Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Hour @ BLT Steak: Classy, Affordable and Satisfying

My favorite type of happy hour is upscale happy hour. Even though I'm always on the lookout for good dining and drinking deals, I'd rather pay a couple bucks more for a nicer glass of wine (thanks, but I'll pass on that Sutter Home) and good bar bites that do not include nachos and potato skins. I'd also prefer to hang out at a bar area that isn't crowded with college kids and that doesn't smell of puke. Lastly, valet preferable, please. BLT Steak hits the mark on all points. Plus its on my way home from work.

BLT (Bistro Laurent Tourondel) is the restaurant group with numerous restaurants around the country. Although Chef Tourondel is no longer with the organization, the menu still remains the same. BLT Steak focuses on upscale American steakhouse fare with French influences. It's Los Angeles outpost is located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.

The restaurant has a surprisingly decent sized bar area with seats at the bar and a couch area.

The dining area was empty when I arrived at 6pm but filled up by 8pm. That's pretty good for a Tuesday night.

Happy hour runs daily from 5-7pm with 5 drink choices at $5 each.

Their food menu also includes 5 options at $5 each. With three of us in our party, we ordered one of each item.

Banfi Maschio Prosseco and Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Popcorn with cajun seasoning and butter.

We asked for their signature popovers. I was blown away with the size of the inflated popovers, somehow I imagined them to be tiny, like gougeres. They were served with a tiny card with the recipe listed.

The popovers were warm and airy, with a light essence of gruyere cheese.

The popover should be eaten with a pad of their soft European butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Just be careful with the salt shaker. I caused a salt disaster which our awesome bartender Andrew had to clean up after.

Sweet Potato Frites, Rosemary, Sea Salt
This was a large serving of fries. I liked that the fries were thinly cut and not starchy. They could have been crisped up a bit more, because they were a little limp. The fries were served with a blue cheese sauce. Wish they had mentioned that because it looked like ranch dressing.

Cast Iron Black Mussels, Chorizo, Roast Tomato, Garlic Bruschetta
This was a pretty large serving of mussels for $5. The mussels were cooked well and plump. I also liked the smokiness from the chorizo and the sweetness of the tomatoes. The broth perhaps needed a bit more seasoning or butter, because it wasn't flavorful to the point that I wanted to dip the bread into it or drink up every last drop.

Gruyere Mac & Cheese, Bacon, Truffle

Surprisingly for someone that doesn't like cheese, this was my favorite dish of the night. The cheese was rather mild and was almost milky rather than cheesy. The mac and cheese was infused with truffle and salty bits of bacon. The best part of the dish was the toasted breadcrumb topping.

BLT Sliders, Aged Cheddar, Red Wine Onions
I thought my beef patty was cooked well, but my friend's was a bit charred. The aged cheddar added nuttiness and the caramelized onions really brought a sweetness and texture to the slider.

Short Rib Grilled Cheese, Pickled Ramps, Smoked Tomato Aioli
Even though I don't like cheese, I can tolerate aged cheddar. So I took a bite of the grilled cheese with much apprehension. I was quite happy with the dish. I really liked the sharp aged cheddar together with the tender shredded meat. My only criticism was that the bread was too crusty so you might get jabbed in the roof of your mouth.

Chocolate mocha brownies (complimentary from our bartender) was a nice sweet bite to end the night.

The happy hour at BLT Steak is really an awesome deal. Wine, and delicious and filling bar bites for $5 each is really a steal. It's so refreshing to find a happy hour spot that offers good wine and a selection of food that can sum up to a satisfying meal. Service at the bar was also friendly and helpful, not something you would expect from most upscale restaurants. So next time when you're looking for an after work bar, drive away from Cabo Cantina and head over to BLT Steak. I promise, if you end up with a hangover, it's because you can afford more glasses of wine with your paycheck. It won't be because of the crappy sweet margaritas offered at your nearby watering hole.

