Abernethy’s: The Music Plaza Renovation Brings a Culinary Revolving Door to DTLA
Around 50 years ago, a group of innovative community leaders joined forces to bring the performing arts center that LA deserved to the heart of the city. Raising over 30 million dollars to bring this juggernaut to life, none of this would have been possible without Dorothy Chandler. A feminist far ahead of her time, Chandler was deeply involved in our fair city at a both culturally and politically and had a massive part in shaping the city we know and love today. Chandler is known to this day to be the true matriarch of the LA arts scene, saving the Hollywood Bowl in the early 1950’s and later bringing the necessary parties together to bring the The Music Center to life.
Now in an age much different than when this dream first became a reality, The Plaza at The Music Center thrives with a dreamy new renovation. Amidst iconic dancing fountains, you’ll find three new dining/drinking options. Popular coffee destination, Go Get em Tiger, has moved in with their third location serving up their locally-roasted coffee and signature concoctions. Mullin Wine bar, led by Christiaan Röllich, an author and true virtuoso of the modern cocktail, is to feature a curated bottle list by neighborhood wine shops and custom craft cocktails by some of LA’s libational experts. As the experience expands atop Armani marble and dark wood, both an early and late happy hour are also available as an approachable way to begin or end an evening out.
Getting down to the meat of it, no pun intended, is what is to become one of the hottest new DTLA eateries: Abernethy’s. A unique dining experience even for one of the most saturated markets in the world, Abernethy’s will feature a new chef and menu every quarter, which is intended to bring blended culture and an all-inclusive element to the forefront of the culinary experience. Upon its grand opening on September 5th, the first chef in the rotation is Shirley Chung, a Beijing-born, Chinese-American former Top Chef contestant who’s inspirational background and infectious energy bleeds brightly into her craft. Making a name for herself after culinary school in an externship working for Thomas Keller in Napa Valley at The French Laundry, Shirley was later brought on to open Bouchon in Las Vegas, as well as Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace and three, yes three, of Mario Batali restaurants until she was head-hunted by Jose Andreas who brought her over to Chino Poblano. This earned her the reputation of “The Opener.”
“Growing up I read a lot of literature about it, but I never really followed a Chinese chef to learn how to cook Chinese food in a commercial kitchen.” says Shirley. “I don’t cook according to any region of China because I believe me being American, I shouldn’t follow those rules because they’re only rules because of the region.”
After 13 years in Las Vegas and two Top Chef runs, Chung opened her own Chinese-focused eatery in Downtown Culver City by the name of Miss Chi Cafe just last year. Upon Abernethy’s culmination, big names in the culinary community like Chef Susan Feniger (Border Grill & ) and Chef Niki Nakayama (N/Naka), as well as tastemakers such as TV writer/producer Phil Rosenthal and food writer/editor Russ Parsons voted Shirley in along with each of the featured chefs in after tasting around the city trying to find the perfect lineup.
As Abernethy’s remains under Shirley’s reign for the time being, the room is a personal ode to her family, her heritage, her passion, and her journey to get to where she is today. It all seems to come full circle. You can even find a photo of Chung with family with her as just a small child as the first page of the menu. Splashed with twelve colorful dishes, such as her take on Cacio e Pepe -- which is a collaboration between her and her good friend, Chef Sylvia Barban. Created as a nod to their Italian and Chinese heritages, S Squared Cacio e Pepe is made with Northern China style noodles, tofu, pecorino cream and Sichaun peppercorn. You’ll also find Beijing lamb belly that practically melts in your mouth, and the appropriately-named Singapore-style dish from Shirley’s cook book Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen, called Bowl of Hugs -- which features a hot meat and bone herbal tea, pork ribs, American ginseng, goji berries, and mochi puffs. Talk about comfort food.
“It’s a lot of I really want to eat, it’s very dumpling and noodle-driven -- something that I had been practicing since I was six years old. It’s homemade, it’s comfort food, but using my fine dining background, I’m not necessarily elevating it, but making it more fun and more modern.”
The bright and spacious interior features a stunning bar stacked with high-quality spirits to be spun into delicious craft cocktails and served to your preference. The Green Lantern is listed on the menu as Shirley’s favorite cocktail from China with Chivas Regal, lemon juice, jasmine green tea syrup, and ginger, whereas you can also find the most majestic lychee martini made with Shirley’s special blend of Titos, lychee liqueur, and lime juice.
As The Music Center and everything it encompasses exists to highlight the creativity of LA, from the artwork, down to every bowl, you can find that of an Angelenos touch. Be sure to take a close look at the painting that sits just to the left of the bar, titled Migration, which was directly inspired by Shirley and her personal journey into her truth as a creative professional. Be sure to catch each residency over the next twelve month. After Chung, next up is Jason Fullilove of Barbara Jean & The Magic Castle, who will be followed by Ryan Costanza, Geter Atienza, and Chef Pla and Fern Kaewtathip. Get to booking!
Written by Dakota Nate | Photography by Robiee Ziegler