Sublime on the Sunset Strip

Bar Marmont West Hollywood 15 May 10
eat: Smoked Trout, Crème Fraîche, and Potato, Gougères, Fava Bean Bruschetta, Burrata & Grilled Artichoke Board, Hanger Steak & Spinach Salad, Sheep Milk Ricotta Gnocchi, Caesar Salad with Grilled Sardines
sip: Brass Flower, Añejo Old-Fashioned, Peach Bellini

Last weekend, I had a mini-staycation at the Hotel Andaz with my friends for their belated birthday celebration. Although staycations originated from the need for a cheaper alternative to expensive travel, I have discovered that bunking in town has many benefits - you avoid the frustrating hell of airline travel, you can take a break from driving (this is especially necessary in LA) and you have the opportunity to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods you might have overlooked For example, our hotel, which we chose for it's fabulous rooftop pool, was located on the crowded and cheesy Sunset Strip, an area which I avidly avoid. The restaurant options within walking distance on the Strip are limited, unless your dining dreams include a mechanical bull, pricey hotel establishments, or the euro-trash mecca of Sunset Plaza. Indeed, we could have cabbed it elsewhere, but I relished the challenge of discovering a local gem. Ultimately, we ended up at an old place, Bar Marmont, that has been reinvented as a foodie destination.

When I first moved to LA, Bar Marmont was a place for boozing and schmoozing; it was the kind of place frequented by beautiful people who's idea of dinner was a cigarette and a cocktail. However, their culinary caliber increased in 2007 when Carolynn Spence, the chef de cuisine from NYC's popular gastropub, The Spotted Pig, came to helm the kitchen and now it excels as both a bar and restaurant. Inside, the room reeks of sexy; vintage light bulbs and lanterns set the mood. The French/Indochine decor features tile floors, smoky mirrors, and whimsical butterflies floating from the ceiling. We sample from the well-curated cocktail menu, which offers some tasty twists on old classics. First, a gorgeous, rose-hued Añejo Old-Fashioned (pictured right) who's girlie color suggests fruity and sweet, yet instead it packs quite a punch. This is a drink for those who like the taste of tequila rather than have it masked by a margarita’s salt and lime. The Brass Flower, an icy and refreshing take on a French 75, is an elegant concoction of St. Germain, Gin, Champane, and Grapfruit juice. A Peach Bellini bursts with first-of-the-summer peaches. Moving on to dinner, our friendly waitress, Abby, is a knowledgeable guide who helps us navigate through the menu which bursts with seasonal temptations.

Smoked Trout, Crème Fraiche, Potato Chunks of buttery trout top a hollowed-out potato with capers inside. A dollop of tangy, crème fraiche, a sprinkle of chives, and a dusting of paprika complete this delectable dish . The smoked trout is a welcome change from the standard smoked fish, salmon. It’s less oily and overpowering; I’m inspired to make this for my next brunch.

Gougères These surprisingly light, fluffy cheese puffs are France's interpretation of Brazil's addictive Pan de Quejo. I used to dine at Red Lobster (the Shrimp Shrimp and More Shrimp was my guilty pleasure) where each meal would begin with a piping hot basket of cheddar & onion biscuits. These gougères are the grown-up, culinary version and remind me that every meal should begin with cheesy bread.

Fava Bean Bruschetta Springtime’s bean of the moment taste best when they are served in unadulterated glory. Here, a hint of olive oil and salty pecorino highlight the bright, green beauties. Since cooking favas is insanely labor-intensive, I'm happy to let the pros do the work and always order them in restaurants.

Burrata and Grilled Artichoke Board I would return to Bar Marmont just for the sake of sampling this wooden plank of pleasures. I can’t get enough of burrata, the gooey, creamy, buffalo mozzarella that has been a welcome trend in the dining world. This is a multisensory affection; I love how it glistens, how it stretches like taffy, and how it brims with full fat flavor. I have nibbled numerous artichoke leaves to get to the holy grail of the heart, but here, the heart is grilled solo. There is an intensity and meatyness similar to a grilled Portobello mushroom. Slices of yellow heirloom tomatoes and earthy Lucques olives add to the mix. I’m not shy with my bread consumption, yet somehow grilling bread makes it even more irresistible.

Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnocchi with Squash Blossoms and Parmesan Thanks to the ricotta, these gnocchi are pillowy and light rather than stick-to-your-belly starchy. Bathed in a creamy, buttery sauce with basil puree and parmesan, this dish is pure comfort. Another springtime fave, squash blossoms, top the pasta, providing both a burst of color and zing to the plate.

Grilled Hangar Steak with Spinach Salad As a bona fide omnivore, who has equal love for animal protein and produce, I adore a dish that fulfills both of these food groups. Case in point: this deconstructed steak salad. On one side, lies a tender, perfectly cooked (charred on outside, pink in the middle) hanger steak. On the other, the salad, with pickled beets, slivers of crispy garlic, smoky blue cheese, and roasted red peppers would be wonderful solo, but it is the perfect side to the accompanying steak.

Ceasar Salad with Grilled Sardines Everyone has their own take on what makes a Ceasar good; some like theirs stinking with garlic, some like theirs drenched in dressing. As a true Libra, who’s always searching for balance, I prefer mine to be a harmonious blend where the ingredients work together rather than have one overpower the rest. The sardines - hearty, fresh ones not the oily, puny versions in a tin - and the fried capers are briny-licious.

After this filling feast, we were thankful for our digestive walk back to the hotel. It reminded me of one of my favorite Italian traditions, the passeggiata, but rather than strolling through piazzas, we trudged along the teeming sidewalks of the Strip. However, rather than sneer at the Saturday-night revelers, we smiled knowing that we had found a diamond in the rough. We would return to Bar Marmont for drinks and apps, for a romantic date, for their Sunday Night Fried Chicken Dinner, for unpretentious, fresh fare.

FYI, the valet is insanely expensive, so try to find parking elsewhere.