We got a chance to finally try Wolfgang Puck’s WP24 at the newly-opened Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Downtown L.A. We made a reservation for the dining room area, not the lounge area. Our initial thoughts:
Reservations: Easy to make – I called about a week prior, and experienced no hassles (classic Ritz-Carlton-level customer service). Plenty of tables were available.
Parking: Nightmarish. The Lakers were playing at Staples Center that night. No street parking, so we had to have the valet park our car. The entrance is on Georgia St. (it can be hard to find). From WP24, you’ll get 1 validation coupon per hour you spend at the restaurant (each coupon is worth $5 off valet parking). Total valet bill was $40 (we spent 4 hours there). So, even with the validation coupons, the parking came out to be $20. A bit steep.
Décor: Big windows encircle the entire dining room, treating everyone within to expansive views of the Downtown area and beyond. Lots of muted tones, grays, browns, hard corners were used. Neat lamps overhead in the dining room – they look like upside-down skyscrapers. Once day turned to night, the lights were turned way down, in order to for all diners to fully absorb the fantastic nighttime views from the 24th floor.
Initial impressions: We showed up around 6:20PM. Walking in, the bar and lounge are the first areas encountered. Lots of banker-looking types were mingling at the bar. The lounge itself has many large, half-oval banquettes, with a smattering of Laker fans watching the game on many flat-screen TVs. There is a large room (with an amazing view, of course) for private parties as well. This room sat empty during our visit to WP24, but I’m sure some lucky souls with a fat corporate account will be occupying that space sometime in the near future.
Inexplicably, we were seated around 6:45PM, 15 minutes after our reservations time of 6:30PM, even though our table in the dining room was ready as soon as we arrived. When we were (finally) led into the (separated) dining room, which was quite a walk from the lounge area, the first thing we noticed were the amazing 360 degree views of Downtown L.A.
Drinks/Aperitifs: The specialty cocktails were interesting and tasty. The Pearfect Asian (Absolut Pear, Canton Ginger Liqueur, Lime) was very fruity, the ripe pear taste and the ginger worked well together, and included a slice of Asian pear. My favorite, though was the Dragon’s Fire (Herradura Anejo, Grapefruit, Jalapeño, Thai Basil) – Very good! My friend had the Elderflower (Ultimat Vodka, St. Germain Liqueur, D'Arbo Elderflower) - Interesting mixology.
Now, on to the food! WP24 features Asian-inspired fusion dishes. The menu, conceived by Wolfgang Puck and Lee Hefter, with Chef de Cuisine David McIntyre, is divided into Appetizers, Sides, Fish & Shellfish, Meat & Poultry, and Desserts.
Amuse bouche (compliments of the chef): Sesame shrimp toast, with sweet & sour dipping salsa – Very tasty bite-sized morsels.
To Start With: Skipping to the chase, I’d have to say that the appetizers and sides are the strong suits of WP24.
Appetizer #1: Peking Duck Rolls: Shredded Peking Duck, Scallions, Hoisin Special Dipping Sauce... The first order of the night was also one of the best dishes of the night! In retrospect I wanted 2 more orders of this.
Appetizer #2: Crisp Lettuce Cups: Maine Sweet Shrimp, Rice Sticks, Pickled Ginger-Serrano Chili Vinaigrette... The combination of all the different tastes and textures made for an eye-opening appetizer!
Appetizer #3: Steamed Baby Bao Buns: Sautéed Duck Liver, Sweet Bean Paste, Sour Ume Plums... This dish reminded me of David Chang’s pork belly bao buns at Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC, except at WP24, duck was used instead of pork belly. I liked the duck liver version even better.
Appetizer #4: Crispy Suckling Pig: Black Plum Purée, Pickled Cipolini, Sweet Bean... Just excellent. Again, I wish I’d had ordered more of this dish.
Appetizer #5: "Tiny Dumplings": Pork Belly, Black Vinegar, Chili Oil, Ginger, Cilantro Leaves - OK, for $14 (the price of this dish), we could have gotten 3 dozens of fresh dumplings or potstickers in the San Gabriel Valley. But hey, at least these were decent in the taste department.
