903 North La Cienega Blvd. (between Melrose Ave. &, Los Angeles, 90069-4792, United States

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This closed and is, in March 2008, now the site of Nobu Los Angeles.  The notes that follow are of historic interest only.

This grande dame of LA cuisine was showing her age. The dining room was lovely, with widely spaced tables, excellent quality tablecloths and cutlery, one wall looking out to a climber-covered trellis, an orange tree in one corner and a stunning flower display. The current chef, however, was obviously out to make a culinary mark and delivered some seriously misguided dishes in the attempt; this is a pity as he showed good basic technique. On the positive side the sommelier from Bruges was helpful and knew his stuff. 

An amuse -bouche of crab had a rather sad gelee, but neither could be tasted through a ludicrous dose of star anise, which dominated everything (10/20). A starter of langoustine was roasted with some distinctly crispy vermicelli but far too much cinnamon, which overpowered the delicate flavour of the langoustine (11/20). Cured salmon had a crust of herb but, guess what? This turned out to be mainly star anise. Atop the salmon, which in itself was fine, was about half a herb garden's worth of thyme. Again, the chef showed no sense of balance at all, and what on earth was yet more star anise doing here (10/20)? My chicken was better, cooked well enough and stuffed with some pepper slices, but had an entirely unnecessary citrus zest that permeated the jus and did not work well (12/20). Monkish was nicely timed, with some pleasant pasta but was with a grapefruit and shallot sauce that was too sweet – the chef adding too much sugar, overcompensating for the sharp grapefruit. 

That the kitchen could deliver when not on a herb crusade was demonstrated by a very capable chocolate soufflé, classically cooked and served (16/20). Sadly a chocolate cake was much less good, cloying and with poor texture (11/20), served with a crème anglaise that had lots of black flecks of vanilla but managed to taste not one jot of vanilla; presumably it was there but poor quality vanilla was used. 

Coffee was fine (15/20) but one of the petit fours chocolates tasted of, surprise surprise, star anise. The chef worked with Alan Passard, but in what capacity I cannot surmise.  Such basic errors in taste matching would never occur in a good restaurant in France. I have no objection to innovating with French cuisine – but it should be done competently; Marc Veyrat in Annecy is a fine example of how to do it, but the cooking here was a textbook case of how not to do it.  Given the very high bill (nearly USD 300 for two with modest wine) this place cannot be recommended.  The very few diners, mostly elderly men with their “nieces” on the visit we made, suggests that LA diners have cast their own vote on the merits of cuisine “star anise with everything”.

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