Hits: HH prices, mac and cheese, popover, service
Misses: fries
Rating: ***

BLT Steak
8720 West Sunset Blvd.,
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 360-1950

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eveleigh Restaurant: The new hot neighborhood spot

On my daily commute to work, I had noticed the slow construction of what I hoped would be a new restaurant or bar on Sunset Strip. Wooden structures were eventually erected and a large tree was shipped in. This turned out to be Eveleigh, the new hot restaurant by Aussie Nick Mather who also owns Kingswood in NYC. The restaurant is named after a Sydney suburb. Most people associate Aussie fare with BBQ but the Australian restaurant scene, especially in Sydney, is rather modern and sophisticated, with many international influences.

Eveleigh doesn’t really seem to belong on the Strip. In a good way. There isn’t a guest list or bouncer at the front; in fact you’re greeted with a friendly welcome at the hostess stand. The patrons are of all ages and for the most part, aren't dressed in clubbing outfits. The restaurant has a very rustic feel to it, with distressed wood interior and a patio housed in an A-frame barn structure. The only clue that the restaurant is located in Hollywood was that the valet was already full by 7.20pm even though it wasn’t crowded inside the restaurant. Honestly, if you’re a restaurant on the strip, you really need to invest in more parking spot for your diners.

The inside restaurant and bar area is cozy with wooden tables and a fireplace.

The outdoor patio has a very chic feel with white banquette sofas and a gorgeous view overlooking the city. There is also a large tree and a communal table in the center of the patio. It was really dark in the restaurant, even the lit candles on the table weren’t sufficient to aid in reading the menu. I really liked the casual barn feel; however we thought that they could have carried the theme throughout the restaurant. For example, the marble table in the patio area could have been replaced with heavier wood material. Perhaps they could have served their cocktails in mason jars instead of the elegant stemware.

The drink menu included cocktails and a small selection of beers such as some good local choices (The Lost Abbey, Alesmith) as well as a local Aussie favorite (Coopers Pale Ale, although I wished they carried my favorite, their Sparking Ale).

The Springbank 10 year old Scotch had a smoky taste. The Elevation tasted almost like a Moscow Mule with a ginger kick and citrus base.

The dinner menu is focused with a few small plates, entrees and sides.

Warm sourdough bread to start.

Pork Rillettes with zucchini mustard pickle, radish and charred toast
I enjoyed the tender strands of the rillette but thought that it needed a bit more salt. The sourness from the pickled radishes did a good job of cutting through the fattiness of the rillette.

Pot-Roasted Clams lemon, chili, parsley, and aioli
This was our favorite dish of the night. The broth was flavorful and infused with garlic and herbs. The clams were cooked well and there was quite a good portion given that it was a small plate selection. When served with a chunk of rustic bread, you could really imagine this dish served in a country home.

Roasted White Fish with kale, romesco salsa, braised artichoke hearts
The fish was perhaps our least favorite. The fish was a touch overcooked and the dish seemed dull with a huge selection of artichoke heart decorating the plate. My favorite part was the kale which was fried crispy.

Brussel Sprouts, bacon and cider
I liked the large chunks of bacon – some places serve shriveled fried pieces. I think the sprouts would have been better if they were caramelized and seasoned a bit more.

Eveleigh is really what Sunset needs. A cool, chic yet inviting and comfortable restaurant with a casual bar scene. When we left, every seat at the bar was taken, but it wasn’t crammed with people. There’s still breathing room and a place to set your drink down. The food is simple and rustic, which goes with the theme of the restaurant décor. This is the type of place where I’d like to pop in for a drink and a small bite. It’s friendly and charming, just like the Aussies.

Hits: ambiance, rillette, clams
Misses: valet was full
Rating: ***

Eveleigh Restaurant
8752 W. Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(424) 239-1630

Unfortunately none of the dessert items at Eveleigh jumped out at us, so we walked over to Mirabelle Restaurant for dessert and drinks.

The chocolate soufflé came out fresh from the oven and was soft and spongy inside. The soufflé was served with caramel, chocolate syrup and peanut butter ice cream. This was exactly what we needed to end the meal.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The best Hollywood HH at The Well

That's a bold statement, I know. The best HH in Hollywood. Really? I stand by my statement.
1) Happy hour runs till 9pm! That means you don't have to rush over after work, and you can take your time ordering. You don't have to order 5 dishes and double up on drinks at 6.59pm.

