Wally’s began in 1968 as a liquor store in a strip mall in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood. Later, it added a small gourmet deli. In 2014, a second Wally’s opened, in Beverly Hills, with an actual restaurant. It has taken the concept to an entirely new level.
The location, on tony Canon Drive, integrates the wineshop seamlessly with an upscale restaurant and wine bar. Walls of wine bottles stretch from floor to high ceiling in a casual space made elegant by marble, brushed steel, textured tile and reclaimed wood. It’s comfortable without being plush, lively without being rowdy. It’s a “come as you are” place that does not seem to discriminate between T-shirts and tuxes but delivers luxury on the plate and in the glass.
Christian Navarro, Wally’s president, has built a glittery clientele of movie stars and business leaders who not only trust him to supply their wines but frequently turn up to eat and drink at the marble-topped counters that serve as tables. Slide onto a stool for dinner and you might look across the table at a face familiar from movies or TV.
“That turned off some of the movie stars in the beginning,” Navarro admits. “But put all these people at the table who share the same passion, the same fun, everyone ends up being the same. They could talk with people about food and wine the way they like to.”
The 3,000-selection list offers everything stocked on the store’s shelves, adding a flat $40 to the retail price for restaurant diners. The collection skews toward insider wines and collectibles. Customers can discover something new among the 125 wines by the glass or splurge on four- and five-digit bucket-list bottles.
By-the-glass pours average about $12 to $25. A bit more buys Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2014 ($45) or Sassicaia 2013 ($52). For something older, there’s Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges Les Boudots 2005 ($30) or Dal Forno Romano Amarone 2000 ($99).
Although there are some impressive verticals on the list, such as seven vintages of Château Lafleur Pomerol to 1964 ($2,540) and Château d’Yquem to 1947 ($9,940), the program’s strength is enormous breadth and an eye to the unexpected. The best values on the bottle list lie between $100 and $300, including William Fèvre Chablis Vaulorent 2008 ($110), Ar.Pe.Pe. Grumello Buon Consiglio 2005 ($137), Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 1995 ($130) and E. Guigal Ermitage Ex Voto 2001 ($260). Big spenders can get even better bargains on Marcassin Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Marcassin Vineyard 2010 ($440) or Château Latour Pauillac 2001 ($740).
“We have people who’ve traveled, and they’re excited that they can find what they know right here,” says wine director Matthew Turner, whose résumé includes a lead sommelier stint with Michael Mina and a year at Craggy Range winery in New Zealand as a brand ambassador and a sommelier at its restaurant. “Sometimes they close the book and get up and wander around the store until they find a wine they want.”
The restaurant is in the capable hands of chef David Féau, whose dishes reflect his previous career heading the kitchens of Lutèce (New York), Patina (Los Angeles) and the Royce (Pasadena).
Féau applies a combination of French roots and familiarity with American culture to the eclectic menu. He scores yums with sauce Choron (béarnaise with tomato puree) on Wagyu burgers. He wood-fires whole sea bass flown in from Brittany, bakes cheese and black truffles into “truffle pockets” (sort of large calzones) and roasts rack of lamb to serve with sorrel-laced cassoulet.
He has the freedom, and the talent, to improvise. A special wine a party might have ordered can inspire him to create a special dish for it—and that in turn can spread through the restaurant. “I bring you a dish, and the person next to you asks what that is, and they order it,” he grins. “It goes to the end of the table. That’s how everyone interacts, and we get immediate feedback. That excites me.”
Féau’s first menus focused on small plates. “As we thought about it,” he recalls, “we realized we could do a good steak, and we could focus on truffles.” And it grew from there. A deep wine selection focused on hard-to-find bottles, a unique vibe and a creative chef who loves what he’s doing make Wally’s Beverly Hills a winner.
Read the entire 2017 Restaurant Awards package, including the cover story, “Building Identity Through Wine," in the Aug. 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator.