Chef Jet Tila has been busy filming a television show for PBS in Thailand, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking over his first restaurant in Los Angeles. Next week, Angel’s cocktail bar in Santa Monica turns over the keys to Tila, the former executive chef for Wazuzu at Encore Las Vegas, and changes into The Charleston. And this in the midst of his pop-up dinner at Origin India Restaurant and Lounge with master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim next Wednesday. While the venue will remain open, Tila plans a makeover of the interior of The Charleston to make it into a Santa Monica speakeasy.
“I’m going away from my roots as an Asian chef by highlighting my roots as a restaurateur. I wanted to be home. I wanted to have an F&B presence back home,” Tila says of his decision to makeover the cocktail bar. “It’s a fantastic location. No one has really understood how to cut this diamond to make it shine.”
While the lounge will stay open during renovations, or as Tila puts it, “We take the car into the body shop for a few weeks and pimp it out,” expect to see a major renovation of the menu and cocktail list as well.
“Basically I want everyone to understand it’s going to be a bar with great food first,” Tila says. “We’ll be debuting brunch by the mid part of this year. We’ll feature very beverage-friendly small bites.”
Tila plans to serve Thai street fare similar to the bites he introduces next week during a pop-up dinner at Origin India Restaurant and Lounge in Las Vegas. “[The Charleston] will be a laboratory for me to play when I come up with some crazy ideas. I don’t want to call it a gastropub. It’s a fun place to have a bunch of cocktails and drinks.”
At his pop-up dinner in Vegas, he’s teaming up with master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, who will create a cocktail pairing for the night. Abou-Ganim is giving the Charleston cocktail menu “an eyeball to see if he can inspire some cocktails.”
Tila plans to offer live music with deejays on the weekend. Chef friends may come in to do their own pop-up dinners and authors will do book signings.
Tila says the common ownership between Bru Haus and The Charleston could turn his consulting gig at the Los Angeles sushi bar into something more in the future, but no plans are inked. He also plans to continue his Breadbar Bistronomics pop-up dinners sometime in the spring. “Like all the good HBO shows, you need to give people a break.”
Back in Vegas, Tila’s pop-up dinner features five courses. “All around the country, there’s a huge surge of really good Asian street food. Vegas is my second home. I wanted to bring some international flavor to Las Vegas. I just want to bring really cool shit to Vegas.”
Tila and Abou-Ganim hammered out the menu in their first collaboration. “We sat down and pounded out all the menu items. This is not a classic pairing. Like everything I’ve ever done, this is really about having fun. A culinary jam session. The flavors make sense. If anyone is going to poo poo about pairings they can stay home.”
Of course, as with anything involving Tila, expect some surprises at the dinner. “There’s going to be some special guests who I might be collaborating with in Vegas. You know me. I’m always thinking ahead.”
Which leads to his future in Sin City. As of this week, he’s completely out of Wazuzu, leaving him no home restaurant in Vegas. But like his dinners, Tila does have some tricks up his sleeve. “You know, I really love Las Vegas. I really enjoyed my time at Wynn. I have no concrete plans, nothing in the books,” he says of opening a restaurant in Vegas. “I promise to have a monthly pop up in Vegas.”
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Jet Tila and his dog, Daisy. [Photo: Jet Tila]