I promised last week a Los Angeles restaurant that thrilled me as well as one that I’m not too sure of yet. Let’s start with the good news.
Right across the street in Beverly Hills from Wolfgang Puck’s Spago is the new, very luxe hotel Montage. I can’t speak for the hotel experience, but my guess is that like most other high-end hotels in the country, Montage may be having a tough time keeping rooms full and room rates high. But it hasn’t let culinary standards suffer.
I had dinner on a Monday night with friends at Parq, one of the hotel’s two main restaurants (the other, Muse, is the hotel’s premium dining room and is open Tuesday through Saturday). In a subdued room so beautifully lit that movie lighting professionals must have been involved, diners at Parq look out onto a formal garden and fountains through floor-to-ceiling windows and doors. Parq’s menu is happily free of fussy dishes, with straightforward offerings including an organic, dry-aged, coffee-crusted New York strip and even a great burger. That steak, by the way, is cooked sous vide and then tossed on a grill briefly to “mark” it, and the result is perfect.
In fact, almost every dish was a hit among the five of us dining as guests of the hotel, from a rich starter of Dungeness crab (“1904” Crab Louie) to a luxurious heirloom tomato salad. One of my dinner partners who ordered the chicken pot pie found it a bit thin, but otherwise, from starter to desserts, the kitchen impressed.
And what a kitchen.
“We consider the kitchen to be front of the house, too,” beverage director Dave Wallace said as he gave me a tour.
He meant the roomy and gleaming kitchen is as appealing to visit as the dining room. It features acres of marble counter space and state-of-the-art equipment with glass-front refrigerators. There are even four bar-height chairs where a quartet of foodies may dine while watching the action. Nearby is a glassed-in chef’s table dining room that seats 14 in grand style.
Wallace is proud of the hotel’s wine list, which doesn’t go over the top in pricing. And although the hotel that Parq calls home has rooms that begin at approximately $600 a night, the restaurant doesn’t sport inflated hotel-dining-room prices. The 11-ounce steak I had is priced at $30 while a fat, Maine lobster sandwich with bacon, avocado and heirloom tomato comes in at $24. One could easily make a great dinner of two starters, such as the tortilla soup ($12) and a salad of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet onions in a light dressing ($16).
This one’s a keeper, a hotel restaurant worth a drop by even if you’re not a guest. In fact, I’d think a perfect way to spend a day in the shopping district of Beverly Hills would involve lunch at Spago, an afternoon of prowling the glitzy shops along Rodeo Drive and then dinner at Parq. Don’t we all deserve that kind of day every once in a while?
I was ready to fall in love with Susan Feniger’s STREET at Highland and Melrose. Her past efforts, including Border Grill and Ciudad (with partner Mary Sue Milliken), raised the level of southwestern and Mexican cuisine a notch and were favorites of mine when they opened. STREET is an effort to bring street food from around the world to your Los Angeles table. And although some of the dishes did wow me, others were less impressive not only to the palate but also to the eye—there are a lot of brown and gray dishes on this menu.
Which is not to take away from the ambition that informs Feniger’s menu. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, the latter being a high-walled courtyard with a towering palm tree overhead, a billboard on the roof of the adjoining building and walls with graffiti. A tiny kitchen turns out plates inspired by street food from Korea (short ribs that I found flaccid and overly sweet), Thailand, Japan and even Eastern Europe (tasty Moldavian meatballs). The menu is divided into “tea cakes & dumplings,” “noodles, soups & curries” and salads and vegetable sides. You can see where we’re going here: small, potentially interesting plates (in the $9-$12 range). Larger plates, such as Singapore chile crab or a rib-eye steak (marinated with Worcestershire sauce, mustard and paprika) can reach up to $32.
On the night I visited, Feniger and her staff had spent the day cooking for the upcoming CBS’ Emmy Awards ceremony, but she still managed to send over dish after dish of offerings as she flitted around the restaurant explaining dishes to diners with the enthusiasm of an evangelist. Some dishes were home runs (a Singaporean Kaya toast with coconut jam that’s dipped into egg yolk), others were near misses. But I love the concept, and I’m intending to return, though this time I’d like to go when there’s still light in the sky so I could see the dishes more clearly.