For many years I shared a box at the Hollywood Bowl for the summer concert season, a rite of passage for many new residents of the city. The friend we shared with was president of the symphony; thus we had a "keyboard side" box so my then-wife, a former concert pianist, could see the finger action. And since I am the "food maven," it was my job to provide the picnic feasts for the four occupants of the box. Each year, every other Thursday for some eight weeks saw me doing the honors. I would start thinking about the meal on Monday and was determined never to repeat myself. One week I would cook a big pot of beef stew, another I did a chateaubriand steak, and another week I would take out a sumptuous selection of sushi and such from Matsuhisa. I occasionally brought fried chicken from Gelson's and several times brought a Chinese feast from Joss. Yes, I actually was glad when the season was over. However, life moved on and the box was given up along with the marriage that went with it.
This weekend I was determined to see the L.A. Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel conduct a concert version of the opera Verdi's Aida. My ex is a member of the Founders Circle and at the last minute was able to obtain a box for six... and this time I solved the food situation in a unique, logical way. My Huffington readers may recall an article a month or so ago about how the Patina Group had taken over the food service at the Bowl a few years ago, and I was determined to make it easy for me and my guests, including old buddy Freddie Levinson and g. f. Tiffani Jones, along with other relatives. What resulted was a revelation... and utterly delicious.
I've been writing about Chef Joachim Splichal since he first arrived in L.A. and opened a tiny spot called Max Au Triangle in Beverly Hills. Since then his Patina has achieved the status of one of the finest restaurants in the city, moving from Melrose into its new home at the posh Walt Disney Concert Hall. And his Patina Group has emerged as a powerhouse dining facility on both coasts. After taking over all food service at the Hollywood Bowl, it has steadily enlarged and improved its delivery vehicles, and now offers a wide variety of opportunities to eat there. I wrote about The Wine Bar near the entrance, perched above the Popcorn Stand, new this year, a delightful venue for a snack and glass (or two) of vino. But on Sunday night I was centered on the dining in the boxes, and thus I decided to order a wide variety of dishes to ascertain the scope and quality of the meals. I went to their website to examine the new a la carte menu of appetizers and entrees, and desserts, and wildly splurged on a vast number of dishes. Anything to give my Huffington readers a full picture, of course.
I didn't exactly know how they furnished the food, so I foolishly brought a bagful of utensils and napkins and such. Not to worry, when we we arrived at the box there was a stalwart youngish man, Paul Ricklen, who said he has been with the Patina Group for 11 years... and would look after our meal. Did he ever! The box was already furnished with tablecloths, utensils, and even bottles of sparkling water. We settled in as Paul delivered the first of many courses, timing them perfectly so we would finish the meal just as the concert began. First were two salads: a Summer Strawbery Salad ($14), with shaved fennel, baby spinach, Marcona almonds and broken balsamic dressing atop the sliced strawberries. Then Organic Baby Greens ($14), with shaved farmer's market vegetables and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Everyone commented on the freshness of the ingredients. Then I had decided I must sample the Smoked Salmon Platter ($32), figuring they never could get the quality of Barney Greengrass but it was worth the look. As one guest said, they matched the quality of his favorite New York supplier, Russ & Daughters, with a generous amount of silky smoked salmon, toasted bagel chips, shaved red onions, capers, and a sort of crème fraiche/cream cheese sauce. My friends dug in, and I warned them to pace themselves as there was a lot more to come. A bucket of their famous honey-stung fried chicken followed ($28), and in the bucket were several fresh cinnamon buns. The chicken actually matched the quality of the Bouchon Bistro Monday night treat I had been telling my friends about, crispy and not too breaded and juicy meat underneath. I had ordered some seafood to mix the match, and a beautiful plate of Grilled Atlantic Salmon ($34) came next, with garlic-scented rapini, melted leeks and butter nage. (I made a mental note to suggest to them that they try for Pacific wild salmon, rather than the farm-raised Atlantic variety.)
I have made a huge point in my various reviews that the test of a great chef is how he roasts a chicken, so I had ordered the Pinot Rotisserie Half-Chicken, with thyme-roasted Weiser Farm potatoes and farmer's market vegetables. Whoever wielded the grill knew what they were doing, for the fowl was moist and juicy, and was quickly devoured by all concerned. I ate most of the tiny roast potatoes. I had forgotten there was one more major dish to come. I am a stickler about fresh fish, and had written about the new Nishi Sushi Bar under Master Chef Travis Kamiyama. Here was a platter of Assorted Sashimi ($95): five pieces of tuna, five pieces of Yellowtail, five pieces of salmon, five pieces of albacore, along with some slices of octopus (my favorite), as well as seaweed salad, packets of soy sauce, and dabs of wasabi and gari. Oh, my, it was stunning, and even though were all stuffed, we managed to do some real damage to the plate.
Time was running short, and Paul took order for coffee and tea. I have stopped drinking coffee after lunch, since my doctor said it stays in your system and deters the sleep process. Just then Paul brought the first of two desserts I had ordered: a Summer Berry Shortcake ($28), with market berries beside the angel food cake, topped with Chantilly cream. (I thought the cake was somewhat dry, but that's the nature of the white angel food.) Paul showed us another dessert I had ordered, and said he would bring it at half-time. It was a Fitzgerald Peach pie ($28), with brown crumb topping and whipped cream. I don't know who Fitzgerald is, but he or she knows what they are doing --it was delicious, and that's what I brought home for breakfast the next morning. All in all, a sumptuous feast. Not inexpensive, but not beyond what a first-class restaurant would charge for the same courses... and, after all, this was Patina!
Oh, yes, by the way: The concert of Aida was glorious.
Dudamel was in fine form, as was the fabulous orchestra, and the substitute singer for the role of the King's daughter, Amnenris, Michelle Deyoung, was magnificent, as was Liudmyla Monastyrsaka as Aida and Jorge de Leon as Radames. My readers may recall that I wrote a glowing review of the Herb Alpert/Lani Hall concert here two weeks ago, and again tonight I was struck by the remarkable technological improvements which have been made with the new $3 million sound system of L'Acoustics Kl speakers and the high-definition LED video screens. The clearer, brighter picture even during twilight hours is absolutely amazing...this is a new form of show business for the 21st century... and the Hollywood Bowl is in the forefront. There are still several weeks left for the bowl season, so I suggest you go online and see the programs, then try to get a box or seats and order your dinner at 323-850-1885 or patinagroup.com/bowl. Also, bring a warm sweater, for it gets freezing cold in the middle of the evening. Enjoy!
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