I can't help it: Every time I walk into a restaurant, my first thought isn't about the menu, the wait time at the hostess stand, the decor or the music. It's, "Will this place survive?"
Pure reflex. Has nothing to do with appearances or reputations or Deathwatching or anything beyond this is what it's like to live in 2009. Blame my late father (he won't mind; he'd be proud that I absorbed his lessons so well), but restaurants are a vulnerable construct at best (80% die off in the first five years, yadda yadda) and in the current marketplace, everything feels fragile.
However, like it says in the brass-embedded polished concrete at Ammo's doorstep, "est 1996." It's already beaten the odds. And still, they're as worried as everyone else. They have a new publicist, they're flogging homemade ice cream sundaes, they're doing farm-to-table evenings and artisanal tequila tastings and inviting people like me to have dinner.
Oh, Ammo. To quote another 1996 establishment, you're so money and you don't even know it.
Part of Ammo's charm is it's long been an industry standard for lunch (started out by doing a lot of set catering, it's close to casting offices and it's halfway between the valley and Beverly Hills) and now that "stock options" have become a fancy way of saying "sucker!", it now looks like an especially clever choice for dinner (and judging by the crowd on a Tuesday night, Hollywood's already gotten the memo).
Handsome but not ostentatious (and a great playlist!), fair prices for reasonable portions, Ammo also has the gimlet eye of GM Benedikt Bohm, who walks the room like a panther looking for invitations to pounce. (If there's anything this economy may be good for, it may act as the long-needed vaccine for the tragic Lazy Eye syndrome that afflicts so many LA servers. "I don't see you, I'm not looking, I can't see you…")
What we ate: A plate of a dozen vegetables, each pickled in its own seasoned brine. Risotto with asparagus and peas, creamy and light. Thin-crust pizza showered with baby leeks and bacon. Kampachi with avocado and blood orange. Crisped pork belly with tiny white beans. Hanger steak with root vegetables, lamb tenderloin on a mound of minted peas and lemony yogurt sauce. And the aforementioned ice cream sundaes.
Delicious. Especially the pickled vegetables, those minted peas, the kampachi with a bite of blood orange. Especially when it was a chaser for the rich and crispy pork.
And the ice cream sundaes? It was the only bit that felt a little desperate. The ice creams and sorbets are homemade and impressive, but flavors like parsnip and popcorn feel like they're trying too hard — although they taste better than they sound, especially when drizzled with blood-orange caramel. (The blood orange can do no wrong.) But really, I'd have been just happy with that tiny scoop of vanilla.