I sense that I sometimes try the patience of some on this board with my long winded posts but, in part, as much as the quality of the dining experience and economics, I find context equally important. So please bear with me here. I am a fan of the Hillstone Restaurant Group. I've never been disappointed at any of their restaurants and find their uncompromising company ethic and consistent performance reassuring at times. Their restaurants are beautiful or handsome and every aspect is well thought out. Even a tuna salad sandwich at R&D has merit. Only once did I feel rushed at one of their restaurants and that was years ago at Banderas in WLA which I attributed to the fact that my elderly mother was taking her time. I can be pretty forgiving in the organic world of dining but not when it comes to my guests. Over cook my steak and I'll quietly eat it. Over cook hers and you are going to replace it immediately. Sorry.
Conversely, one night at Houston's in Century City with a reunion of three friends that hadn't seen each other in a long time, we were so busy chatting that we didn't have any sense of the time passing until a manager came to our table announcing that our dinner was complimentary that evening because it had taken too long. Huh? What? Wow.
This brings me to their latest venture in Beverly Hills, South Beverly Grill, which, after three visits, certainly sustains my high opinion of their operations. The first time was the Sunday before Memorial Day when, suddenly faced with a weekend free of commitment I went on a bit of a grazing binge from Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach to Elements Kitchen in Pasadena (both previously reported on here) to a sublime late night drop in at Barbrix in Silverlake. (I could move to East L.A. just to be near this place. The veal meatballs and fried sweetbreads were amazing.)
My aim was to end up at the bar of Red O, the newly opened and acclaimed Rick Bayless inspired restaurant in West Hollywood, for a couple of appetizers but did not anticipate the club/lounge doorman presence who Jonathon Gold so succinctly described in his brief review this past Thursday. Admittedly, I was wearing Kirkland jeans and a For Members Only style jacket but I felt like Julia Roberts trying to shop on Rodeo Drive in "Pretty Woman" or, well, maybe Susan Boyle before the You Tube clip went virile.
"Sorry. You don't have a reservation" said the tall striking, stylishly suited man with an ear piece, clipboard and the personality of a Secret Service agent. That's fair and as I withdrew passed the haute Havana hat wearing valets with my tail between my legs I thought, "I know. I'll go to Poquito Mas on Westwood Blvd. and have myself a carnitas burrito!"
I'll go back to Red O because the best meal I had in Chicago during one trip in 1997, which included Spago and Spruce, was at Frontera Grill. How could Mexican food be this good in Chicago? But that Sunday heading west from Red O my car, often with a mind of its own, turned onto Beverly Drive and I suddenly found myself parking across from South Beverly Grill, being warmly greeted at the door and plopping down at the beautiful bar where service could not have been better. A hearty plate of pappardelle for $17 with roasted pork, braised Swiss chard, peas and mushrooms was the perfect salve for a bruised ego and a big appetite. SBG handles the bread conundrum cleverly by offering a plate of fresh baked jalapeno and corn biscuits and rosemary focaccia for $3. It's served with butter and and a garnish of a tapenade type mixture that includes almonds. Nice. Add a Thomas Kemper root beer in the bottle for $3.50 and I was out the door for $27 before tip.
Moving ahead, my third visit was this past Tuesday evening after the much blogged about Round Table chefs gathering at Disney Hall's Red Cat Theater arranged by the L.A. Convention and Visitor's Bureau featuring Karen Hatfield, Mark Peel, Josiah Citrin, Joachim Splichal, Wolfgang Puck and the ebullient Susan Feniger. Nothing revolutionary here but well produced and warmly given especially by master storyteller, Wolfgang Puck. Watching the row of culinary students listen in awe was the best part. Starry Kitchen provided a nice sampling of their wares and it was all over in less than two hours leaving you wanting more in the best sense.
