What happens when two of the world’s most creative and boundary-pushing chefs team up for one of L.A.’s most anticipated restaurants? We’re about to find out, because as of Monday, Jessica Koslow and Gabriela Cámara’s long-awaited Onda is now open.
Sitting pretty at the base of Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel, the space appears all warm wood with modern but minimalist touches, a comfortable addition to the beachy city and the kind of place you can lounge comfortably over hearts of palm ceviche, masa-battered kelp and other L.A.-meets-Mexico City cuisine from the “sister cities” riding the same onda, or wave.
The ties to that sea, literal and metaphorical, are clear even before your meal begins thanks to an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s poem “The Sea” printed at the top of your menu:
I need the sea because it teaches me. I don’t know if I learn music or awareness, if it’s a single wave or its vast existence, or only its harsh voice or its shining suggestion of fishes and ships. The fact is that until I fall asleep, in some magnetic way I move in the university of the waves.
Cámara and Koslow, industry innovators, are on their own shared wave. Onda marks the first foray into Los Angeles for Cámara, the A Tale of Two Kitchens chef whose Mexico City spot, Contramar, is oft noted as one of the finest seafood restaurants in Mexico, if not the world, and whose chic-as-hell San Francisco cantina, Cala, made its own waves with socially-minded hiring practices and employee benefits rarely seen inside the restaurant industry.
Koslow, meanwhile, is one of L.A.’s most recognizable faces. After pioneering an illustrious jam operation, she transformed Sqirl into the all-day–café institution that it now is: a seasonal, fermented, fresh-picked temple to California bounty and the sort of freeform, creative and casual cooking that’s come to define L.A.’s restaurant scene.
Together, along with chef de cuisine Balo Orozco—who’s spent time in the kitchens of both Sqirl and Cala—they’re hoping to further marry the cuisines of Mexico and California, to cast light on their similarities and shared origins and produce and flavors by way of grilled-nopales salads with Tokyo turnips and smoked-pepita dressing; fermented-chile guacamole; jackfruit sopes; crispy pig-ear salads with curry leaf; and koji-marinated sweet potatoes with salsa macha.
Certainly seafood and the sea play a part at Onda, but it isn’t a seafood restaurant, per se. Kabocha squash, Peads & Barnetts pork, burnt pickles, chicory and house-pulled cheese weave their way through the menu just as often—if not more so—as the grilled branzino and charred octopus.
What you won’t find are the chefs’ signature items in the strictest sense: Cámara’s iconic red-and-green grilled snapper is nowhere to be found, nor are Koslow’s sorrel pesto rice bowls or ricotta toasts. There’s whole tapioca-fried market fish with sorrel, though, and other wholly new, collaborative items to explore and ride an entirely new wave.
Onda is now open at 700 Wilshire Blvd from 5 to 10pm daily, with all-day hours to follow soon.