Feast and West. Rock Star for a Night. West Restaurant. Los Angeles, CA.
Last weekend I told my wife Diane that I was taking her to a fancy new restaurant at the top of the old Holiday Inn building off the 405 near Sunset Blvd—“the circular hotel”. Most people who’ve lived in Los Angeles for more than a few years are familiar with it. When I first learned my way around LA, I used to confuse it with the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I told Diane there was supposed to be an amazing panoramic view of the Westside and that our reservations would be timed around sunset. I asked her to put on some make-up and do her hair nice, maybe dress up a little. I told her that the name of the restaurant is West and they specialize in Italian, Mediterranean and Tuscan food.
What I didn’t tell Diane was that West was comping (paying for) the entire meal. Their PR rep sent an email over a month ago inviting me and a guest to try out this new restaurant-lounge in Brentwood. Bad Eddie.
She didn’t need to know. Plus she wasn’t really listening to anything I was saying anyway. She was more concerned about the parasite in her belly.
Honey, I’m six months pregnant. I really can’t handle eating fetus or baby anything, not even veal. Nothing weird at all. Please tell me we’re going to a normal restaurant.
We are going to a normal restaurant. It’s like an Italian steakhouse or something. It’s new and really nice. So I hear.
It’s called West. How weird could it be?
Remember that restaurant called The Prince? That was weird. Moving tentacles.
Okay, that was an exception. I swear this place is totally normal.
I wish you would’ve told me sooner so I could have someone babysit Chloe.
No, I want her to go to. It’s a family date night.
Fine, but I’m ordering for Chloe.
It was a pleasant Southern California summer evening, the kind that brought back memories of summer vacations with nothing to do but have twig races in the gutter. The sky was slightly hazy, maybe from smog, maybe the marine layer, probably both, but it wasn’t enough to obscure a wondrous sunset that the dusk promised.
We got free rock star parking on Church Street right in front of the Hotel Angeleno, home of West Restaurant. The easy parking started the night very nicely and kept in line with the “free” theme.
The Hotel Angeleno is a modern, luxury hotel with a boutique sensibility. The Angeleno’s design influence rings with that of Phillipe Starck like so many of today’s modern styled hotels, restaurants, bars and even restrooms, though the Angeleno has a warmness to it that prevents it from feeling too Starck.
The 17th floor of the Angeleno is where West resides and as soon as you decompress via the reception area and enter the dining room you begin to appreciate the real estate mantra: Location. Location. Location. The splendid and enveloping panorama of the Westside cities greeted us like the mother of all plasma televisions. From my vantage point I was treated to a grand view of the Getty Center’s South Pavilion. Diane enjoyed the lush, green vistas of Brentwood’s hills. While Chloe had a breathtaking view of the—screech!—edge of our table since there wasn’t a high chair or booster to be found in the place. To be fair, they didn’t know Chloe was having dinner with us otherwise I’m sure they would’ve accommodated our shorty. The fact that they didn’t have a single high chair or booster did make it obvious that this wasn’t supposed to be a kid-friendly restaurant. After all, it was drum & bass and not Barney & Friends playing on the restaurant’s sound system. Thank God.
A Mojito Sunset.
A waiter (but not our waiter for the night) came by to drop the wine list and a couple of menus. To save time—let me rephrase that—to maximize drinking time, I quickly ordered a mojito, which I felt would be a nice bar-o-meter to gauge the bar's skills. I then gave Diane quite specific instructions to…
Order anything you want. Money is no object. Here, the 36 ounce porterhouse sounds perfect!
Are you crazy? It’s fifty-six dollars and it’s enormous! You want me huger than I already am? Are you one of those guys who like to fatten up their woman so nobody else is attracted to them? I’ve heard about men like that. It’s really insidious.
Forget it. How about the rib eye and the ahi? It’s like surf n’ turf.
(Studying menu) That’s not a combo. Those are two separate items. Why do you want me to order so much?
Just order whatever you want but order a steak for Chloe too, like the petite filet. That’s like a kid’s meal here.