Conventional wisdom would have dictated that we go to one of their restaurants afterwards but we certainly weren't up for the requirements of Patina or WP24. Street would have made the most sense probably based on pricing and location but something Chef Feniger said actually steered us in a different direction. Responding to the question about what their favorite food to cook at home was she exclaimed that at 5pm on her night off she made herself a vodka soda, a salad of cucumber, tomato and avocado and put a ribeye on the grill. Somehow South Beverly Grill followed in our minds.
I had the same pappardelle again while my friend ordered one of the best prime ribs I've ever tasted for $28. We shared the aforementioned bread plate as well as a highly seasoned and slightly sweet Caesar salad that satisfied for $7. We finished with a luscious tiramisu that certainly won't earn the AA seal of approval for $8. I had root beer again and my friend enjoyed two glasses of a well matched Gamba zinfandel for $10 a glass. Again service could not have been better and the live jazz coming in from the expert three man combo in the adjoining Honor Bar added just the right note of sophistication. We also noted, as we passed Ruth Chris's after parking that they were almost empty while SBG was almost full but that may have had more to do with the Laker's victory in Boston and the GOP ladie’s victory here. Both establishments certainly hold their own.
It was my earlier second visit, however, on Memorial Day with my nearly ninety year old neighbor that made the biggest impression. For the last six years or so he has been a week day fixture at first Joe's in Venice and then Il Grano touting both as the finest food to be found in L.A. In particular, he lovingly reports back on every course served at Il Grano whether it be Sal’s famous tomato menu fresh from his garden or the house made chocolate truffles that often end his lunch. He has quite the experience in this area having grown up in NY and eaten very well, indeed, over the years.
He's legally blind but that's never stopped him from getting to his destination, utilizing the bus system with great aplomb. In fact, at one point, he wrote SIV about her neglect of Joe's when talking about great seafood restaurants and she acknowledged him in a subsequent review. Whatever else is said about these two defining chefs on the L.A. dining scene, Joe Miller and Sal Marino's respect, courtesy and generosity toward this man is will forever be a part of their respective legacies. But the past few months has slowed him down and now he does not get out unless one of a handful of friends takes him so on this holiday Monday with both Joe's and Il Grano closed he let me know that he was craving deviled eggs and fried oysters, both of which I had spied on the menu of SBG the night before.
We arrived just before noon and the door was instantly opened by one of the attentive hostesses, greeted and shown to a table like Beverly Hills royalty. Not a beat was missed and staff stopped by the table to check on our progress throughout. Five nicely spiced deviled eggs arrived on a plate for $5 while an additional five of the largest oysters I've ever seen arrived each in their shell on a bed of creamed spinach and parmesan, beautifully seasoned and breaded for $10. When one female server inquired about them he happily responded, "As good as the Stork Club's!" I had the wonderful Shrimp Louie salad for $15 that placed six large prawns on stacked romaine, drizzled lightly with virgin olive oil and a very tasty Louie dressing with flavorful tomatoes placed around the plate.
We took our time and he recounted tales of being stationed at Bristol College outside London during WWII before being transferred to Mayfair and sipping French Champagne with his British mates as the German V-1 bombs started buzzing over head in 1944. We finished with the strawberry shortcake (reminiscent of pastry chef Natasha MacAller's version at Union Restaurant & Bar in Santa Monica back in 2002) with a warm lightly lemon flavored poppy seed scone, delicious organic strawberries and fresh whipped cream for $7 that was big enough for the two of us. We ate every bite. As the afternoon waned on we finished our iced teas that had been replenished non-stop for $3.50 each including the little pitcher of agave syrup that was served when he requested simple syrup from the bar. As the staff saw us out they offered that they hoped they'd see us again soon; a Memorial Day meal worth memorializing.
South Beverly Grill
122 South Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills 90212
176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Il Grano Restaurant
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
2215 Westwood Blvd Ste C, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Barbrix Restaurant and Wine Bar
2442 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027
3201 E Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625
10250 Santa Monica Blvd Ste 195, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Tin Roof Bistro
3500 Sepulveda Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
37 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
350 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90071