Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Mixed Bag of Tricks at Ciudad

We’d dined here before - many moons ago and decided it was time to return.

I was hoping for a similar dining experience to the last time and sadly, it was not recaptured.

Let’s start with the service: Virtually nonexistent. We waited what seemed like indefinitely for our first round of drinks – and had to track down the manager to request another. Even after doing so, our waiter was still painfully slow – and to boot, didn’t seem to know too much about the menu. Adding insult to injury, the busboys seemed to just loiter, literally – completely unaware of the that plates we had finished which were sitting at the edge of our table for the taking. We had a second course arrive with plates littering our table. Nice!

On to the food – which was truly a mixed bag.

I ordered three appetizers as my meal, since I wasn’t in the mood for heavier fare.

The first course – a Wild Arugula and Hearts of Palm salad with Spiced Pepita Seeds, White Peaches, Shaved Manchego and a Lemon Vinaigrette. Sounded exotic – so I ordered it. Well, here was the first disappointment. The pepitas stole the show – they were packed with flavor, overpowering all of the other flavors on the plate. They were great, but again – the rest of the salad paled in comparison – particularly the dressing – which was anything but flavorful.

John started out with the Shrimp Tamale Negro, which he loved. I liked it – better than what I ordered. In fact, the flavors of that dish were very well-coordinated. Nothing out-and-out extraordinary, but very nice.

Next, I had the Peruvian Ceviche, with Mahi Mahi, Lime, Ginger and Aji Amarillo Chile. They decorated the plate with what I can only describe as plantain chips. They were a nice touch – and the dish was fortunately fantastic. I did bite into a whole peppercorn though, which sucked.

Following that, I can only say that I am thrilled I was already full. I had ordered the Carpaccio of Beef, featuring grass-fed natural beef from Uruguay, Charred Salsa Verde, Argentine Parmesan, Spanish Olive Oil and Grilled Lemon. Here is what I tasted – Olive oil and salt. I am not exaggerating when I say that the beef was swimming in olive oil and salt. It was revolting. I used the grilled lemon to cut the olive oil on about half of the plate, and even that barely made a dent. Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment.

John ordered a main course, which was again, far better than anything I ordered. They arrived fairly late into the meal, after my second course, and along with my third, which was inedible. He had the Barbequed Boneless Beef Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta, Bloomsdale Spinach, Corn Salsa and Truffle Essence. These truly were remarkable. The flavors were perfect and the dish was just exotic enough to make it interesting. I helped him clean his plate.

The highlight of the evening however was the live music on the patio. John was kind enough to render an illustration of the three men who graced us with Beatles and Springsteen hits and the like, reinterpreted in what I suppose I can describe as a mellow Mariachi style. I’m sure there’s a better description, but that is going to have to work for now.

Drinks were nice - nothing to write home about.

To sum it up, this was a lengthy lesson in what to and what not to order at Ciudad. I may return one day, but it won’t be soon.

Fortunately, we were off to see comedian Doug Stanhope after dinner. If only we’d have known that the show was to take place in what is supposed to be a great sushi restaurant…

445 S. Figueroa
Los Angeles
(213) 486-5171

(Napkin art courtesy of John Fountain)

Bonding with Bond St.

So when I got word that the Thompson Hotel Group was going to open a West Coast counterpart to its East Coast-based 60 Thompson Hotel, I was thrilled. When I discovered that they were going to open a restaurant similar to Kittichai within the hotel called Bond St., I was elated. When I was last in NYC, my husband John and I stayed at the 60 Thompson, (where I drooled over the stunning dark brown marble bathrooms and edgy, dark décor), and we repeatedly ate at Kittichai. During one sitting, we managed to consume about 4 orders of Foie Gras – and I am still amazed that we did not self-combust from clogged arteries.

Needless to say, we loved it.

And so we finally made our way to its fairly new West Coast sister, “Bond St.” within the new Thompson Beverly Hills. I was skeptical, knowing that ownership doesn’t always play a role in terms of how great or not a restaurant will or won’t be. (We’ve all seen what has happened with the likes of Wolfgang Puck’s lower-end ventures), but I was also hopeful. Hope is, after all, my middle name.

Fortunately for us, my hope beat out my skepticism this time… for the most part anyway.

