One-On-One with Ryan Smith on Castaway Burbank: A regional institution gets a fresh makeover

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By Shawn Dhanak

Nestled high in the hills of Burbank is a hot new dining scene. Castaway, which originally opened in 1962, recently underwent a massive makeover and is back as of last May offering a fresh, exciting culinary experience and revamped interior. 

Ryan Smith of Specialty Restaurant Corporation oversees Castaway Burbank. On Chef Perry Pollaci he says: “Chef Perry has great experience from Patina Restaurant Group, The Royce at the iconic Langham Huntington Hotel, and was two-time winner on Food Network’s ‘Cutthroat Kitchen.’”

Ask a random selection of non-transplants or long-time residents about Castaway, and chances are most will be familiar with it. It’s been a regional institution for decades.

The makeover was more than a fresh coat of paint and new upholstery. Retaining the same show-stopping views of the Valley below, Castaway reopened last spring with award-winning Executive Chef Perry Pollaci having redesigned the menu to be, as they put it, seasonally-inspired and steak-forward. Executives at Specialty Restaurant Corporation – which owns Castaway and specializes in one-of-a-kind restaurants — reimagined the restaurant’s offerings behind the bar as well, with local craft beers, a wine list of over 150 bottles and creative cocktails. 

‘Castaway pays homage to the local
Burbank motion picture industry, showcasing subtle nods to the namesake movie,’

—Ryan Smith

The Tolucan Times caught up with Ryan Smith, who serves as the Regional Director for Specialty Restaurant Corporation.

Tell us how it’s different from the old Castaway?

A lot! Even though the name is the same, everything from our menu, chef, interiors, service models and furniture are new! We still have our incredible views and everything else has been elevated.

What was the inspiration behind the new Castaway?

Castaway originally opened its doors as a Polynesian-themed restaurant. Drawing inspiration from the Tiki popularity in the early ‘60s, the Castaway name was born. After five decades, in May of 2018, the restaurant underwent rebranding and due to the longevity of Castaway, it retained its original moniker, reopening its doors under the same name.

With a new executive chef and menu, Castaway pays homage to the local Burbank motion picture industry, showcasing subtle nods to the namesake movie, including a canopy of driftwood above the wrap-round bar, Wilson! cocktail, and a replica of the Tom Hanks character’s volleyball from the film, receiving a place of honor in the center of the dining room.

You landed impressive, top talent in the kitchen. Describe for us why you decided to go with Chef Perry Pollaci.

Chef Perry has great experience from Patina Restaurant Group, The Royce at the iconic Langham Huntington Hotel, and was two-time winner on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen so we knew his food would taste great. But, we knew we also wanted a seasonal menu that changes frequently and would be steak-forward focused on interesting cuts of meats and unique butchers from around the world. Chef Perry has the passion for learning and evolving his food and you will often find him at the local farmers market and visiting our butchers and purveyors to bring the best ingredients to Castaway.

Walk us through the new Castaway experience. 

We have taken all the best things about dining out in Los Angeles and put it all under one room or in our case – under the stars with our stunning patio. As guests arrive at Castaway, they have the opportunity to immediately immerse themselves in the ultimate dining experience by sampling a charcuterie board at the wraparound bar, with the option to have a drink from the bars built-in tap system, which offers beer, wine and cocktails on tap. As the restaurant is completely design-driven, guests can enjoy the unparalleled views of the Valley from the outdoor patio, or our multi-level dining room, giving guests a great view from wherever they are seated. Our dry aging room is at the center of the restaurant, almost as if it is the heartbeat that keeps the restaurant alive. As the restaurant seats 175 guests indoors, and 225 on the patio, Castaway can accommodate groups of all sizes, large or small.

Let’s talk about the menu… just looking through it I was salivating.

I know, don’t you just drool looking at it? Chef Perry Pollaci’s menu is filled with thoughtfully selected seasonal ingredients. Some favorite dishes include the Heirloom Tomato with basil whipped goat cheese and roasted strawberry chia seed jam, Revier Cattle Company Dry Aged Ribeye with shallot marmalade and sweet garlic chips, Whole Roasted Branzino with shaved fennel and oven roasted tomato, pomme fourchette, citrus & coriander, and Roasted Tricolor Cauliflower with roasted hazelnut vinaigrette and cinnamon scented currants.

With a steak-forward menu, Chef strives for guests to have the opportunity to taste unique cuts of meats that they may not be familiar with, such as the Mishima Reserve New York Brick cut, Zabuton cut from Snake River Farms and the Cape Grim Filet that’s pasture-raised from Tasmania.

What are some of your top three favorite things about the new Castaway? Ready. Set. Go.

One: Our cocktail program. I would put our Love Child cocktail up against any other cocktail in L.A. Two: Vegetables – I know we are known for our steaks, but our vegetable dishes are amazing too. Three: My hard-working, incredible team of hospitality professionals.

Most steakhouses provide the usual filet, ribeye and New York because that’s what everyone is used to. We serve these too, but we also wanted to do a unique spin where we highlight cuts that are often discarded by other chefs that are truly more flavorful with interesting textures at a good value.

For the latest news and information regarding Castaway visit CastawayBurbank.com or call (818) 848-6691.

Shawn Dhanak is a writer with a passion for storytelling that inspires more civic engagement.

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