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Restaurants & Bars 4

Checkers Review

Griller141 | Jun 17, 2004 12:24 AM

Gloomy day on the job, Lakers lost dynasty gloom, and gloomy June weather day in LA. If this were New York there would be no problem raising spirits in the evening. Decided to try downtown.
Got in to Checkers at the Hilton (across the street from the Biltmore) with no reservations, and had the pick of the tables. Doorman was full of cheer and set the tone of the evening ("NOT going to the theater?... not in a hurry? - come right in).
One of the most romantic settings in the downtown area, Cicada notwithstanding. Dark, quiet room, huge comfortable chairs, grown up decor, whole sections to ourselves (though could have done without the rather frenetic, if low volume, music).
Service attentive and sincere, if not overly experienced. Waitress maybe a little too friendly; limited to nil knowlege of the wines, but very familiar with the menu.
Surprisingly reasonably priced wines - about 2x retail. Settled for a predictable Raymond Reserve Chard at $45 ($21 retail). Pretty extensive selection of California varietals, if all relatively recent.
Fish soup - really a bouillibaise - with powerful saffron and fish stock undertones, and lots of chunks of fish. Crab cake with perhaps an overdose of sweet red pepper garnish, but honest crab content and flavor. Three dimensional Caesar; flavors relatively clean but the visuals were the thing.
Halibut with a somewhat gummy risotto/morel underlayment and a tower of greens on top. Very fresh fish perfectly cooked. Surprisingly executed mahi-mahi split and stuffed with very mild feta and sweet tomatoes; dense texture and heavenly complementary flavors - unexpected harmony. Someone in the kitchen knows exactly what they are doing.
Architectural presentations reminiscent of Thomas Keller, but not up to the Checkers I first knew when Keller reigned. Nonetheless, this is possibly the best food in the downtown area (yes, I've been to the Water Grill four times in the past year - their food is fresher, but Checkers' preparations are cleaner and generally more successful IMHO).
Had to do the pilgramage - rode to the penthouse and the open air pool area on the roof -nothing in LA more evokes the feeling of a big city than this sight and sound extravaganza.
Walked across the street to the Biltmore and visited the huge photos of Henry Fonda, Walt Disney, etc at Academy Awards Dinners in the 1930s; Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman in the 1930s, and Shirley Temple presenting the Award for Snow White with one big Oscar and seven minature ones.
All in all, not the best experience in any one area, but a visit to Checkers may be the single best experience in LA for a drab day when one needs a Big City fix. High on the list of the seriously underrated.

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