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2010 los angeles travelogue

The Eveleigh brothers

[pacific tower]The Eveleigh – This Sunset Strip restaurant (God help them) is, on my visit, brand new and a little breathless, and very clearly not yet fully settled-in, so read what follows in that context. There’s a smallish interior dining room, but it’s open to an exterior heated tent (nothing unusual for LA), and that’s where we sit. First problem: the tent is extremely dark, and the menu is tiny black print on a dark olive-tan background (at least, I think it is; in this much darkness, colors blend). As the youngest of the five at the table, I am the only one who can read the menu without the assistance of a pilfered candle or an overturned iPhone, and even then much of it reads as hieroglyphics.

Service is mostly very good, with the exception of the second problem: a bad habit of interrupting conversations (or, at least, our waiter does), to the point where one of my fellow diners finally puts his hand on the waiter’s arm and says, “I’m sorry, you can’t interrupt another conversation; please come back in a few minutes.” Which he does, good-naturedly and making a joke about being released from purgatory, but one hopes the general message gets across. To be fair, the breathlessness of the restaurant comes from a very steady stream of both reserved and walk-in customers, some famous and some not, that they’re obviously very eager to accommodate; we do hold our table for a fair time, and maybe they’d like to turn our seats a little sooner than we allow. The solution would be to make this intent clearer, rather than constant interruption. But, again, this is a very new restaurant.

Design? Well, it’s dark. Dark wood, dark tent, etc. The biggest and brightest light comes from the kitchen, and when one is in the front (semi-enclosed) portion of the restaurant that light is a little blinding if one is facing it. This, too, is a design issue in search of a better solution.

We order a fair array of things from both the menu and the nightly specials (which are offered only after we ask; more post-opening jitters). First courses are small and share-worthy, and the unquestioned star is a frankly brilliant roasted eggplant dish; as a life-long eggplant agnostic, it takes something for me to say this. There’s also an excellent crudo, which I won’t identify because it’s certainly something that changes regularly, except to say that the restaurant may wish to lend a closer eye to the sustainability of certain fish, because I think this one may be on the red list. As for second courses, they’re reasonably-sized and clearly preference heavier expressions from the animal realm; nothing we have that’s not pig or cow quite measures up. My pork belly is well-flavored and nicely crisped, but the meat layers are a little dried out (it should be noted that a fellow diner finds the belly too fatty, but from my perspective the balance of meat and fat was perfect), and the beef rib cap is a really beautiful piece of flavorful flesh. The dish I don’t order but am most interested in by its description, braised beef cheeks, is slightly more problematic. The cheeks are cooked perfectly, at that flawless stage where there’s just enough melt but not a complete loss of texture, and the aggressive spicing is extremely enticing at first bite. But at more than one bite, the spice eventually overwhelms the luscious flavor of the beef itself. A slightly lighter hand, please, and this dish will be perfect.

We’ve hauled a quantity of our own wine into the restaurant, but I do take a peek at the wine list. It’s short but purpose-driven. Those of a Europhile bent will need to be ordering white wine (though see above, re: meat-dominance), because the Old World is highly underrepresented on the ruddy side. Instead, there’s a lot of domestic and a surprising Australian presence (that is to say, it’s surprising until one learns that a good portion of the ownership is Aussie), and to my eye gets pricey pretty quickly. This location may well be able to handle that sort of thing, though. In both shades, size is definitely preferred, and despite it not being to my personal taste I think that’s appropriate for the cuisine.

Tyrell’s 1999 Semillon “Vat 1” (Hunter Valley) – Sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder, waits for you to pay attention, then slips away, laughing at your sudden realization that you haven’t been paying enough mind, and now you’ve missed something important. It plays this teasing and eluding game over and over, never surrendering and just showing what it has. It’s not entirely divorced from the flavor profile of a delicate old white Burgundy, though with a little more grass and lemon, and quite satin-textured. The finest white pepper dust, maybe, later in the play. Those who think they can understand a wine’s adulthood and retirement from its birthing pains are, or at least should be, routinely mocked into abashed humility by the journey that this and other Hunter Valley semillons take. (11/10)

Bründlmayer 1979 Grüner Veltliner Kirchengarten (Kamptal) – Powerfully fizzy, so much so that were there any other sign I’d worry that this was refermenting in the bottle. As it is, there’s so much pétillance that the table discussion is over to what extent this was a deliberate winemaking choice; a little early prickle isn’t unexpected from this house, but at this age the outright froth is a little shocking. So what else? Celery, still, but fossilizing into a mineral form. Salt, kelp-infused. A brightness, as well, but the light rests on decaying bones…there’s no actual weakness yet evident, but there’s a certain trembling that indicates that the wine may begin to corrode fairly soon. This – grüner of an age I very, very rarely encounter – is an absolute thrill to drink, though I admit part of the thrill is the identity, rather than just the organoleptics. (11/10)

