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At City Tavern, Chef Jonathan Moulton Balances Originality With Comfort

Connor McGlynn |
March 4, 2015 | 2:35 p.m. PST


Chef Moulton in his kitchen. (Connor McGlynn/Neon Tommy)
Chef Moulton in his kitchen. (Connor McGlynn/Neon Tommy)
Since the age of 12, Jonathan Moulton knew that sitting in front of the TV watching PBS cooking shows would inspire a life devoted to the kitchen. 

Moulton, 34, is now the executive chef at City Tavern in downtown Los Angeles, a modern American restaurant and bar located on the ground plaza of FIGat7th. 

READ MORE: FIGat7th Brings Big Retailers To Downtown Los Angeles

“You’re building taste bibles, taste encyclopedias in your brain and every time you eat something or taste something or smell something, it all just builds up and you can put it together,” said the La Habra, California native about his growth as a chef. “I have my original things that I can pull from all that experience and I have other things that are just building blocks for what I’ve learned.”    

Before joining City Tavern in August 2014, Moulton attended the California Culinary Academy and completed a variety of chef roles, including a nearly two-year stint as the executive chef of Sadie Kitchen and Lounge in Hollywood.

Moulton revealed that he has never had a mentor, and instead relied upon food magazines to gain inspiration throughout his career. He believes that his unconventional path has distinguished himself from other chefs.

“I try to make as much from scratch as possible. I work with the rule that if I can make it better, then I do, if I can’t, then I buy it,” Moulton said, citing ketchup as one example - he uses Heinz in the restaurant. “It’s about finding the balance there and not being arrogant, not being snobbish, but still offering people everything that they would like.”

Moulton’s passion and “do-it-yourself” approach are evident to the people working around him. 

“He never rests, and he’s always looking to see how he can make things better,” said City Tavern’s general manager Andrew Pratt. “Instead of just turning our restaurant upside-down, he’s taken our menu and just made some subtle changes here and there to make all those flavors come together and come to life.”

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While there is not one “must-have” dish from City Tavern, Moulton does suggest a few courses that separate themselves from the rest.

“The roasted half chicken is really, really good. It’s really satisfying, really simple and really classic,” said the spare-time playing guitarist. “A recent addition to the menu is the grilled shrimp salad. It has a little bit of spicy, a little savory, the sesame flavor in there, a little crunchiness from the radish and fruitiness from the orange.”

Roast chicken with potato puree at City Tavern. (Connor McGlynn/Neon Tommy)
Roast chicken with potato puree at City Tavern. (Connor McGlynn/Neon Tommy)
David Demsko, a local businessman that ate the skinless salmon for lunch, rated the dish as “great, awesome and five-star.”

Ferro Montanino, who visited Los Angeles for the first time on a business trip, ordered the Philly cheesesteak.

“It was really good,” Montanino said. “After eating that, it’s definitely a place that I would come back to.” 

As City Tavern is located in the hub of business offices in downtown Los Angeles, Moulton admits that catering to different crowds throughout the day makes life in the kitchen a bit challenging. 

“It’s really interesting because for the lunch crowd, we have to be really quick. We want to make it interesting, we want to make it fresh, but we don’t want to take longer than about 15 minutes to get people their food because they have to get back to work,” Moulton said. “At dinner, it’s a bit different because we’re having people come in for snacks, and were having people come in for dinner, so were able to play with them a little differently.”

With more than a dozen eateries for hungry customers to choose from at FIGat7th, the City Tavern management understands that it needs to separate itself from the competition. 

Aside from the couch-lined leisure lounge, outdoor and indoor seating options and more than 20 different beers on tap at the bar, they recognize that the food is what sells the restaurant.

“Jonathan is a huge spotlight here and is a huge attraction,” said Pratt, who has worked with the owners of City Tavern for nearly three years. “We have a good atmosphere here and selection of drinks at the bar, but if it wasn’t for the fun menu and quality of the food with little changes here and there, I don’t think people would keep coming back.”   

Despite the desire to constantly improve the menu, Moulton enjoys the simplicity of food and says that this is the takeaway that he wants his dishes to provide.

“I’m not trying to be thought provoking, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Moulton said. “I want you to come in and enjoy something, maybe have a bit of something that surprises you and just think ‘oh man, that was good.’”

Contact Staff Contributor Connor McGlynn here.



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