Eventually, we did place our order and all at once. I meant business. After all, I was working. Well, sort of.
A Long, Tall Drink of Diane.
The starters on the menu were broken down into three sections: Antipasti, Crudo and Small Plates. I love raw seafood so West’s Crudo section was irresistible and it offered a little bit of everything like oysters on a half shell, a fluke carpaccio, yellowtail and avocado tartar, cured salmon, a sea scallop ceviche, etc.
I’m one of those people who never understood the widespread “no anchovies on the pizza” sentiment. I’ve been hearing it all my life and I just can’t relate. Anchovies are seductive and salty little strips of superb seafood snacking. (Okay, I admit it, alliteration gone wild. Sorry.) So when I spied the antipasto “white anchovies, celery & almonds”, I had to try it.
But as far as the crudi were concerned, I could’ve made a meal of just those. However, I showed amazing restraint and ordered only the “fluke, meyer lemon, hot peppers & sea salt” while Diane asked for the “yellowtail and avocado tartar”. However, my wife was hesitant to order any more starters. I insisted that she did.
Diane, I got it handled. Don’t worry about the money. Here, let me show you a trick. Just look at the numbers on the right of the menu where the prices are and pick the highest one and order that.
Something’s weird. You usually won’t even let me order a Coke with a hamburger.
True but tonight’s different, order a Coke. Shit, order Cristal. Pretend you’re on a first date with a romantic, generous, rich guy. And you want to test his credit limit. And he’s incredibly good looking. Okay?
That’s a lot to pretend. Maybe Chloe can do it. (to Chloe) Sweety, can you pretend Daddy has a lot of money and looks like Johnny Depp?
Believe it or not, Diane more or less bought my whole “money is no object” routine so she ordered the small plates “short rib ravioli” and “porcini gnocchi”, which both came highly recommended by our waiter Josh.
And also believe it or not, for my large plate, I didn’t even opt for the premium grade, twenty-one day aged black angus 36 ounce porterhouse. Instead, I answered the sweet, gamey call of the “dijon crusted rack of lamb” while Diane took the advice of one of the managers and ordered the New York strip steak. I asked her if she wanted an additional large plate, the cacciucco (seafood stew), perhaps. She shot me a dirty look that inspired me to order a Dirty Martini, extra olives.
While we waited for our starters we grazed on the chunky, crumbles of Parmigiano-Reggiano, rejoiced in the savory assortment of Italian olives and dipped our crusty bread into the seasoned extra virgin.
About half way through my Martini a disoriented runner came to the table (after passing it a couple of times) with our antipasto: the anchovies. This wee plate was the embodiment of freshness, from the sparkling sheen on the anchovies to the crispy snap of the celery wedges to the invigorating bite of the just cracked pepper and sea salt. Bling, even the almonds were peeled! A drizzle of vinegar tied this bouquet of freshness together. The deboned sardines were surprisingly delicate in flavor and plump and juicy like ocean cherubs. The absolute wonder about really good antipasto like this one is that the seasonings are spare but still the flavors manage to explode and this is all due to the focus on the extraordinary freshness in each ingredient.
The credo for crudo is also utmost freshness as demonstrated with our selections.
The fluke, a funny looking bottom-dwelling flatfish also know as summer flounder, was carved into fine sheets of carpaccio. It's a gentle tasting fish and is simply drizzled with fragrant olive oil and fresh lemon juice, sprinkled with quick dashes of sea salt and red pepper, and topped with feisty sprouts. This fluke was far from being just a fluke; its preparation was quite deliberate and the execution was very satisfying. Each element of this crudo was well defined and together was able to achieve flavor harmony. Again, freshness is the key.
Crudo Yellowfish & Avocado Tartar.
Cream rises to the top—specifically to the 17th floor of the Hotel Angeleno. But the cream I’m talking about is the yellowtail and avocado tartar. This is one helluva velvety mashup of luscious yellowtail and bold avocado. Fasten your seatbelt. The circular dining room almost spins after a couple of bites.
Short Rib Ravioli.
