When Vert first opened at the new Hollywood/Highland complex you sensed it was too good to be true. Abundant portions of moderately priced bistro fare realized by Lee Hefter and Wolfgang Puck included such sought after standards as a luxurious sole mueniere, veal Milanese, and short ribs. Even the bread basket was over the top featuring some six to eight freshly baked items each distinctively different. An enormous bowl of mussels for $12 became the talk of the town. It was memory of those first visits that inspired us to stop by for an early Saturday dinner knowing that the menu had gone through a recent change. Whose change is not evident. The menu now resembles more the Wolfgang Puck Cafes of old. There's a distinct California/Asian influence but nothing that stands out. The addition of chicken wings (second joints only don't you know) with a bleu cheese sauce is certainly a nod to the local tourist crowd but they're alarmingly sweetened with an orange sauce as if someone were thinking we'll play to the crowd but add our own twist. Unfortunately, playing to the masses has never been Puck's strong suit. A spicy crab dip comes with a pile of spectacular potato chips but the dip is bland with no particular taste of crab or spice.
A fresh peach and burrata salad is refreshing but needs a more distinctive dressing. The prime N.Y. steak for $28 has got to be the toughest cut to ever bare that grade but is served with wonderful fries and the rotisserie garlic chicken lacks the luster of other similar versions around town. Everything is well executed and served by a first rate crew just sometimes ill conceived. A great menu was replaced by an inferior one when location is really the issue. It's Saturday night and both Vert and the Grill on the 4th floor are half empty at 8pm. And rumors that the Oscars will be leaving in two years are not helping matters.
What will bring us back? Those amazing mussels are still available for $14 and desserts still hold up with an orange granite quite the refreshing finish. There is also a nice selection of wines. And Michael Dargin, the GM/maitre' d who successfully steered Spago Hollywood before and after the B.H. opening is here at the door with a watchful eye on every detail ensuring that no one is left wanting. Observing him conversing with a guest while quietly replacing another's dropped napkin is a study in refined service. He is the one element in that odd complex that honors the real Hollywood tradition of elegance and hospitality.