2) There are many drink specials during happy hour including wine, cocktails, well drinks and beers. I was impressed that they offered craft beers such as Affligem and Delirium Tremens.

3) The happy hour food menu is extensive and priced under $10. There's something for everyone. You have typical fried fare (french fries, rings), healthy options (salads), Mexican grub (tacos, taquitos), and more substantial plates (burgers, sandwiches).

4) The space is fairly large so you can always find a spot to sit at. There's a large wraparound bar in the center and lots of couch seating against the wall. The prime spot is at the bar, where service will be faster.

Mixed up bowl - French fries, sweet potato fries, seasoned fries & onion rings ($5)
Why get an order of fries or rings if you can get a combination of all their fried food. This is the perfect dish if you can't decide between fries or rings. It was quite a sizable portion and wasn't too greasy.

Steamed vegetable pot stickers with hoisin and sweet chili sauce ($6)
A healthier option to balance out the fried fare. It's nothing special. This is like your typical Trader Joe's frozen dumplings. I have no issue with it, I've got a similar bag in my freezer.

Beef short rib taco with spicy BBQ sauce ($3)
The shredded beef was tender and well marinated with a very spicy sauce. It was surprisingly quite filling because there was a lot of beef on the taco.

Bacon wrapped Smokies with BBQ mustard ($5)
Surprisingly my favorite dish of the night. These pigs in a blanket were an awesome bite. The smoked sausage was wrapped with perfectly crispy bacon, and served with tangy mustard sauce.

The crowd really runs the gamut from young to old. When I first got to the bar at 6pm, there were about 6 other people, all elderly gentlemen, in pairs. By the time I left at 11pm, there were probably another 30 people. All late 20s-30s, low key Hollywood crowd. There was only one bartender for most of the night and she definitely had her hands full. Often times, she would be deep in conversation with select patrons while ignoring everyone else. I saw many people trying to flag her down but she would barely look in their direction. Aside from the service issue, this is a stellar happy hour option. The drinks and food are well priced and you really can't beat a happy hour that ends at 9pm. I also like that The Well is mellow. It's not your sceney Hollywood crowd. It's dark, chill, they play awesome rock music and they also have a jukebox in the corner.

Hits: prices, ends late, not too crowded.
Misses: service
Rating: ***

The Well
1536 Argyle Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-9355

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bocuse D'or USA Benefit dinner @ Providence

My friend LB and I were on the lookout for news of the 5X5 Collaborative Dinner held annually, where each month, 5 chefs came together for a day to cook one course each, and rotated their restaurants as venue for the event. Last year we had a superb meal at Water Grill, and a not so superb meal at Angelini Osteria. Unfortunately to our dismay, there would be no 5X5 this year. Instead, Providence Restaurant agreed to hold the Bocuse D'or USA Benefit Dinner on November 16, 2010. This would be somewhat of a proxy for 5X5, given that five great chefs would be present to cook a course each, for one night only. The chefs were Josiah Citrin (Melisse), Walter Manzke (prev. of Church & State), Alain Giraud (prev. of Anisette), Michael Cimarusti (Providence) and Tony Esnault (Patina). The dessert course was prepared by Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez.

Bocuse D'or is a culinary competition held in Lyon every other year. It's often described as the Olympics of cooking. Proceeds of the dinner went towards The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation which trains the American team for the competition. There were two seatings for the night (6.30pm and 9pm). We opted for the early bird seating because I don't like to go to bed on a full stomach. Foodies came out in droves to attend the event. Foie protesters also made their way to Providence, protesting the unethical treatment of animals and the presence of foie gras on the menu. They were a rather civil crowd but they did get louder later on, kind of like that drunk person that talks louder and louder as the night wears on. Thankfully there was no red paint splashed on diners.

I started with a glass of bubbly at the bar while waiting on my friend.

There are several private dining rooms in the restaurant, and a patio area where we were seated.

The six course Tasting Menu was priced at $150/$210 with wine pairing.

We started with my favorite bacon bread. The bread was light, almost like a bread roll, so I ended up eating more pieces than I had wanted.

