Remember the ridiculous oniony coupole at the north-east intersection of Beverly Drive & Wilshire? Ex movie theater, ex Israel Discount Bank, ex eye sore, ex construction site for the last couple years? Guess what: construction is now done with, the Montage Beverly Hills open for business in full swing, for the last 3 weeks or so. Me just walking by the ‘hood thinking same old same old destinations when alone, no missus, no wino buddies, just my bare bones and some old bottles hanging from my shoulder bottle bag. Pastaio? Enoteca? God-forbid-no-bottles-allowed-Baldi? Fornaio? Etc? Then I pass this Montage gig. Looks good. Three old ladies spying the amazing kitchen, right there in front of you if you happen to venture in the Beverly Drive – to – Cannon – cum – Jardin that cuts thru the hotel grounds. I ( cavalier ) suggest the ladies “Would you like to walk in, Mesdames ?” They giggling shyly object: “They won’t let us in”. Me –shameless dog- pushes the door, assuming it’s locked. Lo and behold it’s not, in I go with ladies in tow. (Sous-)Chef Chris very condescendingly offers to show us around. I –now admiring those fantastic agnolotti-in-the-making, more on that below– rather ask for the exit in. And in I go into the Parq resto, thru the back door. After a few stations ( very polite, mind you ) I end up at the hostess desk. First –and only- off note, they insist in asking my last name. Fortunately, only the hostess abuses it, beginning each and every phrase with my foreign sounding ancestors’ patronymic. But happily enough I’m sitting at 8 PM on busy Friday at a very comfortable armchair, in a very comfortable dining room, about 75% full. Crowd chemical composition: 55% old money, 25% new money and hotel guests, 15 % miscellaneous, 5 % gigolos & call girls. Perfect for my taste. ( I won’t forget Cut’s analysis, exactly the reverse ). Nice table spacing, just the wall to wall moquette that seems to be hotel signature all over this abused planet, which is something I’d get rid of, but hey! Usual offer for drinks & cocktails, I mention my wino habits, there he comes sommelier Aaron. Amazing! The moment I mention my 1988 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Domaine de Trevallon, he immediately knows exactly what I’m talking about. Never happened before, usual response being a condescending but hollow “Magnifique” or some such nonsense. Brief opinionated exchange takes place re. decanting, stem shapes & such. Very polite and to the point. The Trevallon opened proves to be in tiptop shape. Waitress Anna brings the menu. She’s adorable. Not only has she tried all dishes in the menu, but also –and most important- she is very opinionated about them. Forget the old fashioned and ridiculous “Excellent choice” to anything you choose. She’ll point you to where you (should) want to go. We decided on: the beets salad ( blood orange, endive and peppered ricotta, muddled walnuts and herbs, $ 18 ), and the ocean trout ( citrus agnolotti and wild arugula, olive oil foam, $28 ). Beets show up as a delicate Miro-esque design on a square plate, very tasty, a pestoish background of flavors mixing up beautifully with the beets, the ricotta and the tiny slivers of onion. Super bread basket, got to be fatta’in casa ( I didn’t ask ): mini loaves of baguette, cinnamon roll, jalapeño roll, sourdough. The Trevallon keeps opening up. Ooh là là. Then the ocean trout makes her triumphal appearance. Did I say citrus agnolotti? Let me emphasize. You have a perfect dough, right? Made –of course- on the premises. Filled in with an amazingly citrusy paste, orange peel, lemon mousse, spices ( nutmeg? ). Topped with wild arugula. And that is just the start. Now imagine the defunct trout cooked to perfection, tasty and flavorful, topped with a 2 micron super crispy layer of above mentioned trout’s skin. Wow. My Trevallon ( hey, yeah, it’s red, folks) just glows under the influence. Long story short: time comes for desserts. Anna to the rescue: she suggests –very accurately- the amazing Caramel and Scotch Custard, with vanilla salt and thyme ice cream ($12). Very fulfilling, perfect complement to a superb dinner. Last but not least –my test of a good restaurant- I ask for a Fernet Branca. She never heard of – good sign, acknowledge what you know as clearly as what you don’t - but a few minutes later she triumphantly shows up with a good tumbler of the bitter elixir.
To top it all, I noticed stairs leading to an upper level. I ask if that’s main desk. Answer: no, that’s our signature restaurant. What the f**K? You mean I’m in the cafeteria kind’a joint??? Well, upstairs as it turns out is the “Muse”. First dish on the Muse list is gnocchi with parmesan, rosemary and Tuber Magnatum. But that’ll be next time. Assuming the world will last until next week. Uh, I almost forget: corkage $15. Executive Chef John Cuevas.