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Vault XXI Opens in Little Tokyo

By Pamela Rouse
Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2010, at 05:29PM
Vault XXI Pamela Rouse

Chef Michael Martinez stands inside Vault XXI, the restaurant he helped open this month inside the Little Tokyo Galleria.

The bank buildings in Downtown’s Historic Core have long been a favorite target for reuse, but it is a former bank space in the Little Tokyo Galleria that provides the home for new boutique restaurant Vault XXI.

Chef Michael Martinez describes the concept as “California contemporary American.” “We have a little bit of everything,” he explains. “We highlight it with French and Italian.” The focus is on small farms, sustainable and all-organic food. “Everything is from scratch, we don’t pre-buy anything except for my bread, which is from LaBrea, but that’s baked fresh every day.”

He notes they just don’t have the space in the kitchen to make the bread. Instead, some of that space is used for the wood-burning oven where they bake their thin crust Tuscany pizzas.

The desserts are handmade by pastry chef Jocelyn Tubig, formerly of Pacific Palms Resort in Orange County. “Everything she does is beautiful,” Martinez says. Like the menu itself, the desserts are seasonal.

Martinez, who has 20 years of culinary experience, says the restaurant owner was looking for a Ritz-Carlton chef to create a new boutique lounge in a former bank space. “He came to the [Downtown] Ritz-Carlton, where I happened to be the chef on duty that evening and I did a tasting menu for him and he was blown away.”

Martinez jumped on board, and the concept went “extremely boutique.” “We wanted to try and do something different, concentrating on fine cuisine and fine drink.”

“All the seafood is Sashimi grade, and all our steaks are dry-aged.” Martinez says there are “over 100 micro-brew and craft beers, 24 of them being live tap.” The wine menu features 50 varietals.

“Our extremely top shelf liquor is increasing by the day. The owner wants to specialize in excellence in everything,” including a 50-year-old malt scotch that runs about $12,000 a bottle.

The interior design by Diana Song reworks former bank offices into private VIP lounges with large booth-style seating. Each has its own flat-screen television that can be used during business lunches for power-point presentations. Reserved VIP rooms are served with the chef’s five to seven course tastings menu.

The Elite VIP room is what was once the actual bank vault, and reservations start at $5,000, a price that does include a nine course tasting menu. This is also where the high-end liquor is kept, with no bottle running less than $2,500.

The restaurant hopes to host fashion and art shows as well as live music in the future. A DJ booth will be built in the front for the lounge. “We’re a lounge not a club. We don’t want to scare people away. Our focus is 25-40 year-olds that like to have a good time. No drama, just come in.”

Dinner is served until 10pm during the week, and 11pm on the weekends. The lounge offers a small bites menu until 2am.

The current artwork by local graf artist Codak will be on display until the end of the year along with a variety of other artists. Martinez says they want to support local artists, so the work will be rotated regularly every three months and will be for sale on behalf of the artists, without commission.

“What we want to do is provide an exceptional product: cuisine and liquor but in a casual environment.”

Vault XXI / 333 S. Alameda #115 / 213.625.2001 / Hours: Weekdays, 11:30am-2am; Weekends, noon-2am


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