Amuse bouche ~ gougere, pumpkin veloute with truffle, salmon mousse

The gougere was airy with a hint of gruyere. The pumpkin veloute was creamy but I didn't really taste the truffle. It seemed that the truffle was there more for a textural effect. The salmon mousse with creme fraiche and roe was light and delicate.

Dodine de Canard a l'ancienne ~ Duck stuffed with foie gras, truffle and pistachio - Josiah Citrin
gewurztraminer, marcel deiss 2003

The trio really showcase different preparations of duck liver. The duck stuffed with foie gras and pistachio was fun play on a terrine. The foie mousse was like silk on my tongue. I also enjoyed the buttery toasted brioche. The duck gelee with artichokes was my least favorite. It was a bit gelatinous and runny, and under seasoned. The trio was served with a big, bold Gewurztraminer.

Homard a l'americaine ~ lobster fricasse with tomato and brandy - Walter Manzke
cremant de bourgogne, domaine perigot & richard, "blanc de blanc" m.v.

The fricasse was infused with a variety of mushrooms (button, morel, porcini) and was very rich in flavor. It tasted like a bisque, except that the fricasee was served lukewarm. We would have preferred a bit more temperature as it congealed a bit towards the end. The chunks of lobster were topped with 20 carat gold flecks. I thought the flavors of this dish were spot on, and I enjoyed every last drop.

Soupe aux truffle noire v.g.e. ~ double capon consommé, foie gras, black truffle, puff pastry - Alain Giraud
corton charlemagne, domaine louis latour 2006

The consomme was one of the richest broths I've had because it was infused with cubes of foie gras and truffle. I was surprised to see the very generous serving of whole black truffles in the dish. The foie flavor really stood out and the broth wasn't too salty. My favorite was of course, the puff pastry which was light and buttery. The French really know their pastries.

Rouget en écaillé ~ wild french rouget sautéed in potato scales, two sauces - Michael Cimarusti
maranges le croix moines Ier cru, camille giroud 2007

The rouget was cooked perfectly and covered with "scales" made of potato coins. I really liked the potato coins which were thin and crispy. You might remember a similar dish on Top Chef Season 3 when the cheftestants were required to replicate Le Cirque's signature dish, Paupiette of Sea Bass. In fact, ex-Le Cirque chef Daniel Boulud noted that the inspiration for the dish came from Paul Bocuse. The delicate fish was served with a rich sauce made with orange rosemary and veal jus.

Granité des Vignerons de Beaujolais

The macerated cherry was topped with a very strong alcoholic Beaujolais sorbet.

Filet de chevreuil ~ Loin of venison Roasted market vegetables and fall fruits - Tony Esnault
cornas, domaine lionnet," terre brulee" 2004

I thought this was the simplest dish of the menu, both in flavor and in presentation. The venison was well seasoned but overcooked and rather tough, especially on the outside. I did like the selection of roasted vegetables which included pomegranate celery root, squash, salsify, pickled beet and fig. The Syrah that was paired with this dish had a peppery undertone.

Trio de dessert classique de maison Bocuse ~ Crêpé a l’orange, Tarte tatin, Crème brulee - Adrian Vasquez
sainte croix du mont, chateau la rame "tradition" 2005

At this point, I was getting full so I only had a taste of each dessert. The creamy Tahitian Vanilla creme brulee was the winner. The crepe was relatively light but smothered with thick, sweet sauce. The apple tart was a bit too sweet for me but I ate the entire buttery crust.

Mignardises ~ Pistachio macaron, cream puff, Ras el hanut gelee and cinnamon caramel

The Bocuse D'or USA Benefit Dinner was a nice culinary event. It was lovely to be in the presence and taste the work of so many well known chefs. The food was solid and almost everything was well executed. I particularly enjoyed this menu because I love French comfort food. Almost everything on the menu was rich and tasted just like home cooking. I have always been impressed with the service at Providence, and this time was no exception. The service was attentive and very professional, yet friendly. Overall, a lovely evening where thankfully, everyone got to enjoy their foie gras in peace. Somewhat.

Hits: duck stuffed with foie, capon consomme, wine paring, service
Misses: venison
Rating: ****

Bocuse d'Or USA Benefit Dinner
Providence Restaurant
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170