Curtis Stone, whose Los Angeles restaurants have garnered an array of accolades and Michelin stars, debuts a new four-month restaurant residency at The Grove on September 14. Stone’s latest venture, Picnic Society, is an al fresco dining experience that draws from his Hollywood restaurant, Gwen’s menu and butcher shop offerings. Since opening in 2016, Gwen has been synonymous with elaborate tasting menus and meticulously prepared high-end steaks. But they’ve also garnered a following for Gwen’s world-class butcher shop—a following that’s expanded considerably amid the COVID-19 pandemic and dine-in restaurant closures.
“We make our own charcuterie—French style charcuterie as well as dry cure—and we’re also doing rillettes and terrines and parfaits, all of that in house,” says Stone. After temporarily closing their dine-in service, Gwen saw a rising demand for these butcher shop offerings.
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“People [were] getting it to go on picnics, whether in their backyard or to go to a park and social distance,” says Stone.
Then they heard from Caruso, the real estate development company behind The Grove, offering a space available for four months. Stone explains that taking on a four-month residency at The Grove—a central Los Angeles outdoor dining and shopping hotspot—was a logical next step, leaning in to their fan’s enthusiasm for to-go butcher shop products.
“And it just made sense that we would do a picnic version of our restaurant,” says Stone. “We sort of wanted to make picnicking come alive.”
Enter: Picnic Society, a fine dining concept turned upscale grab-and-go. In addition to their butcher shop fixings, like house-cured meats, chicken liver parfait, pork rillette, and confit duck legs, Stone has expanded the menu to offer lobster rolls, spreadable dips like babaganoush, and other foodie-favorite picnic essentials. Customers can get pretty into the whole picnic experience, buying luxe tote bags for their grab-and-go treats, or dining on Picnic Society’s patio, where Gwen’s renown steaks and more traditional menu will also be available.
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As Stone prepares for the opening on September 14, he took some time to share his favorite Los Angeles spots with Departures—including where he’ll be enjoying his Picnic Society basket of charcuterie with his family. Stone has been an Angeleno for 11 years now and opened multiple fine dining concepts here. Nonetheless, his take on LA cuisine and hangouts is largely influenced by family life and surfing culture, as well as an appreciation for the cultural amalgamation LA is known for.
Between research for new venues and a general fervor for DTLA, Stone pops downtown fairly often—usually for LA’s exceptional Mexican food. He says it’s less about honing in on one establishment you’ve read about—though he is partial to Guisados—and more about stumbling across a place, either downtown or in east LA.
“They’re best when they’re just coming out of taco stands—that to me is LA at its finest,” says Stone.
In addition to more low-key takeout options in Los Angeles—like grabbing tacos at Guisados (their chicken mole poblano tacos are an essential LA food) and hand rolls from Kazu Nori, a hand roll bar from Sushi Nozawa Group, of Sugarfish fame—Stone says the downtown bar scene is well worth exploring. To start with, he calls out Birds and Bees, a basement speakeasy-esque bar with an ever-rotating cocktail menu that celebrates vintage mixology.
As an Australian living in the U.S., Stone primarily retreats to the beach to get back to his roots. But he admits he likes to take out of town friends to E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood, because it’s founded by Aussies, and therefore has a following that reaches all the way to Melbourne. The E.P. & L.P. team—led by Grant Smillie and David Combes of Botanical Hospitality Group—is known for their pan-Asian menu, but is currently experimenting with a Tulum-inspired and thoroughly distanced dining concept, Las Palmas, on their chic WeHo rooftop.
Malibu and Santa Monica
Days in Malibu are clearly a cornerstone of the Stone family culture. Stone is a longtime surfer—and right now his kids are learning to surf, so Stone and his wife love to make a day of it, posting up with a beach umbrella and cooler. “There are good fish tacos down in Malibu at a joint called Broad Street Oyster Company,” says Stone. “A crispy fish taco down there after a surf is up my alley.”
While his first choice for a picnic spot would honestly be his own backyard (“We have two pretty rambunctious dogs we find it hard to get out of the house without embarrassing us,” laughs the Brentwood-based chef), picnicking at Broad Beach would be a close second. He’s also a fan of bringing his family to Will Rogers State Beach, where the kids can play in the waves.
Turning his attention to fine dining, Stone recommends heading to Santa Monica “for a splurge” and visiting Josiah Citrin’s ventures. Melisse is an exceptional dining experience, as is chef Josiah’s newer bar concept, Citrin.
Koreatown, to Curtis Stone, exemplifies everything to love about dining in LA. And as the chef says, “LA’s such a wonderful city to eat in.”
His approach to LA cuisine, already evident by his genuine love of stumbling upon a taco shop or following a word-of-mouth recommendation, “is more regional than it is restaurant specific.”
By this he means, the best way to eat in LA is to head the neighborhood with the type of cuisine you’re craving. Downtown, east Los Angeles, and Boyle Heights are where you’re going to find the best tacos. And similarly, Koreatown is where you’re going to find some of the best Korean food outside of Asia.
“We have a whole precinct of wonderful Korean food in Koreatown,” says Stone. All you have to do is drive down Western Ave or along 6th Street in K-town and let your senses guide you.