Chef Spotlight: Casey Lane of Viale dei Romani
Inside every great chef is an artist and a chemist and – if you are Casey Lane – a structural engineer.
“Creation is something I’ve always been really interested in and it’s why I’m interested in so many things. Engineering really excites me. It’s how it’s going work, the refined thinking of what’s going to make this function properly and better and better.”
At 35, four-time James Beard Award nominated Lane helms the delightfully innovative Viale dei Romani at the La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood. The restaurateur also runs the Tasting Kitchen in Venice, Breva and Veranda at the Hotel Figueroa in DTLA, and Casa Apicii in New York’s Greenwich Village. He is a veteran of Portland’s clarklewis restaurant.
Viale’s unstudied chic makes it a natural for an elegant dinner but it’s also one of the city’s best under-the-radar happy hours, aka Aperitivo. (More on that later.)
Rooted in Italian coastal cooking, with an emphasis on seafood, the menu is Lane’s homage to tradition, craft and as he puts it: pure blind creativity. “I really enjoy the thoughtful process of what introducing each of these things is going to do to our end result, how they should play together – what should be a supporting character and what is a lead character. The thinking is what got me excited about cooking.”
A key part of the narrative is Lane’s sophisticated use of spices. The El Paso, Texas, native draws on Southern seasoning techniques as well as revered family recipes for French (Marseilles) and Moroccan fare.
Growing up, he often helped his grandfather prepare meals for large gatherings, hence the appearance of saffron fried rice and falafel cecina on Viale’s menu. Says Lane: “I’m a big fan of things that are passed down – the craftsmanship behind the job is really interesting to me.”
A glorious dining experience
Lane felt strongly about preparing food that would distinguish Viale dei Romani from the many other Italian restaurants in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. “We wanted to create a bit of an old-school glorious dining experience and I think that definitely sets us apart from a lot of what’s in the neighborhood. West Hollywood knows what it wants and the showmanship of the entire experience is something that I was very passionate about.”
A few flamboyant examples from the menu are the spaghetti clam show and “the world’s best Bolognese.” Lane’s favorite items to suggest: lasagna or market fish. And the crudo has earned a following since the restaurant opened in January 2018.
Need we add there is a wine, beer and spirits list? Of the wines, about 60 percent are Italian with a focus on indigenous varietals, according to Beverage Director Francois Renaud. “People love the big wines here, which makes it fun,” he says.
Lane is also inspired by music; he and KCRW’s Mathieu Schreyer curate the playlist for Viale. Songs and styles pop up frequently in conversation, particularly in describing an ever-popular item that some might simply call a slice of crispy, gooey bliss, but which Lane refers to as “Parisian punk rock pizza.” He is drawn to bread making in all its forms.
Aperitivo Happy Hour
Viale’s new Aperitivo happy hour menu offers two $12 pizza choices. Other scrumptious selections include wood-fired prawns, oysters, fried clams, falafel, truffled fries and grilled calamaro. As for cocktails, Lane likes the margarita best; you won’t go wrong with a Campari Spritz. (Aperitivo runs Monday through Thursday 4-7 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 2-7 p.m.)
Relaxing as you graze on Aperitivo nosh is a great low-key way to enjoy the La Peer. Viale dei Romani is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – perfect for a power meeting or a romantic evening. Lane hopes people will use the hotel in lots of different ways. “We want the property to be the social hub of the neighborhood,” he says.
Whether you are stopping by for a snack or sitting down to several courses, you will find that Lane and Renaud have thought out all the details of their culinary presentation.
“There’s very little ad hoc,” says Lane. “It’s a lot of method and a principled approach.”