< Fresh Approach: April 2005

Monday, April 25, 2005

Words can make a meal sound so much better than it ever really was. I know because I once read a review of an “ethereal” chocolate soufflé that turned out to be a gritty mound of inedible chalkiness. None of that applies to meals at the incomparable Hotel Bel Air. Descriptions that just scratch the surface are more along the lines of delectable, ambrosial, bewitching, nectareous, and divine. And let us not forget sumptuous and just plain delicious.

The Rock Goddess and I went to this heavenly spot last week and indulged our innermost gluttons. And believe me, we were more than satisfied. If you are not familiar with the Hotel Bel Air, it is an extraordinary (and fantastically posh) spot that makes you feel as if you are living in another city. It is quiet and tranquil, lush and sedate and the perfect place to have an elegant meal away from the spotlight.

It is a testament to them that the very first thing that happens when you pull in is that enough valets come over to open every door. A small gesture, but one that makes an impression. Once inside we were offered indoor or outdoor (under the jasmine and bougainvillea ladened trellises, near the fireplace) seating, and opted for indoor, thinking it was too quiet outside to really feel comfortable. Later in the summer it will be busier, but that night, it wasn’t.

To start we ordered Kir Royales. Some people (who aren’t French, I suppose) find it to be a little much, I call it the nectar of the Gods. And of course, they brought by the bread basket with a choice of focaccia, sourdough rolls, cheese sticks, flat bread or olive bread, all of which were perfect.

As an amuse bouche, the chef sent out a demitasse of impressively smooth and warm asparagus soup with black truffles. No more than three sips were offered in that tiny porcelain cup, but what was there was palate-awakening decadence. There was not a speck of pepper, yet a touch of spiciness, not a hint of fiber, only a deep rich springtime burst of asparagus and several large shavings of lusty truffle. Being the outrageous women we are, the Rock Goddess and I opted to have three appetizers and split an entrée. It would have been obscene to order more, though it still verged on the sinful to do even that. The three appetizers were: Foie Gras “Trois Facon” – Smoked Torchon, Seared BLT and Crème Brulee ($28), Wild Mushroom Risotto Oregon Truffles and Porcini Essence ($28), Ahi Tuna tartare with Avocado and melon (Can you tell I didn’t write that one down the way I did with the others? It sounds so much less interesting, but trust me, it was incandescent.)

Allow me to start by talking about the risotto. There is no denying it’s really a bowl of rice, but somehow with a little kitchen magic is was a feast. Rich and impressive, perfectly cooked (a tricky thing with risotto, I think.) redolent with truffle slices, buttery and saporous.

The tuna tower was amazing to behold. The fish was bright and sparkling and in perfect cubes with a hint of something spicy, (Radish seeds I think) the avocado was creamy and the lusciously orange and juicy melon set it all off perfectly. Topped with a salad of frissee, radish sprouts and batons of rainbow radish, the entire thing came together as spicy, sweet, fresh, lux and superbly balanced.

I can’t tell you about the Fois Gras. I’m sorry. It was just too, too much. Too swank, too heady, too masterful to describe. On a long platter they served two large bites of culinary bliss and a cup of lasciviously decadent crème brulee. If you are in Los Angeles, and you are willing and hungry, go to the Bel Air and order this. Savor it. Relish it. Worship it. It deserves no less.

For the entrée we split the truly remarkable Fennel Crusted Filet of West Coast Striped Bass with Bronze Fennel, Basil Whipped Celery Root and Niçoise Relish ($42) that they kindly put on two plates for us. I wish I hadn’t burnt out my thesaurus writing the last few descriptions, because this, well, it took the prize. The fish was cooked to be soft and white, but with an outrageous crispy crust of flavorful fennel. It sat on a bed of perfectly seasoned, Kelly green (due to the subtle basil) whipped celery root, which was just light enough to work like magic with the burst of flavor that came from the nicoise relish quenelles.

What did we drink to cleanse our palates during this decadent meal? A bottle of 1996 Iron Horse Brut Rose Sparkling Wine. The review of which will have to wait.

Desert was the last thing on our minds at that point, but they did send out a few little chocolate truffles (smooth and creamy, luscious and lovely) and a chocolate dipped strawberry. After this soul satisfying meal, we went to their clubby bar and had a glass of Eau De Vie. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

I forgot to tell you the occasion for this big night out! Absolutely nothing. That’s right. We are just girls who think life is short and eating well is the best thing ever. I hope you live that way too, because it makes everything else a touch more fantastic.

Overall – Dreamlike
Food – Exquisite yet approachable
Ambiance – Evenings are quiet, brunch is more festive
Service – Refined and kind
Prices – How can you put a price on perfection?
Will I return? – Is there a sun in the sky? ___________________________________________________________ Information on Oregon Truffles

Review of The Hotel Bel Air from Zagats: Supplying a “civil oasis in Gomorrah”, this “ultimate romantic hideaway” in the Bel-Air Hotel is renowned for its “gorgeous”, “blue-blood” decor (No. 1 in this Survey) and “breathtaking” grounds replete with “soothing swans” sailing by; “beautifully presented”, “superb” Cal-French fare and “fine wines” are “perfectly” served by the “top-notch” staff, and though it’s “pricey”, it’s “unbeatable for any occasion”, especially if you reserve the private Table One; N.B. jacket required during fall and winter.

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