Sitting on Santa Monica Blvd, on the corner of Formosa Avenue, is the Formosa Cafe. Located in a former Red Car Trolley, the Formosa has been a Hollywood hangout and a Los Angeles icon for 75 years. My grandparents went there in the 1940s and 1950s and my parents hung out there in the 1960s.
Then when the movie Swingers came out in 1996, suddenly it was the place to be for myself and my post-college friends. The long space with low lighting, red leather booths and celebrities photos hanging on every possible space on the wall was just like when my grandparents and parents would go there.
It’s now 2014 and the Formosa is owned by third generation Vince Jung (his grandfather opened the Formosa as a Chinese restaurant in 1939). While the decor looks the same, the Formosa is back on the radar with talented new chef Brian Huskey (recently on Top Chef and formerly at MoChica and Picca) and bar manager Joseph Brooke (previously Mixology, Edison and Copa d’ Oro). Vince, Brian and Joe are bringing the Formosa into the present (even if it feels like traveling back in time).
I stopped in to see Joe as he recently redid the cocktail menu. I have been a fan of his since I first met him back at Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, which was at the same time that he won the title “American’s Favorite Bartender” on the TV competition “On The Rocks.”
I entered the bar and memories of the 90’s came flooding back. I took at seat at the bar, and while a jazz version of Moonriver played in the background, I perused the new menu. To quench my thirst, I started with a Chica Morada made with purple corn, quince, pineapple, sugar and lime. A non-alcoholic drink, the deep purple drink is a balance of sweet and tart but don’t spill it as it will stain!
After the refreshing Chica Morada, I focused on the cocktail offerings. Joe has created a menu that features drinks that are simple and enjoyable, using the fewest ingredients as possible. The drinks are also rather thematic and pair with the Pan-Asian/Latin menu.
The Formosa Champagne Cocktail (VSOP Cognac, sugar, bitters, lemon, Prosecco) is a classic cocktail that perfectly represents the Old Hollywood element of the Formosa.
With my first drink, I ordered a Korean BBQ Brisket with Asian slaw, caramelized onion, queso panela taco from the taco menu. There was a generous piece of brisket and the Asian slaw was both refreshing and crisp but with a little kick of spice.
For my second round I ordered the Canton Iced Tea (Jasmine & Black tea infused vodka, lemon, mint, soda). Joe created this drink to play with the Asian theme of the restaurant. To achieve this, he explained that it was easier to create a drink similar to a cup of tea with pizzazz than to try to incorporate duck sauce into a cocktail. Be careful as this drink goes down a bit too easily.
For my second round of food, I ordered the fried chicken slider with okinawa sweet potato, coleslaw and sambal aioli. Don’t let the name “slider” fool you. This is a full size sandwich that will fill you up. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and the sweet potato balances the spice of the aioli.
To finish off the meal, I ordered the classic Formosa Mai Tai made with rum, amaretto, lime, pineapple, orange. This drink packs a punch and is not sweet, like you might expect.
Accessible, friendly and welcoming, if you haven’t been in awhile, it’s time to go back to the Formosa! And, don’t miss Taco Tuesdays when the Formosa offers discounted tacos and drink specials!
7156 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046