Originally opened in 1962 by actor turned-chef/owner Johnny Harlowe, Dear John’s in Culver City was funded by none other than Frank Sinatra, who was a regular because of the steakhouse’s proximity to the studios. After several changes of guard, the space recently landed in the hands of chefs Josiah Citrin and Hans Röckenwagner, who have teamed up to revamp the menu. Classic dishes like tableside Caesar salads and Frank’s Pasta with clams shine, as do dishes with a dose of camp, like an inside out, mozzarella-stuffed chicken Parm, and tater tots topped with caviar and salmon roe. There are, of course, excellent martinis (Frank wouldn’t have it any other way) and a perfect New York-style cheesecake served alongside seasonal Santa Monica Farmers Market stone fruit.
The interiors endearingly call on the Palm Springs Rat Pack era. Patti Röckenwagner, an entertainment industry vet, wife to Hans and part owner, has impeccably arranged 80 pieces of original 1950s and ’60s artwork featuring musicians, abstracts and women’s portraits in the dimly lit room, giving it major Mister Parker’s vibes. The ubiquitous hip-hop playlists from the majority of Angeleno restaurants has been swapped for old-timey tunes, and there’s a chatty, convivial buzz about the restaurant. But have no fear: There’s nothing cheesy or overdone about it.
While you may want to attribute the restaurant’s growing fanfare to local excitement over a new spot in somewhat of a no man’s land of Culver City (fair assessment), it could be because the restaurant is set to close in April of 2021. Like much of L.A., it will be redeveloped, meaning this time capsule of a bygone era will eventually be gone for good. Until then, savor the ice cold martinis, dig into the perfectly cooked steak and soak up the truly excellent vibes of this classic gem.