favorite "Groupie" cocktail, a mix of muddled lemons, Kettle One, and ginger beer.
Laurenne: Why do you like Jones so much?
Danielle: This place is the best. They put a spin on everything. The salad we just ordered has fried mushrooms on it. The pizza we're getting has this amazing pesto as a sauce. And wait for the apple pie! Not only does it come in a skillet with the gooey carmel sauce boiling around it, they put rosemary in it. Or maybe it's basil. Something green. Every single thing has some sort of detail to it that shows they really thought about it. But the food is just one reason. The people are all so fun. And they're open really late.
Laurenne: Yeah, why do you need to eat dinner late?
Danielle: Now I do my vegan chef job on the side. In the daytime, I work PR and produce webisodes for other chefs and workout personalities, so I have to cook for my clients at night. I'll finish up late and then swing by Jones. But even when I'm not working, I come here. Jones is always my last stop of the evening. Plus, I live right next door.
Laurenne: Be honest. How many dates have you met at this place?
I look at the myriad of men milling and mingling.
Laurenne: Come on! There is no way I believe you. You are a hot single chick who comes to this minefield of sexy three times a week! Off the record. I swear I won't print this. How many?
Danielle: I promise! Yes, guys buy me drinks, but I have a rule to never get dates from Jones. What's that expression? Don't eat your own poop? Don't sit where you eat?
Laurenne: Something like that, yes.
Danielle: Plus, I don't want the bartenders to judge me! Floyd helps me with my Fantasy Football team, and I want it to stay like that.
We eat a lot. A LOT. The bubbling pie is good. Really really good.
The bill comes along with some fortune cookies.
Laurenne: Why fortune cookies at an Italian restaurant?
Danielle: Because every single time I've been here, people ask that question. It's a conversation starter.
The manager comes to sit with us. It is like a mobster hangout. The employees and regulars are like a family. But as far as I can see, most people are ordering pie, not murders.
7205 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
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