…Which brings me to the topic of prices – WP24 is definitely on the expensive side. Portions are small (though not outrageously so). I suppose this encourages the diner to try (and spend) more…
Main courses & Side Dishes: They were served together, and the timing was paced nicely.
Main #1: Whole Sea Bass Baked in "Fragrant" Salt Crust: Zhenjiang Black Vinegar, Ginger, Shallots, Scallions, Mala Flavored Oil – Excellent tableside presentation. Our fish was shown to us in its salted crust. The good stuff is inside the crust! Flaky, tender fish, with gentle flavors; the oil showcased the bass’ true texture and flavor… But don’t we get to try any of that crust?! Nope. It was taken away before I could ask for it.
Side #1: Lop Cheung Sausage Fried Rice: Char Siu Pork, Wild Ramps, Spring Peas... Very authentic. We liked this one a lot.
Main #2: Spicy Assam Prawns "Indian Spiced": Curry Leaves, Garlic, Mustard, Yogurt, Cardamom, Fenugreek... Beautifully plated (tableside by the manager) and delicious! These prawns were GIGANTIC. A beautiful bland of spices - Yum.
Side #2: Shanghai Noodles: Fresh Chilies, Thai Basil Leaves, Slow Cooked Oxtail... Reminds me of Hokkien char mee we had in Singapore, with a bit of a spicy punch!
Since we love noodles, we ordered a different noodle dish for contrast.
Side #3: Hong Kong Soft Noodles: Golden Spring Chives, Wild Field Mushrooms... Perfect "bite", with well-balanced flavors; I'd order this again.
Main #3: Szechuan Style" American Kobe Steak from Snake River Farms, Idaho: Smoked Chili-Shallot, Scallions, Cilantro, "La You" Hot Oil... Wagyu steak, cooked “pseudo-“ Chinese-style; I have mixed feelings about this dish. I love the individual components, but in the end, the spiciness of the preparation drowns out the natural “beefiness” of the wagyu. Not my favorite, but overall, a nice attempt...
Side #4: XO Fried Rice: Maine Lobster, Fried Shallots, Budding Chives... Generous pieces of lobster meat! This was a wonderful rice dish.
Desserts: Courtesy of Pastry Chef Sally Camacho. We ordered 3 teas. Each came in its own beautiful cast iron teapot. BUT no free hot water refills! Are you kidding me?
Dessert #1: Calamansi Vacherin: Szechuan Peppercorn Meringue, Calamansi Cream, Macadamia, Star Anise Crumble... So much going on! Too ambitiously creative, if you ask me.
Dessert #2: Flavors of Thai Ovaltine: Chocolate Coulant, Malted Chocolate Bar, Banana Caramel, Thailong Pepper Ice Cream... The coulant had a distinctive ovaltine flavor, but the ice cream didn't quite balance it out. The banana was simply a distraction.
Dessert #3: Tamarind Ginger Cake: Warm Rum Soaked, Young Ginger Ice, Mango Gelée, Asian Pear Sorbet... This cake was good, and the ginger ice made it very refreshing.
Dessert #4: Marjolasian: Layers of Dark Chocolate, White Espresso Mousse, Cashew Nougatine, Milk Chocolate Glace... This last dessert was, by far, also the best dessert. Chocoholics can skip straight to this one.
Service: Attentive, yet unhurried. Our server gave some very nice (and honest!) recommendations during the course of our evening. No Westside (or Downtown) attitude. Kudos to WP24 in this department.
Total damage for our party of 3: about $340 (food+drinks) + $80 (for a 23% tip; we liked the service) = about $420, or $140 per person. Not including parking. BUT in WP24's defense, we did order A LOT of food.
Overall, WP24 is yet another welcome addition to the Downtown area, as it continues its growth spurt. The lounge is casual, while the dining room is a more upscale (and expensive) affair. If I was to go back, I’d park on the street or an adjacent lot, stick with the appetizers and sides, and enjoy the drinks and gorgeous nighttime views.
(sorry for the crappy quality of the photos - I didn't bring my usual light source)...