Citybilly spins twist on comfort food

Downtown Los Angeles has become saturated with Italian restaurants, which is exactly why the owners of the 20-year-old Pasta Primavera on Seventh Street decided to do away with its original concept and bring a new kind of cuisine to Restaurant Row. The result is Citybilly, a cuisine described as “modern American comfort food with a twist,” which opened Sept. 22.

Glimpses of the Italian restaurant are still visible in the space’s Italian-inspired molding and art, but for a new opening, the eatery is off to its own unique start. Waiters wear suspenders with jeans and a button-down, a look that could be kitschy but works in the understated ambiance. The service is friendly — an escape from loud city life.

South burger · New restaurant Citybilly melds the taste of the South with trendy L.A. cuisine. It features a vegetarian portobella burger topped with walnut pesto sauce, smoked mozzarella and fresh baby arugula. - Theresa Huffman | Daily Trojan

The menu is the real star; every item is designed to bring a little bit of city to old country classics. The Mac’n’Cheeses, served in an iron skillet, is made with three cheeses, blended with distinguishable white truffle oil and topped with bread crumbs to give it a slightly upscale flair. Then there are two variations on the twice-baked potato: The City Potato with goat cheese and truffle and the Billy Potato with cheddar, bacon and chives.

Owner Grace Beck takes extra care to include organic, homegrown produce, which is evident in many of the menu items. The pomegranate lemonade is made with Meyer lemons hand-picked from her own garden and the Herb’n’field-style Greens Salad, which can be ordered as a meal or a side, is full of garden fresh flavors.

Other plates also rely on fresh produce to merge Southern cooking with classic Californian and Asian cuisines. The tuna tartare appetizer is accented with pear, avocado and mint aioli, while one of the chicken entrees is topped with yuzu vinaigrette, a dressing made with a traditional Chinese fruit.

Vegetarians who might feel left out at traditional meat-heavy Southern eateries can find hearty flavor in the portobella burger, a meatless twist on a cookout favorite.

The mushroom is topped with smoked mozzarella, walnut pesto, roasted pepper and baby arugula, all sandwiched between a brioche bun.

With solid lunch and dinner menus and a wine list full of bottles from small vineyards, Citybilly is now focusing on possible weekly specials such as burger and beer Mondays or fried chicken and champagne nights, to draw customers with various and even unexpected combinations.

The restaurant is also working on opening a coffee bar stocked with single-origin, hand-dripped coffees as well as organic teas and fresh pastries for the morning work crowd. The space already lends itself to a coffee shop setup; a bar and a glass case sit on one side of the restaurant, separated from most of the tables by a glass partition. If the chocolate blueberry cake available on the regular menu is any indication, the baked goods rival those of well-known nearby pastry shops.

The restaurant has a separate pastries chef, who is currently working with the management to create sweets that look as good as they taste and reflect various cultural elements. For instance, the apple pie in the works is somewhat of a cross between a French tart and an American classic pie, with perfectly placed apple slices and a shiny glaze.

If your schedule doesn’t allow for a trip Downtown during morning hours, try stopping by for lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The lunch menu offerings are very similar to those at dinner, but with a cheaper price tag. Still, the pricing is not unreasonable. None of the appetizers or salads exceeds $10, and the entrees are all less than $20.

Everything, from the creative dishes down to the bill, which takes the form of a miniature tin bucket secured with a clothespin, conveys Citybilly’s subtle whimsical nature.