After much debate - having had less than stellar experiences at the Melrose venue over the past few years - we broke down and had to try the new Disney Center Restaurant.
The room is tastefully modern with good looking but not overly comfortable armless chairs and nicely spaced tables. We were given the one nearest the entry - also near the door to the outside patio. It was a cool, windy night and the patio doors are definitely not airtight. There was a party of 30 unfortunate souls seated outside under fiercely glowing heaters, but they still appeared very uncomfortable. The booths at the back of the restaurant are the place to be, but even though they remained empty from 7pm to 9pm, when we left, we were told they were available only if specifically reserved. Opera wails continuously in the background. At least, unlike Melrose, there are no cameras on the ceilings.
A recurring theme through the evening was the overpopulated waitstaff - traffic jams everywhere; busboys, breadboys, silverware boys, servers, headwaiters, hostess, sommelier, fromageur (more later), and apparently others. Curiously, despite this, service was not very efficient and there were uncomfortable waits and several occasions that required undignified flaggings. Maybe they couldn't get past each other. Two female waiters were extremely friendly and knowlegable but couldn't make up for the general tenor.
The sommelier deserves special mention. My partner in this crime, who is usually very conservative with her language, nicknamed him "the dickhead", accurately reflecting his attitude. He was knowlegable enough and chose several interesting glasses to go with our menu ($40 for 4 tastes): a French Viognier (good backbone, lush focused fruit), German Reisling (extraodinary intensity for such a wine, pleasantly acidic and not too fruity); a very mediocre generic French White Burgundy; a French Languedoc Syrah (a little unfocused and rough, but nice intensity). I can't be more specific because these were poured quickly with the labels facing away from us (consistently) and we were afforded only grudging glances when requested. The pours were variable, but roughly 1 oz - maybe two sips. When a charming waitress poured about 2 oz of one of the wines (sommelier was busy with more important folk) he scolded her for this indiscretion. Especially amazing because the most expensive of the bottles was likely less than $18 retail and they were charging $10 per taste. Had to accompany much of the meal with water. Ordered an extra glass separately which was a more reasonable pour. The poor people who brought their own bottles suffered having their treasures tasted by not only the som., but also others of the staff - away from the table. Bottles are kept at a central location so you are at the mercy of the staff for pours.
We got the black truffle menu - $119 with cheeses. All courses had truffles shaved over them.
1. Quartet of the Sea - 4 small slices of sashimi with a drizzle of truffle oil. Ho hum.
2. Scallops with some type of gnocchi (the only truffle was the shaved topping). Yawn.
3.Grilled Turbot with truffled potato gnocchi and chive oil. When you have to use a knife to cut a fish filet it makes you wonder.
4. Poached squab (probably breast, but partner wasn't sure) with delicious creamy risotto and some sort of mildly flavored foam
Veal cheeks plus veal steak (2 small slices); cheeks were similar to braised shanks; steak slices needed salt, but how do you ask for it at Patina? Needless to say, there is none at the table.
Also, grapefruit sorbet and chocolate truffle + napleon with mascarpone - both sound better than they were.
The cheeses were a welcome relief from the mediocrity. The fromageur, Andrew Steiner, is a real cheese whiz - one of the most knowlegable cheese people I have run across (and my co-conspirator is no slouch in this department). Steiner lives and breathes cheese - each one is like a personal friend of his; he personally buys and ages them. Talking to this man about cheese is like a night at the opera - a true artist. This course was worth a trip by itself (we had Majorero, Ubriaco, Winchester Gouda, Taupiniere, and 6 others). He has a printed cheese menu which describes more than 60 cheeses, which he gives out as a souvenir.
Bill came to $450 (with tip/tax) - I kept thinking that for $100 less I could have had my socks knocked off again at Spago (see today's LA times food section for a right on review of the tasting menu and chef).
Splichal was there and since I have spoken with him over the years I mentioned politely that I missed the early days at Patina, and Max and the 7th Street Bistro. He answered that he was just a kid then. Too bad we all have to grow up.