Daniel Franks’ father, Michael, partnered with chef Robert Bell to open Chez Melange in 1982; Daniel’s mother, Lisa, runs the front of the house. Franks has worked in the restaurant since he was 15, and became Wine Director in 2008, managing what he describes as a small, mostly domestic list. The team has since opened Bouzy Gastropub and their third beach place, Bar Comida.
How have you focused your selections?
My dad and I have forged a lot of personal relationships with people from the Central Coast as well as Napa and Sonoma. We like to remain local whenever possible, so the Central Coast is probably the most prolific region on our list because of its proximity, and also Malibu—we’ve worked with Rosenthal [Estate] a lot, and with a newer property called Dolin Estate.
You list a chardonnay and a pinot noir as your most popular wines—and both are proprietary bottlings.
Karen Steinwachs from Buttonwood Winery makes them for us. She used to live in Redondo, behind the restaurant, so before she became a winemaker she was a neighbor. I rented her house when I moved back from college.
They’re made in a medium-bodied style, pretty high acidity with minimal oak. In fact the chardonnay used to be made in stainless; now there’s a touch of oak. We talk to Karen a lot about what we want, and she gets down to the restaurant a couple times a year to see what we’re doing with the menu. There’s a lot of communication back and forth about what we want for our menu and what she can deliver.
Your top-ten best selling wines are an unusual mashup of familiar and new—things like Rombauer Chardonnay and Kunin’s Pape Star Rhône blend.
Redondo is in this nexus of beach towns where we have a slightly more conservative clientele who want what they want, and I want to respect that, but I also want to challenge it.
Do you think there’s a beach-town culture to the local restaurants?
We’ve had a long tradition of really good chefs here—back to John Sedlar with St. Estephe [a groundbreaking southwest cuisine restaurant] and Guy Gabriele at Café Pierre [in Manhattan Beach]. There was a lineage, even though the customers looking for that sort of cuisine have moved inland to Hollywood or Culver City. But the beaches picked up again when David Lefevre started opening his restaurants like M.B. Post and Fishing with Dynamite. When you combine that with the food at the Shade Hotel, and Tin Vuong at Little Sister you’ve created this new mecca of dining right along the beach, one that’s not Santa Monica or Malibu.
Now the rents in Manhattan Beach are going crazy and so there’s new activity moving down coast. New restaurants are starting to pop up in Hermosa; Tin Vuong of Little Sister is doing a new thing, and even the pier is developing a few higher-end options.
We’ve got a kitchen full of young hungry cooks who are experimenting. They walk in here with the Alinea cookbook under their arm, or they’re talking about Ferran Adria. They want to try all these new things and Robert Bell, our chef, encourages that.