Ravioli to me usually means a dumpling stuffed with something squishy, creamy or soft. West’s short rib ravioli, on the other hand, was a manly billfold of pasta stuffed silly with tender shreds of pork short rib, all smothered in a robust sauce that teased with a tangy-sweet, barbeque flavor.
Magic is the only way I can describe this small plate of intoxicating mushroom gnocchi. The “porcini gnocchi” are creamy nuggets of fragrant mushroom infused euphoria. Even before the first bite, the gnocchi casts its spell with an intense earthy aroma only a great mushroom can conjure up. And as you go ahead and take the bite, the gnocchi fools you with uncharacteristic textures of soft and delicate rather than its more common chewy and dense. The headiness of the porcini gnocchi only amplifies when you actually eat and savor it.
Rack of Lamb.
All this build-up from the openers only made it that much tougher for the headliners. However, when my “dijon crusted rack of lamb” was set before me, all visual indications—from the batter’s golden spicy crust that segues into a lip-smacking char at the bone/stick to the exquisite crimson flesh which can just about transmogrify any vegan into a flesh tearing lycan—were excellent. The mellow gaminess of the lamb and the surprisingly fried chicken flavored crust (I didn’t detect much dijon) really delighted me. I wasn’t expecting anything like it. Could this just as well be served as a Southern fried rack of lamb? Do I dare—a finger lickin’ lamb? Don’t bother with the mint vinegar that comes with it, not so good. Even worse, it turns a perfectly cooked piece of meat into a pucker-faced encounter. Josh the waiter warned me about the sauce and he was right on.
Josh was also right on with the wine pairing. He coupled an Aussie wine named Annie’s Lane, a Cabernet Merlot, with the lamb. It was a real spicy partner but well suited for the gamey meat. Our waiter proved to be not only knowledgeable about the menu but was very accurate too, like he’s actually sampled every item—imagine that.
NY Strip Steak.
As mentioned before, one of the managers enthusiastically recommended the New York strip steak for Diane. Medium rare. That’s what she got. At worst, it was underwhelming. At best, it was competent. Her opinion: Very flavorful but not very tender for a premium grade, twenty-one day aged cut of black angus. I knew she should’ve gotten the big, fat porterhouse ($56).
To make up for her mis-steak, I handed her one of my seriously good lamb on a stick and we both waited to turn into werewolves.
At an embarrassing moment of fine dining ecstasy—just as Diane’s eyes were rolling to the back of her head and I was moaning with the satisfaction of a force fed foie gras goose—Chef Josh Moulton strolls up to our table for a visit. Executive Chef of West, Josh Moulton attended Yale and was trained at the illustrious Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Chef Moulton asked if we had any questions for him, but the only itch I had to scratch was whether he was related to Sara Moulton of Food Network’s Sara’s Secrets. He reluctantly answered yes—they’re cousins. He then told me a funny anecdote about how there was a point when virtually everyone in the Moulton family had appeared on her cooking show but him. Eventually he said she invited him on to the show…but he was the last relative to be on. Better last than never.
Diane is visibly impressed.
Wow. The chef came to our table. I don’t see him going to anyone else’s table. Do you think he recognizes you?
Well, I do have my photo on the blog.
Yeah, but you were skinny then.
C’mon, I don’t look that different.
I wouldn’t even recognize you now if I didn’t know you.
Josh the waiter returns to give us the dessert menus.
I hope you folks saved room for dessert.
I reply, I guess none for tubby hubby. Right, honey?
Well, of course, we did have dessert. Mine was a gin and tonic, heavy on the gin. Diane’s were the fruit fondue and the “moulton chocolate cake with caramel center”.
I defy anyone to dis fondue. It’s probably the most fun you can have with dessert, the only exception being a can of whip cream and a stripper. Our fondue came with a pot that held a melted dark bitter chocolate and another other pot had a bright and sweet caramel. (But oddly neither of the candles under the pots was lit.) When you have two very different dips to plunge into, it’s entertaining to experiment with what food tastes good with what sauce. For example, pineapple and dark chocolate—bitter as bile, yuck! Pineapple and hot caramel—sweet sugar high. The pillowy soft marshmallow bars went with both really well.
