Sophisticated. Elegant. Delicious. How long has it been since you could praise a new restaurant with those words? How refreshing it is in these unsettling days to experience a new dining room which figuratively sings with its grown-up attributes. I've been a fan of the husband-and-wife team of Quinn and Karen Hatfield for many years. (They met two decades ago while cooking at the old Spago on Sunset.) They are cool, compatible, compassionate professionals, never exploitive, always calmly on-target. When they returned to her native L.A. from San Francisco's hotel restaurant, Cortez, a few years ago, they opened at a small forty-seat cottage on Beverly Blvd. which immediately became a destination for food-lovers; they earned a Michelin star and it was soon obvious that they needed more....space.
Then, last July, they closed (it now is the very satisfying Eva) and it was revealed that they had acquired the spacious Hollywood venue on Melrose and Citrus, where legendary Chef Michel Richard had opened Citrus in the early 80s and set a course for all subsequent restaurants...open kitchen, hot bar, low but steady buzz, exciting fusion food. HATFIELD'S (6701 Melrose Avenue, at Citrus, just west of Highland, (323) 935-2977) reflects the thoughtful detail and enthusiasm which the duo have invested in their dream place.
As you enter, you will immediately be struck by the attractive honeycomb chandelier - which I was told later is a replica of the molecular structure of honey. Huh? Never mind, it is a stunning room...banquette tables set far apart, comfortable booths ringing the wall, no unseemly din, just... smartness. (Such a difference from some of the occupants of this space after Citrus...there was Alex, named for a British chef, and Meson G, whose two callow owners fired their brilliant chef E.G. late one Saturday evening because he was spending too much on good ingredients, and then the abomination called Red Pearl.) But now, simple perfection.
On my first visit, I was recognized and greeted by Peter Birmingham, the general manager/sommelier whose exhaustive knowledge of wine and cocktails is beyond belief. My companion, Ginny Mancini, ordered her usual Bombay Sapphire martini straight up with a twist, but Peter asked her to try a boutique gin that a friend of his was distilling, 94.4 proof Bellringer 'London Dry' style gin made in San Jose at the Franklin Distillers. She loved it. I wanted a tall rum drink and he brought forth a "Dark and Stormy." So smooth. I was fascinated by the spacious open kitchen behind a wall of glass....visible to all but silent. I spotted Quinn working the line...and was amused and intrigued that the entire kitchen brigade was wearing tall white toques, another sign of the seriousness with which all took their task. Took note of the 'living wall' of succulents in the front conservatory.
We settled in, sipped our drinks, and decided to go for the Seasonal Prix Fixe Menu, $59, an astonishingly reasonable price for what was to come. Each course offered two choices, and of course we ordered one of each, sharing all the way. Have I mentioned that Quinn's presentations are stunning and somewhat...quirky? No; well they are. (Like the sideways name out front.) Charred Japanese Mackerel, small slices of the unusual fish (Spanish mackerel from Japan?) served with oven-dried pineapple, avocado, fried shallots and nori (seaweed)-infused salsa verde....the sweet fruit challenging the fishiness of the seafood. My dish, the Pan-Roasted Diver Scallops, came with braised celery, salsify, and apple froth...lots of apple froth.
Ginny and I looked at each other and smiled: we knew we were in for a wild culinary journey. Next up: Prawns a la Plancha Espelette, creamy crab rice, roasted peanuts, preserved lemon, mint, accompanied by two small prawns grilled on the hot surface of a stove (plancha). Oh, my, that side of creamy rice was too small...I wanted more. The other pairing was Pan-Seared Dorade, the morsel of crispy fish with carrot puree, Chinese broccoli, mushroom ragout.
