I went on a trolley ride yesterday. In Beverly Hills! Yes, that most sophisticated city in the nation (according to them) actually has a trolley car. Operating from the corner of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way, it offers a 40 minute tour for tourists highlighting the legendary landmarks of the fabulous city. (Call 310-285-2442 for schedule.) But when the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau offered me a trolley ride to five of the cities' hotels to sample their breakfast-all-day menus, I couldn't resist. Lately I've been having a lot of business breakfast meetings, and with my favorite early-morning eatery at the Bel Air Hotel still closed for renovation, I am eager to find exciting spots to meet-and-eat. So that's why I boarded the trolley and ate five breakfasts in the course of a few hours.
The first stop offered up the most unusual dish of all... an ostrich egg omelet! Yes, old friend Chef Mirko Paderno is now cooking at the rather charming Avalon Hotel's Oliverio Restaurant (9400 W. Olympic Blvd. (310) 277-5200). I asked him where he got the huge bird egg, and he told me that a farm in San Diego raises the fowls and he pays $35 for the oval monster, which will make about six omelets. Honestly, while pleasant, the dish tasted no different than a rather good chicken egg omelet. But I made an appointment to go back for dinner at the modern Italian eatery, with its relaxed California patio atmosphere, poolside stone veneer
The second stop was at the retro Circa 55 Restaurant at the Beverly Hilton Hotel (9876 Wilshire Blvd, (310) 274-777), just two blocks from my home. I am not enamored of this rather dreary poolside dining room, with its adjacent tiny Trader Vic's Bar (a sad sight with my memories of the full-bore Trader's eatery which once resided at the hotel when Merv Griffin owned the hostelry), although I was greeted by Chai Rojana, who had been manager of the eatery in its better days and was still here. Chef Suki, cognizant of his international clientele, serves a global 'green eggs and ham' dish with variations from six continents (Latin America, Asia, Scandinavia, USA, Middle East, and the Mediterranean)... don't ask. But Suki did spend three years in Sweden in the early 70s, and he did master the art of smoking salmon in its 'gravlax' tradition, so that's the way to go here, a plate of silky smoked salmon with a toasted bagel and a shmear of cream cheese of course. Incidentally, I have found that the very best smoked salmon in the city is served at Le Petit Four (8654 W. Sunset, at Sunset Plaza, (310) 652-3863) where former Le Dome chef Philippe prepares a silky, fatty, soft-on-the-tongue version equal to if not better than Wolfgang's and Michel's. It's served with all of the proper accoutrements (onions, capers, cream cheese, toast, lemon) for about $12, one of the better dishes in town.
Then it was on to the Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd, (310) 276-2251), where I spent many of my youthful years on visits from the East. (Wonder if they still have stored in the basement my monkey cage; for some ten years my German model wife and I would travel here monthly with our two squirrel monkeys and keep them in this cage in our suite... but that's another story.) As I have said recently in my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter, the food here has taken an enormous leap upward since Alex Chen has become chef, and he didn't disappoint us this day. In fact, I fell asleep last night dreaming of the dish he prepared... Smoked Sablefish with Roesti Potato, along with shaved fennel, crème fraiche and American caviar. Superb, and now I know that breakfast in the Polo Lounge is going to be a regular stop for me. (The sablefish is actually black cod, and I joked to my tablemates, old filmmate Jennifer Evans Gardner and her food-wise son, Kellen, that it's only called sablefish in Jewish delis.) Chef Alex visited us and said the roesti potato pancake took three hours to prepare, with Jen explaining to me that the potatoes are hand-shaved and then must be absolutely dry so they will crisp properly. She teaches cooking to kids, and helps them achieve an appreciation of what they are eating... a fabulous occupation.
The fourth stop at the Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive was Eggs Benedict from the hotel's new chef. My spirits picked up when I heard that our last stop, the Montage Beverly Hills (225 N. Canon Drive (310) 860-7800) would be serving a rustic corned beef hash, one of my passions. (I grew up eating Hormel's canned corned beef hash, so the fresh version is always kind of unexpected to me.) But the new Exec Chef at the hotel is the very experienced Gabriel Ask, so I suspect that the turmoil in the hotel's kitchen will finally be over. Originally from Sweden, he has worked with some of the world's top chefs, from Thomas Keller to Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse. The dish was fine, made from chunky fresh corned beef and Yukon Gold potatoes, with the nice touch of a mustard hollandaise under the poached hen's egg. What made the meal even more special was a Bloody Caesar. What, you haven't heard of that? Vodka, Clamato juice, celery salt and wasabi powder around the rim. Anything would taste better with this cocktail.
I asked the charming Kimberli Samuel of the BevHills bureau why my old friend, the Beverly Wilshire, was not included in the tour, and she explained that they were not participating in the program to bring people to the city's hotels by offering one night free (and breakfasts) after a two-or-three night visit. So I will have to explore their breakfast menu on my own. And there is always Nate 'n' Al's to fall back on.
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