More than 35 years ago, Los Angeles got a true taste of New York when music industry vet Allan Rinde purchased a crummy pizza joint across from his studio on Fairfax to start a New York-style Szechuan restaurant.
Once a New Yorker himself, Rinde complained that he could not find a Canal Street-type Chinese locale in Los Angeles, which led him to open Genghis Cohen.
In 1997, Rinde sold Genghis Cohen to longtime staff member Raymond Kiu, whose family ran the restaurant until hospitality visionaries Marc Rose and Med Abrous (Winsome, The Spare Room at the Roosevelt Hotel) silently took over the space in 2015. Rose, a native Brooklynite who moved to Los Angeles in 2000, frequented Genghis Cohen because he missed the nostalgic Chinese food from his city.
Rose and Abrous recognized the guest loyalty and were adamant about retaining the storied restaurant for future generations to come. Together, they made small improvements—level of service, ingredient quality, and interior upgrades like replacing the timeworn carpet, widening the vibrant red leather booths, positioning a round fish tank inset and “planting” faux tropical flowers.
With an exotic allure, Genghis Cohen pulls in all types of clientele, from sizable families repeating weekly orders to hype-beast kids wandering in off of Fairfax. There, laid-back dinners are full of Jewish-influenced, American-Chinese favorites, among other Szechuan dishes and Asian-inspired quenchers. All recipes remain the same today, including the dumpling dough made from the original pizza dough mixer rescued by Rinde.
Keeping with tradition, the team debuted an upgraded menu of “foo foo” drinks to accompany its masterly Chinese-meets-Jewish cuisine. The playful menu was enhanced by Beverage Director Yael Vengroff, who holds a number of titles with Speed Rack and was named American Bartender of the Year at the 2018 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. The young, well-decorated bartender constantly challenges the craft cocktail scene while staying true to her outlandish self behind the stick. At Genghis Cohen, she is fueled by fun variations of classic Asian drinks dressed in arcane infusions, tinctures, sodas and shrubs, all made in-house. Various Asian ingredients—such as refreshing yuzu, sweet green tea and nutty, toasted sesame—are liberally incorporated into her whimsical creations.
“We wanted the menu to remain authentic, and this is my interpretation of what I would want to drink in a Chinese restaurant,” Vengroff says. Described as a “blind love” of frozen concoctions, the Young Grasshopper blends white rum, green creme de menthe and white cacao together as one, finished with a “floating island” of green tea ice cream and an orchid bloom. “These are not tiki, yet bright and beautiful,” she says.
Vengroff’s funky spin on foo foo drinks certainly adds an interactive element to the dining experience at Genghis Cohen through artful garnishes to distinctive glassware. A rounded riff on a buck, Cold Tea combines toasted white sesame and ginger-infused Japanese whisky, fresh citrus juice, and a pinch of turmeric, topped with Original New York Seltzer’s vanilla cream soda and presented in an ornate mug with a red color-washed lotus root—an unusual seed pod caught drifting atop large leaves on ponds across Asia.
“There are some classics on [there] and others that pay tribute to the New York-Jewish connection within the history of this place—and my own background,” Vengroff says. She mentions her Jewish grandfather, who was the inspiration behind Zaydee’s Manhattan. Ideal for the old school Fashioned fan, the stiff sipper is built with walnut brandy, ruby vermouth, calvados, madeira, toasted pecan bitters, Caffè Amaro and a hint of salt. “Perfect, just like the way he complained it never was,” she chuckles.
Vengroff believes drinks should be approachable but picked up a notch. “A lychee-tini is cliche, yet ubiquitous,” she says. Five elements make up her stirred, modernized version of the Lychee Martini: coconut oil vodka, lychee extract, pear brandy, fresh aloe vera and a splash of citrus flavors. While native to China, lychee can grow in certain U.S. regions and pairs nicely with other sweet tropical fruits like mango and coconut. Yuzu, which is less tart than its citrus counterparts, is best used in the large format Duck Duck Juice. The family-style quencher uses gin as the base, jasmine tea-scented blanc vermouth, juicy peach and yuzu tonic to stimulate all senses. The liquid is poured humorously through the duck’s beak into tumblers, soon to be lifted for a table toast.
Genghis Cohen is a celebratory icon of the Los Angeles social scene and will continue to strengthen under Vengroff’s creative power, backed by both Rose and Abrous. Today, guests can expect small acoustic performances and comedy acts five nights a week in the adjoining music hall where more drinks are flowing. “It’s a mixed bag [here],” Vengroff says. Just have fun.
- 1 oz. White Rum
- 1 oz. Green Creme de Menthe
- 1 oz. White Creme de Cacao
- 1 oz. Heavy Cream
- Scoop of Green Tea Ice Cream (to Top)
- Toasted Coconut (to Garnish)
- Gold Stars (to Garnish)
- Orchid (to Garnish)
Preparation: In a blender, combine all liquid ingredients with crushed ice. Pour into a bubbleini glass. Top with a scoop of green tea ice cream. Garnish with toasted coconut, gold stars and an orchid.