Going in, you should know that not every item on the menu is necessarily going to be downright astounding. In fact, one was disappointingly bland and out-of-place – the Sun-Dried Tomato/Avocado Roll, which I would not recommend ordering for that very reason. My other gripe pertains to the Lobster Tempura with Creamy Japanese Mustard Dressing. The lobster is perfect, but the aioli-esque sauce needed way more flavor. It was bland as bland can be and did nothing to complement the lobster whatsoever. Less flavor than plain mayo. Didn’t get it. Don’t order it, unless you like your lobster tempura sans sauce.

The Sesame Crusted Shrimp Roll with Orange Curry Dressing and Balsamic Glaze on the other hand, was beyond delightful. The interesting combination of flavors literally made it fun to eat. I will be having this repeatedly upon return.

We also had the Toro Tartare, which our wonderful waitress, Lindsey Strywoll (I think I may have butchered the spelling here), forewarned us upon ordering, was a very small portion – “A delicate dish.” Of course, we appreciated the heads up but we couldn’t help laugh at the fact that she felt she needed to forewarn us based solely on the way Americans overeat! An appetizer isn’t supposed to be huge or overly-filling - it’s intended to whet your appetite! Sadly however, I am sure they receive countless complaints. The toro by the way was just so-so. Not the best toro I’ve ever had, but still nice. There really is no such thing as bad toro in my book, however this too would not be ordered on a subsequent trip.

We tried to order the Goat Cheese Crab Cakes with Carrot and Lemon Coulis and a Pounded Rice Crust, but alas, they were not to be had that evening, for reasons unbeknownst to us, but I sincerely hope they are available upon return since they sounded delicious.

Here was the clincher for me though in regards to deeming this restaurant a place worthy of return; their scallops. I don’t even generally like scallops, but we ordered their Diver Sea Scallops with Foie Gras and Asian Pear Salad – and to my disbelief, I ADORED them. I think the salad may also have contained beets, which only added to the culinary perfection that this dish was.

And of course, we indulged in both drink and dessert – and those were impressive to boot.

They have a lovely signature cocktail menu from which I selected the Lychee Martini, which is exactly what you hope it will be; nice, clean, light, refreshing and perfect for summer.

Dessert was just plain cool and right up my alley – Banana Milk Chocolate Dim Sum with Hazelnuts and a Sweet Sour Cream Dipping Sauce.

The décor, not surprisingly is quite modern, with a bit of an Asian flair. The lobby/entry connecting the restaurant and hotel concierge is relatively cool whereas the restaurant itself is a bit more sterile but not necessarily in a bad way. The food takes center stage, which is nice, though I am a sucker for great interiors and am getting a wee bit bored of the neutral-modern-subtlety-Asian thing. Kittichai’s décor was by far significantly more interesting that Bond St. The slightly mid-century-modernish huge chandeliers in the valet parking area were rad.

Definitely well-worth a trip or many, to really get to know the entire menu and uncover which of their signature dishes are worthy of repeat trips… or not.

Another perk – the service is impeccable however we were there at an off early-evening hour, so don’t hold me responsible if you don’t have a stellar experience in terms of service – though if Lindsey is waiting on you, I imagine you will be quite content.

9360 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Reservations: (310) 273-1400

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gordon Ramsay at The London Hollywood

Let's just start out by saying I left there puking in my nice new YSL bag. It is a total shame, I know, the bag I mean, the food poisoning was secondary on my list of miseries from that night. The rotten scallop sashimi is where it all went wrong, or maybe it was my decision to order sashimi at a non traditional Japanese restaurant is where the wrongs all started. We were seated in the middle of the restaurant on these inter-connected round tables - 3 tables with serpentine bench sofa that curved around the center of the room. This is important because our "good and visible" table was the reason I didn't spit out the scallop in a Gordon Ramsay fashion, gagging and making pukey sounds. I didn't want to cause a scene. Big mistake.

I went with my family, a huge risk because they are the pickiest eaters I know. Aside from rotten scallops, the rest of the menu was atrocious. Everything is appetizer size, I love that concept, but in this case, it only meant that we got a hefty bill at the end of a really bad meal. And another thing about ordering 18 different dishes, going back to the serpentine table, it was set up so that the wait staff could not get to both sides of the table so they had to literally run to the other side of the restaurant to get plates and utensils on and off the table, which was done constantly because of the many dishes. We were so distracted by the waitors not to mention, the super duper slow service between dishes. The PR arm in NY and the Hollywood manager did contact me to apologize, etc. and invite me back, but why the heck would I subject myself to that AGAIN??