Quickly finishing off the starter dishes, we eagerly awaited the main courses of the tasting menu, and were not disappointed. I love duck, so the Long Island Duck Breast was placed in front of me, the small slices of fowl rosy rare just the way I want them, while my lovely companion murmured her approval of the Short Ribs and Hanger Steak. The short ribs, small morsels of delectable beef, had been dusted with horseradish, just a dab to give a bite of spice, and were accompanied by spring onion confit and a succulent smoked potato puree. Karen's legendary desserts (all $10 when a la carte) have won recognition among cognoscenti, but it is her Sugar & Spice Beignets which people talk about with reverence. Two globes of ethereal golden fried dough, sitting beside a pool of bitter Venezuelan chocolate fondue, served with a shot of preserved ginger milkshake. Cinnamon Swirl Brioche Pudding (the best bread pudding in recent memory), Lime Cream Pie, Chocolate Mousse Napoleon...all calling out to be ordered for the table. In addition to the prix fixe menu, there is a Vegetarian Prix Fixe for $49: Roasted Sunchoke & Rocket Salad, Fricasee of Chanterelle and Fava Beans, Couscous and Wild Rice, plus dessert.
For my recent birthday, I was asked where I wanted to go for dinner...and chose to repeat my dining adventure at the new Hatfield emporium. This time I requested all of us to order a la carte so I could experience the rest of this amazing menu. Celery Root Soup ($11), with pork confit, masala spiced pumpkin. Smoked Trout Salad ($12), with apple, avocado, warm fingerling potatoes in grain mustard butter....the salty fish offering a perfect contrast to the sweeter ingredients. Agnolotti ($11), the tiny pasta with mustard greens and ricotta, parsnip, and cinnamon banyuls. Beet-Cured Japanese Fluke ($11), the mild now-reddish fish accompanied with herbed yogurt, pickled shallots and buckwheat crisps. My particular favorite, a Warm Cuttlefish Salad ($12), the cephalopod fragments with Maitake mushrooms, sunchoke puree, baby arugula and artichoke chips. Another popular choice at the table, the Pain d'Espice Foie Gras ($21), the duck liver with beluga lentils, apple rosemary puree, wheat beer jus. And to cap it off, the famous starter, "Croque Madame," ($14), unlike any croque you have ever eaten: think yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, a sunnyside-up quail egg, all between toasted brioche; this has been a signature dish with them for years. Also offered, as main courses: Slow-Baked Tasmanian Ocean Trout ($28), with sweet potato 'gratin,' caramelized endive, baby cabbage leaves, dried cherry balsamic reduction. Loup de Mer ($26), the mild white fish with haricot vert, red onion soubise, fried caper, almond dried apricot crunch. Buttermilk-Steamed Chicken Breast ($26), usually a boring presentation, here the chicken silky soft, served with Japanese pearl barley, chanterelle mushrooms, charred pea tendrils, tarragon emulsion.
My friend to my right had the Kurobuta Pork Loin ($26), creamy Swiss chard, ruby grapefruit salad, celery root mustard. Two others stand out: a Pan-Roasted N.Y. Steak ($32), the beef already sliced and drizzled with a béarnaise sauce, served with crispy spaetzle, soy-glazed long beans. Another popular choice: Date & Mint Crusted Lamb ($36), with roasted heirloom root vegtables, fava beans, potato chive puree. As one critic wrote: "The dishes are exquisitely calibrated so that one ingredient plays off another, the whole edging ever closer to the sublime."
A word about the service: so excellent, from the moment you walk in the door and the charming hostess seems glad to see you, to the knowledgeable waiters who can detail specifics about each dish. The bar was not crowded on the occasions I was there, and I noted that there is a bar menu with some specialties. (Think Chicken "Nuggets" with paprika honey sauce, or Pork Belly Skewers). As Ginny noted, a good thing to know before or after a concert downtown at the Music Center.
HATFIELD'S is an exquisite restaurant from two inspired and demanding chefs, a breathtaking addition to the local restaurant scene. Offering California-French food of unusual imagination and flavor, in a space which showcases beautifully their culinary vision, it will inspire diners to return time after time to explore the subtle offerings. You will see me there often from now on.
Open seven days a week for dinner. Lunch will begin this month.
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