Texier 1999 Hermitage (Rhône) – Cellared since release. Packed up in a hand-constructed individual stryo sleeve. Stuffed into a bag and checked, paying the airline’s asinine baggage fee to do so despite not otherwise needing to check a bag. Collected at baggage claim after much foot-tapping delay. Unwrapped and rested, upright, in the hotel room to let the sediment settle. Transported, with care to avoid further sedimentary disturbance, to a restaurant. And – wine people can see the inevitable conclusion coming a mile away – corked. (11/10)

Allemand 1995 Cornas Reynard (Rhône) – Hey Zeus, this is good. Entering a bit of a soy phase, but it’s soy-soaked springbok jerky, very saline and entirely meaty. There’s salty brown minerality, too. Herbs, sometimes (though not always) found in older Cornas? Not so much, but in their place is a sort of lurid necro-floral aroma that’s really much better than that descriptor makes it sound. Balanced, still muscled despite much maturation, and really beautiful…if you’re a carnivore, that is. (11/10)

Allemand 1999 Cornas Chaillots (Rhône) – Still sorting itself out, but the folders are starting to populate. In one, there’s an herb-infused slow-cooked meat, still enveloped in a certain mystery. In another, something very floral and even a little aggressively aromatic. In a third, rocks piled upon rocks. This is still headed somewhere, and though it’s quite approachable now I think there’s more to see before it decides to stop for a rest and an idealized drinking experience. (11/10)

Seppelt 1986 Sparkling Shiraz “Show Reserve” (Barossa Valley) – Right out of the bottle, there’s the baked soy and caramel thing that I loathe, and too often find, in Barossa shiraz. But that doesn’t last long, and after an hour or so of nudging and sipping, the last glass is by far the best. Moreover, I fear there was still more to come as the dregs are drained, though of course I’ll never now. The intended froth is still present but the wine is so full-bodied (and this is in a worldwide, not strictly Barossan, context) that you don’t much notice it after the first few sips. Luscious dark fruit, certainly sun-drenched but not overly so, and black pepper, with a more particulate and coal-dust texture than I would have expected. Fun just because sparkling shiraz is, but with a serious side as well. This wine, decades ago and from a different (and older) vintage, was the one that convinced me sparkling shiraz could be something other than a parlor game and the setup for jokes about goat sacrifice. I’m glad to see that little has changed. (11/10)

Domaine Saint Vincent Brut (New Mexico) – Extremely bright. Lemons, apples, other tart citrus. A little copper adds some interest, but this is mostly about upfront fruit. A party sparkler. (11/10)

Umami said knock you out

[view from observatory]Umami Burger – A mini-chain that’s been much hyped on the food-geek interthingy, and as a fan of the en-sandwiched ground meat arts, I feel it’s my duty to assess the hype/quality ratio. At this Santa Monica outpost (stealthily camouflaged by a nondescript Fred Segal), and somewhat surprisingly quiet at Saturday lunch, the quasi-ironic Manly Burger – whether it’s named after the attitude or the Australian beach, I don’t ask and thus don’t know – and the signature Umami Burger are both entirely delicious. The former carries crisp onion strings, cheese, and hearty lumps of excellent bacon; the latter presents a more complex array of accompaniments. I have to say that, while the Manly is a classic experience, the Umami is something special. Both are quite superior to In-n-Out (I’m not factoring price into this assessment), and while I’ll have to recontextualize them on the chain burger lusciousness scale by returning to, say, Fatburger, they’re certainly “better” than that chain’s offerings by less hedonic measures, and maybe even by organoleptic ones as well. And while I realize this is highly subjective, I think they’re flawlessly-sized.

The accompanying cheesy tots are delicious as tater tots but could be cheesier. As for the tempura onion rings, their taste is almost magical, but their crispness fails very quickly, and so their primary quality is disappointingly ephemeral. An aside: the latter absolutely must be accompanied by the jalapeño ranch condiment, which is very nearly a perfect marriage between unhealthy fried stuff and unhealthy saucy stuff. Prices are upscale-burger but entirely fair, service is friendly in a casual California way, and the only negative is that almost everyone else is eating their burgers with knife and fork. Man up, people of Los Angeles and tourists alike. Use your damned hands. It’s a burger, not a Wagyu torchon.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company “Boont” Amber Ale (Anderson Valley) – Somewhat fulsome, but also somewhat thin in the middle where it counts, and the only thing that’s never in question is that it’s bitter in a raw hazelnut sort of way. A good, not great, beer with character but without commensurate appeal, at least for me. The intrinsically embittered might find more here.(11/10)

A post-facto coda: the role that the owner played in the outing of an LA Times restaurant critic? Dickish. As a result, my current interest in returning, despite my above-expressed culinary approval, is nil.

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