One last dispatch from LA.
Something momentous has happened in Hollywood, though many there don't even realize just how big a deal it is. One of the chefs from the Spotted Pig, Carolynn Spence, who trained under April Bloomfield, has decamped to Bar Marmont. As any New Yorker who counts the Spotted Pig among her favorite restaurants could tell an Angeleno: this is huge.
Of course, when we walked into the bar, which admittedly is not as new and trendy as it once was, Fellow WASP wondered what we were doing there.
"What's different?" She eyed the butterflies on the ceiling, the very same little butterflies that had been there before Andre Balazs' renovations. Still, Bar Marmont has its gritty-underside-of-Hollywood charm. The proof would have to be in the food.
Everyone knows the stories about the booze- and drug-filled parties at Chateau Marmont, but now it seems Bar Marmont has taken to actually serving drugs, because their gougeres must be cut with crack. Otherwise there's no way to explain why they were pounced upon like an illicit, jones-for substance that has to be quickly consumed before it's confiscated. Granted, we had to wait over a half an hour for the gougeres to appear after ordering from our kinda spacey waitress in white go-go boots, but they were worth the wait. Piping hot, with a crisp exterior and fluffy within, these fancy cheese buns are a must-order. And they go beautifully with wine and cocktails.
The extensive menu is easier to navigate if you've learned a few tricks from the Spotted Pig. Boozy bacon prunes are a variation on the Spotted Pig's Devils on Horseback, but without any pear within. I missed that contrast in texture, but we loved the sinfully candied taste of the boozy bacon prunes. Smoked trout with creme fraiche in potato crisps sounded like a reinterpretation of the Spotted Pig's fabulously fishy roll mops, but Bar Marmont's were comparatively meh. The ingredients just didn't hang together as well, and the crisps weren't crisp.
Perhaps even more illicit in LA than drugs are fried foods, especially in a respectable establishment like this one. It's one thing to get caught in a late-night drunken drive-thru to In-N-Out burger a la Paris Hilton, quite another to order a host of fried things while completely in control of your senses. In this way, Bar Marmont brings something new to the LA dining scene: The food is both unhealthy but upscale in a land of either-or dining. The fried squid, a calamari-like crowd pleaser, is paired with a delicious horseradish cream sauce that way exceeds the culinary requirements of bar food. On the flip side, even the fish items are made with some kind of fatty thing like butter or chorizo.
After we decimated the fried squid, the entrees started to roll out. My friend the Agent had the herb-roasted chicken, which was probably made with equal parts butter and chicken. It was delicious. Crispy skin gave way to a very juicy interior. All it was missing was some kind of starchy side to absorb all that buttery sauce.
Mon Ami's pork chop was herbally inflected and sweet, perhaps a little overdone, but you never know if a kitchen is cooking pork that way so as to avoid freaking people out. The corn fritters on the side were fantastic, light and barely glazed with honey. These seem to be purely Spence's; they have no Spotted Pig precedent. Across the table Fellow WASP tried the rock shrimp po boy and pronounced it good. The rest of us had already had way too much fried squid to sample it.
There was only one thing wrong: my "damn good burger" didn't come out with the rest of the entrees. It took several minutes and lots of flagging to retrieve Go Go Boots. The burger was going to "be right out." Did the order even make it to the kitchen the first time around? Worse, when it finally did arrive, it wasn't cooked correctly. The kitchen had rushed it off the grill, delivering it very rare instead of medium-rare. This violated a cardinal rule of service. If you're going to mess up an order, mess it up only once, not twice.
When the dishes were cleared, we ordered coffee from a busboy. Several hours passed. I knit a sweater, while Mon Ami read War and Peace. Finally, Go Go Boots appeared. "No one told me about the coffee," she said. By then we were dying from lack of caffeine.
Glitches notwithsanding, Fellow WASP said at the end that she now understood what was different about Bar Marmont: the food's much better than it used to be. Something else was apparent by 11pm as well: the cooler-than-thou crowd that once left Bar Marmont for newer places has come back. Sometimes you can't help but return to the scene of the crime.
8171 W. Sunset Boulevard at N. Crescent Heights Boulevard
One last dispatch from LA.