Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow On Opening L.A.’s Onda

Famed chefs and longtime friends Jessica Koslow of Silverlake’s Sqirl and Gabriela Camara of Contramar are opening an unrestrained new-concept eatery this fall, coined Onda, located at Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel. Uniquely collaborating together for the first time, Koslow and Camara are bringing Los Angeles diners a taste of wildly fragrant dishes from Mexico in synthesis with California’s bountiful produce. Curating an undemocratic flavor palette that’s a cultural crossover between both regions, these highly accolated and profiled chefs are presenting a new culinary landscape that’s both health conscious and high in flavor.

In anticipation of Onda’s opening, Haute Living sat down with Koslow to hear more on the dialogue that inspired Onda’s vision, the international influence and local ingredients that motivated its avant-garde menu and curating legendary preserves, on site, with an unexpected twist.

Jessica Koslow Onda
Jessica Koslow Opens Onda In Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel

Photo Credit: DYLAN + JENI

HL: As you’re launching your newest restaurant, Onda, inside Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel, tell us about this epic outpost and what inspired its vision.

JESSICA KOSLOW: I’m really interested in restaurants that are expressive of place. Onda is expressive of the ocean—which is literally seven blocks away—and the farmers’ markets of Los Angeles, while also in dialogue with Mexico City. It’s also located in a historical 1930s Spanish Colonial landmark building in the midst of a neighborhood. We’re deeply interested in how a landmark restaurant can speak to people from everywhere, to offer a real voice of hospitality and service with a real consideration for sustainability.

HL: Hailing from a different background and culinary landscape than Gabriela Camara, what can you tell us about Onda’s menu?

JK: It’s quite a fun and clever menu that’s sea-faring of the Pacific as well as multicultural, playing with Gabriela’s and my origins. It filters uniquely sourced ingredients from Mexico through the lens of L.A. dining, while merging truly sustainable practices and ingredients with innovative, playful, crave-able food that you want to eat every day.

HL: As you draw on Mexican flavors and ingredients to build a unique flavor profile, where do you plan to source ingredients from and will there be a push for sustainable practices similar to Sqirl?

JK: Yes. For example, we have three types of corn sourced from Michoacán, Jalisco and Ciudad de Mexico which we are using to create our house made tortillas and chips. All of our seafood’s coming from the Pacific and Baja. We’re even working directly with Fishermen and taking their bycatch, as well as sourcing whole fish and roe from sustainable fish farms, such as Mt Lassen Trout Farm. And of course, our produce, like Sqirl’s, is heavily from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets, just three blocks away.

Jessica Koslow Opens Onda
Jessica Koslow Opens Onda In Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel

Photo Credit: DYLAN + JENI

HL: What dishes traditional to Mexico, but unique to California, will make their debut?

JK: Our Trout tostadas. We’re using smoked trout and flavors that feel more Mediterranean, with ingredients such as castelvetrano olives and capers that feel ‘Jewy’ and ultimately make you question where you are. We have Sopes with jackfruit mole, which is our fun take on an ingredient, jackfruit, known to Mexico, but not often used in this form.

HL: It was also mentioned that you’ll be serving fresh-baked pastries served with Sqirl preserves and Sqirl coffee and teas. Elaborate on these dynamic pastries and preserves and what makes them unmatchable.

JK: We’ll be using Sqirl preserves exclusively! But Sqirl will be making two jams both iconic and specific to Onda. One is a strawberry-tamarind, which we’ll be serving year-round, and the other jam will change quarterly based on what’s available at the farmers’ market, but with an Onda twist.

HL: Similar to Sqirl, you’ll also be featuring seasonal preserves. Which jams will you launch Onda with this fall? 

JK: Strawberry-tamarind and probably mango-passion fruit!

Jessica Koslow Opens Onda In Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel

Photo Credit: DYLAN + JENI

HL: And tell us your secret. What’s the process of curating these decadent house jams?

JK: Curating preserves for Onda allows me to go a bit deeper into the process and play with ingredients like mangos—which I don’t really use at Sqirl—but which a farmer in Coachella Valley carries, and also guavas and persimmons. It’s also an opportunity for me to go deeper into spices. There’s a Mexican cinnamon called canela, which, quite similar to cinnamon, can be paired beautifully with winter fruits such as Warren pears or chocolate persimmons.

HL: You’ve now successfully opened several LA restaurants. What are your plans next? 

JK: Sleeping. Just kidding! I have Sqirl Away coming next in early 2020 on the Eastside, six blocks away from Sqirl!

HL: Do you see yourself selling your legendary preserves nationwide? 

JK: Sqirl is really meant to be Sqirl on the corner of Virgil and Marathon, and the jams are iconic to the place and to Los Angeles. Sqirl Away has the ability to do a more nationwide jam (like “squirreling away”), which could be in supermarkets, but Sqirl is really meant to be niche, and going bigger isn’t really possible without allowing for less quality.