Moulton Chocolate Cake.
The “moulton chocolate cake with caramel center” is pastry chef Thomas Deville’s signature dessert. Diane seemed to really, really enjoy the provocatively rich cake, making porno sounds while devouring it. Okay, honey. We get it. You like it. A lot. Please, no When Harry Met Sally reenactments tonight.
At last we called it a night and had the uneaten half of Diane’s steak boxed up. Chef Moulton came back to wish us a good night and patted Chloe on the head. Always gracious, Josh the waiter was happy to hear how much we enjoyed the evening. He handed me the pretend bill. All I had to do was print and sign my name. The grand total was a bit over two-hundred dollars for two and a half people—very fair for the quality of the food, the venue and the service. I tipped about 30% of the bill.
Sure, our table was probably assigned to West’s best waiter, our plates were probably fussed over slightly more by Chef Moulton and we definitely received rock star treatment i.e. the chef’s table visits and the completely comped dinner. But would I go back again on my own dime…and, more importantly, not lie to my wife about it?
Eddie, that was such a perfect evening. It would’ve been just as good if we paid ourselves.
How’d you find out?
Honey, you never tip 30% unless something is free or you’re super drunk and you only had five drinks tonight so you weren’t that bad. It doesn’t matter because I had a great time. It was wonderful. Give me a kiss, my cow penis munching honey.
Sweety, not in front of the baby. By the way, cows don’t have penises.
Shut up and smooch me.
170 N. Church Lane, Los Angeles, California 90049
“Where Sunset Blvd. Meets the 405 Freeway”
Small plates $6-$16
Breakfast: 6:30 AM – 10:30 AM (weekdays)
7:00AM – 10:30AM (weekends)
Lunch: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM
2 hour validation, anything over that time limit is $4.50. Free street parking available.
Hotel Angeleno and West Restaurant website
i know. i was gushing a little. it wasn't the holy grail of haute cuisine, but it was very good. speaking of f'ing holy grail of haute cuisine, i will be going to the french laundry this weekend. and it will be comped too. kinda. (my very good friends are treating me for my b-day.)
thanks for reading the blog. and please let me cyber shake your hand for being a diehard woody allen fan. i actually saw him play with his jazz band at the carlyle in manhattan. it was like seeing god! yeah, i know i'm a big dork.
we'll see if i do a french laundry piece. i may be moving too far from the deep end of the dining pool.
I agree with you that anchovies rule! I order pizza with anchovies, pineapple, and black and green olives. And I am never asked to share it. :-p
Of course, I have to say CONGRATULATIONS on your new baby! That is awesome news!
If everything ends up being okay with my health *fingers crossed* Dave and I hope to have a bun in the oven soon, too.
two. french f**king laundry?!?!? you lucky lucky...i dunno. you should call up tk (i can call him that 'cuz we're tight like that) and tell him YOU are coming - maybe he'll do some deepend stuff just for you. brain sorbet. or something.
oh, thanks so much for the compliment. coming from a photographer like yourself, it's really extra nice.
free expensive food rules...sometimes. for example i hate it when (in my single days) women would treat me to a fancy dinner and expect a little something after. and i don't mean dessert. sorry, i'm just talking trash. i loooove it when that happens!
anchovies are the tater tots of the gods!
good luck to you and dave. hope you guys get another lil' chubbins soon too.
i'm happy you like the photo. when am i going to see one of you thu a soju glass. damn, that was racist! okay, i take that back. when will i see one with a kimchee jar. oh snap! i'm all effed up! sorry, honey. no more. i deserve all the spam i've been getting.
speaking of korean, did you know the chef de cuisine at the french laundry is korean? his name is corey lee and he is all of 28??? wow! good for him.
how could anyone ever be mean to you? especially when you were a little tiny chub ball? i would've squeezed you silly! unless of course you were a colicky brat. no, i'm totally joking. i would've squeezed you really hard if you were a brat. totally kidding-ish.
so if your sandwich shop is expecting a review then those better be some damn good sandwiches.