There’s something very alluring and irresistible about hotel dining- it defines elegance, romance and prestige. The magic begins the moment that you step into a hotel lobby where you get the same feeling of excitement and anticipation as when you transfer through a beautiful airport, like Madrid’s Barajas airport or Malaysia’s KL Airport, en route to your vacation getaway, but you don’t have to travel so far away from home. Hotels boast majestic lobbies, unmatched hospitality and level of service, romantic views often with rooftop pools and bars, gallery-worthy artwork and internationally acclaimed restaurants, creating a unique destination experience. World class hotels are the perfect venue for special occasions and anniversaries, and we chose the RH at the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel for an exclusive fine dining experience to celebrate a friend’s birthday recently.
The hotel on the Sunset Strip originally opened in 1963 as the Gene Autry Hotel, and has gone through many incarnations as the Hyatt on Sunset and the Hyatt West Hollywood, but regardless of the name, it has built up a reputation for being the ‘Riot House’, after which the restaurant is named. Due to its proximity to legendary music clubs like Whisky-a-Go-Go and the Roxy, the hotel has become the preferred hang-out for famous rockers like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne. Jim Morrison used to call this hotel home, Keith Richards threw a TV out the window, John Bonham drove a motorcycle through the hallways and Corey Taylor tried to jump off the 8th floor balcony. This legendary joint has seen it all, and it was time for a much needed make over. After a face lift orchestrated by designer Janson Goldstein, the hotel reopened in January 2009 as Andaz, the second hotel in the new luxury brand from Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. The hotel’s famous balconies have been replaced with glassed-in sun rooms and the minimalist lobby has been given a splash of sophisticated yet understated glamor that reminded me of a tame Philippe Starck.
The lobby flows into the front part of RH restaurant where two marble communal tables with bar stools welcome you to the large restaurant space. A private dining room to the left with an entire glass wall of wine bottles boasts elegance and sophistication. The bar in the far corner invites warm rays of sunlight through its large windows in daytime and transforms into a sexy sanctuary illuminated by candlelight at dusk. Every seat at RH has a unique charm, but the best place for dinner is in the main dining room by the dramatic open kitchen where you can see your food being prepared from start to finish. Many restaurants advertise an open kitchen where diners can feel close to the action, but none have impressed me like the one at RH, open on 3 sides with low marble counters to make you feel like you’re a chef at the stoves. The fourth side of the kitchen is an entire glass wall of walk-in coolers, displaying stainless steel baskets of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Heading the beautiful open kitchen is French chef Sebastien Archambault, former executive chef at Le Pirate in Corsica where he earned a Michelin star. His menu is inspired by the landscapes of Southwest France and reflects the authentic flavors of his grandmother’s Périgord heritage. Foie gras, duck, sausages and truffles are prepared together with local organic produce for an inspiring menu. Archambault wasn’t in the kitchen on the night that we went, but his sous chef Pierre Gornes, hailing from Toulouse, was there to make sure that the rich and rustic flavors unique to Southwest France were properly translated in the food.
A crudité of farmer’s market vegetables with herbed yogurt came to our table for nibbling while perusing the menu to decide our course of action. The purple cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery and carrots were sweet and snappy, but it was their freshly baked bread, huge soft mounds of buttery heaven that were molded into the shape of duck legs, that caught my attention.
We indulged in a cheese tasting of 5 spectacular cheeses which came with perfectly paired condiments. Crottin de Chavignol, a nutty aged goat cheese with a crumbly soft interior layer, was paired with walnuts. Locally made triple cream Mt. Tam, luscious with a distinct flavor reminiscent of Camembert, went wonderfully with grapes. The mild flavors of Tome de Chalosse were given a kick with dried Mission figs, while Tome d’Aquitaine, made with goat’s milk, had a sweet and fruity flavor that harmonized with dried apricots. The table favorite was the Fourme d’Ambert, one of France’s oldest blue cheeses, that was simply heaven in a bite with the sweet drippings of honeycomb.
Hudson valley foie gras terrine served with plum marmalade, fig chutney, arugula and homemade brioche was one of the best foie gras terrines that I’ve had in Los Angeles. The pairing of luscious and fatty liver with sweetened fruits is perhaps the most enlightening of all culinary discoveries, and RH did its part in continuing this legacy.
Lompoc Farm grilled spring vegetable salad was full of vibrant green vegetables at their most ripe and sweet state. Broccolini, artichokes, arugula and frisée came tossed in a tangy sage vinaigrette and topped with generous dollops of fresh Cabécou goat cheese.
Vegetable sides include choices of sautéed field mushrooms, organic wild rice, mashed potatoes, artichoke hearts and triple fried french fries, but we went for the cauliflower gratin, a hearty dish served straight out of the oven in a cast iron baking dish with ample cheese, cream and butter.
The braised monkfish with white beans, La Quercia chorizo and sautéed squid sounded like a seafood wonder but ended up being a complete disaster. I couldn’t tell whether I was eating overcooked beans or overcooked fish, as they had the same soggy texture, and the chorizo did nothing to boost the tastelessness of this disappointing dish.
RH came back strong with their rolled fillets of 12 hour-cooked boneless suckling pig, served with golden Yukon potatoes in a rich, dark and zesty shallot jus. The meat was cooked to absolute perfection, and pork never tasted so tender and juicy.
Homemade Hudson Valley duck confit was certainly a delight with its crispy skin that crackled under my bite into a savory pool of liquid fat, but I’ve had better ones in my lifetime where the moist meat squirted an equal amount of saturated duck essence into my taste buds. Still, short of taking an 11 hour flight to France, this is as good as duck confit gets in the US.
More than the pork or the duck, RH came strong with their slow braised beef cheeks, a dish so fantastic and awe-inspiring that every person in the world should have the opportunity to taste it. The intricate marbling of connective tissue in beef cheeks renders this cut of meat gelatinous and extremely tender when braised for hours, and somehow RH sprinkles their magic to make their version unbelievably so. The button mushrooms and rainbow carrots were well coated with the delectable red wine sauce that made this dish unforgettable. It is without a doubt the best beef cheek dish that I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, and for $24, this plate of perfection and bliss is a bargain.
With wonderful and tasty food, gorgeous hip interior design, unlimited refills on their amazing baked bread, hotel hospitality from the service staff and front row orchestra seats to the RH open kitchen conducted by a handsome and friendly chef, my friend’s birthday dinner was an absolute success. Fine dining in a reputable hotel restaurant is almost fool proof for such occasions where you’ve got to make every magical and memorable moment count for somebody you love. Which is exactly why we went hotel hopping onto The London Hotel down the street for a 4 course dessert tasting with a bottle of champagne by their rooftop pool. Hotel dining…isn’t life grand?
8401 West Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069-1909
Random trivia: Did you know that broccolini, a vegetable crossed between a broccoli and Chinese kale, is also called and sold under the name ‘asparation’?