Leona, What is good?

Has anyone made it to Nyesha Arrington’s Leona yet? I tried to walk in early on a Wednesday with out a reservation and it was already packed. Any thoughts? That area is becoming interesting with Charcoal just a few blocks down as well.

Just went to Leona and Charcoal in the last week. At Leona had smelt, which was not fresh but beautifully fried; mushroom pizza which had a cracker like crust and was light on the mushrooms( they warned us), which was good for cracker crust pizza; duck confit, which was crispy savory and delicious; lamb belly wontons, nicely herbed with some rich broth and the star, cauliflower aligot unbelievably smooth and rich. Generally uneven, but I would go back.
Charcoal went with wife and another couple. Overall, superlative, memorable.
Cabbage starter with zumac and yogurt cooked over charcoal tender, subtly flavored, disappeared in seconds. Calamari rings cooked over charcoal with long beans bread crumbs and cherry/grape tomatoes, maybe best of evening. Also subtle, wonderfully tender. Baked potato over charcoal with beurre de barratte and yogurt or sour cream, skin crispy not burnt, as good as it gets.
Carrots terrific but not best ever. Aged lamb leg same. Short rib terrific over charcoal, had some chew. Go for the meat, stay for the fish and veggies.

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Drove to Charcoal to get aged duck, but just barely missed it. They will be doing Squab soon though, so I’ll be back for sure. Decided to go try Leona to see what it’s like for myself.

Pretty mixed bag in my estimation. It’s a cozy little space for sure, with rather wonky service, and a high rate of variability in the cooking and service.

I would’ve greatly preferred to have things just come out one by one, but everything arrived at the same time. Maybe I’m too used to prevailing dining trends, idk, I like to just savor each dish on their own somewhat, but that is fairly inconsequential.

By far the most disappointing dish of the night was the Meatballs de Corazon. The meatballs themselves are flavorless, and taste like boiled meat, no seasoning, and very well boiled. Hard to imagine anything more bland. The unseasoned sweet potato mash was not what they needed as an accompaniment, nor were the completely boring plantain chips. I felt mislead, as I had assumed fried plantains were whole plantain slices similar to what one would get in a Cuban restaurant. There was a bit of chile de arbol sauce that tastes a bit Taco Bell-esque, but did nothing overall for the dish, the elements didn’t come together at all. A total disaster in my estimation.

They mistakenly brought out the Black Cod in Onion Broth instead of the Squash Dumplings. I sort of wish they had just left the dish to replace the meatballs, as I took a bite before realizing the mistake, and it seemed pleasant enough, certainly better than the meatballs, although not super interesting necessarily. They whisked it away into a trash quickly though shrugs.

Fries with kale salt were nice enough, basically just good french fries, maybe a little on the greasy side surprisingly, but fine. I almost would’ve been ok with just having all fried kale. The seaside sauce was a nicely briny aioli. I guess you can’t ask for much more from fries shrugs

Cauliflower Aligot came with a very gooey smoked mozzarella crust. Very smooth, buttery, and smokey. Really rich, and intense. Fun enough in its own way.

The Squash Dumplings showed up, but sadly no dumpling format as the squash had switched, so it was just pureed into the tapioca risotto. Despite being sort of sad about missing the oddball prep that Johnathan Gold liked so much, this was probably the best dish of the night. Fascinating textural contrasts from the popping papaya seeds, pumpkin seeds, pleasantly astringent greens, a kind of savory tapioca squash pudding that mixed very well with the creamy, stringy mass of burrata in the center. A very layered, unusual, fresh-tasting dish. I was hoping everything would be like this.

We finished up with the Maldon Salt Chocolate Caramel Lavender Shortbread Bar with Whipped Cream. Absolutely fabulously thick whipped cream, and the bar itself was beautifully layered with different textures and flavors. Just the right hints of salt, and lavender. A very refreshing chocolate dessert, which is quite difficult to pull off.

Overall, I am afraid I wouldn’t really return. Charcoal is several leagues above it in terms of quality of cooking and too nearby to ever bother if you don’t live in the neighborhood. It seemed too inconsistent, flashes of something interesting popped up – I wonder how I might’ve felt if I just came and ordered the squash dumplings and the chocolate bar? – but it seems the menu is too ambitious for the talents of the chef, or of the cooks to pull all of it off. Since this is not the type of place that will take dishes that don’t shine off your bill, I don’t find the risk of returning worthwhile. I guess they weren’t packed on a Friday night, so they must be desperate for money? Ah well.

If you live in the neighborhood, it’s probably a fun little place to eat at, not really bad overall, but just inconsistent. I was reminded in some ways of my Playground dinner recently sadly, but maybe they will improve with time. I leave it to others to find out.

Really too bad they don’t have hard liquor license, food would be much better with cocktails. I had a pleasant cream ale with dinner that fit well though.

So with that reasonably priced single beer, for two people, including tax + tip, the bill was exactly $100. If you were paying $30/person all told you might feel much better about this kind of meal, but it’s an expensive neighborhood I guess, so probably par for the course. I think there are too many incredible options nearby for them to last unless they improve though (Charcoal literally down the block, Sunny Spot and Scopa a little further up, Gjelina, Wilie Jane, and Tasting Kitchen just a bit over on Abbot Kinney, and Hatchet Hall, A-Frame, Alibi Room, and Corner Door just a little further up Washington. This area is absolutely booming with great restaurants, most of which are destination-worthy, I suppose it’ll be interesting to see where they are in a year).

Eljeffy:

when you say "not fresh"
are you meaning FROZEN or are you meaning STARTING TO SPOIL?

thank you

I am meaning starting to spoil.

thank you for the info.