THE BLOG
06/08/2010 12:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

South Beverly Grill -- Houston Clone Comes to Beverly Hills

I have yet to meet a restaurant-goer who has ever complained (at least to me) about dining at any one of the Houston's eateries, of which there are 30+ throughout the country. The only negative I hear is that they are so popular you often have to wait 30 minutes or so for a table after the movie. The same goes for their sister chain of seafood restaurants, Gulfstream, usually less crowded but still a hot draw. The third arm of the multi-faceted company with which I am familiar is Bandera, and there is an enormously popular one at Wilshire and Barrington in Westwood. The wait there is usually shorter, the music is live and somewhat louder, and the rotisserie chickens revolving in the roaster at the door can drive you crazy with their aromatic attraction. It was only recently that I learned they are all dining outlets of a successful group, Hillstone, centered in Los Angeles, and that the founder of the group, a resolute gentleman named George Biel, had been a subscriber to our Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter for the past decade.

The occasion of my learning this was when the Hillstone people opened a new restaurant close to where I live in Beverly Hills and just down the street from their corporate offices. The moment I entered, it felt familiar, in the vein of a Houston's clone, without the crowds (they quickly came, you can be sure). Steve Shulman, the husband of my lovely ex, is on the board of a New York restaurant chain, Ark, and had heard of the opening of the SOUTH BEVERLY GRILL (122 South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, just below Wilshire Blvd, on the east side of the street, (310) 550-0242, where the Hamburger Hamlet was, with $8 valet parking in the adjacent lot) the same time that I did. Patty Eisenberg and I left the premiere screening of the Halston film, "Ultrasuede" with them and we both suggested trying the new entry in our neighborhood.

Ever since, I have been hooked on the new restaurant! Really. I went back three times in their first weeks and again last night. It presents a new lunch, dinner and bar option to our neighborhood, and knowing it offers on its menu many of the most popular dishes of Houston's and Gulfstream makes it even more irresistible. Another attraction is the charming, vivacious Chef de Cuisine, Cindy Liu, who looks like a teenager but has put in several long years at the Four Seasons and other cooking venues.

See photos here.

When I timidly inquired (yes I did) of my very able server, Joseph, if I could get a couple of Prime Rib Bones as an entrée, she came out of the kitchen to see who the nut was asking for the dog food. We chatted, I got some background for this article, and subsequently have discussed the food and where she is going with the menu. Incidentally, the regular dish is terrific, Standing Rib Roast ($28), a sizable hunk of glistening beef-on-the-bone served with pan au jus (gravy), and a loaded - and I mean really loaded - baked potato (butter and sour cream, chives and bacon bits, all optional). Which calls for my smart-alec observation that I know there must be a 'god' because he invented the baked potato.

I got another chance to interact with Chef Cindy the following Saturday at lunch, when I returned with Jerry Edelstein with the intention of exploring Fried Oysters St. Charles ($12), four crispy, juicy oysters served with Houston's famed creamed spinach, artichokes & lemon aioli. Yes, fried oysters are one of my many passions, and this was the best example I have had in years, even better than those at Elite Chinese in Monterey Park. Jerry had a beautiful Omelette ($16), silky soft and filled with spinach and cheese, with potato salad, Campari tomato and a slice of griddled toast. On our first dinner visit, Steve had ordered the Mesquite-Grilled Lamb Sirloin ($25), a hefty slice of rare-ish lamb served with cipollini onions and sautéed spinach. Annie had her usual Pan Roasted Salmon ($21), the nice morsel of fish served with lentil vinaigrette and, on the side, mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. (Yes, they are big on sauteed spinach, but it's healthy for you and I love it...so there.) Patty had selected the Cheeseburger ($15), an impressive beast of a bun filled with freshly-ground chuck steak, a slice of cheddar cheese, tomato, pickle and red onion. I related the progress - or lack of it -- I am making on my long-overdue article on The Hamburgers of L.A, the research of which I am intending to drag out forever.

I excused myself from my friends and went off to explore the next door/connected Honor Bar, with its own entrance off the street, its own phone number (310-550-0292; "no, ma'am, your husband is not here drinking"), its own menu and cooking station in front beside the entrance, where imbibers can order from a selection of four sandwiches, all $10...an Honor Burger; Ding's Crispy Chicken Sandwich, the Suburban Tuna Sandwich; why it's called that I couldn't determine but it did feature havarti cheese and iceberg lettuce, and the capper sandwich of the bar, the Henri, a ham, prime rib, Swiss...just delectable drizzled with a spicy horseradish sauce. I wouldn't be surprised if these sandwiches drift onto the menu in the main room, since that only features one sandwich apart from the burger, a Famous French Dip ($18), the roasted prime rib piled high on a freshly-baked French roll.

Did I mention that all of the bread and rolls are baked every few hours in house, a rarity in these days of pre-frozen LaBrea Bakery deliveries. There is a live jazz group playing here most nights, and when I went over to hear them better I was astonished to see a vintage 1947 Indian beast sitting quietly beside the bandstand. A conversation with the very helpful Melinda Fredericksen in the corporate office down the street informs that Biel opened the first Houston's in 1976; they now have about 50 various restaurants 'round the country, including similar Grills in Rutherford, Palm Beach, Cherry Creek, Los Altos and Bethesda. I do love the subtle Houston-like Southwestern look of the new South Beverly Grill, with its leather booths, reclaimed wood beams, walnut and cherry woods, and patterned brick walls. There's a long bar along the south wall, featuring several TV sets nicely muted. Attention must be paid and credit given to the hiring policies of this organization; I cannot recall any operation which has nicer employees... and I'm talking attitude, behavior, general all-around sweetness. All of them, in their Hillstone Group black-on-black uniforms, make dining here an even greater pleasure... a rarity these days.

I am slowly working my way through the menu, and it's going to take awhile before I sample it all, but there are some standouts which should be shouted aloud. Like a new dish, Crispy Chicken Livers ($10), not often seen in fine-dining establishments outside of New Orleans, here paired with arugula and goat cheese. Of course it wouldn't be a Hillstone operation without its ribs, here Campfire BBQ Ribs ($24), a hefty slab of pork baby back ribs served with Carolina barbeque sauce (spicy, vinegar-based), coleslaw plus haystack fries. Last night I observed Chef Putnam Gibson working with the garde manger station to perfect the newly-introduced Tuna Tartare just added to the menu; freshly-chopped, served with avocado. (A bit too tart for my taste, which likes a dab of mayonaisse in the dish.) I'm constantly asked, "Where can I get a great steak?" and now I have a new suggestion to add to the tired few I always throw out (Spago and Cut, BLT and The Palm, Ruth's Chris), for the Prime New York Strip Steak ($36) last night was superb, charred and pink, with an earthy beefy flavor so rarely experienced, served with mashed potatoes and spinach. My date wanted the Dover Sole, prepared meuniere style (lightly floured, dipped in crumbs, and simply sautéed.) Our waiter told me that it is flown in from the North Atlantic and is only available Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Superb, as was the Pappardelle pasta ($17), served with braised pork and a taste of Swiss chard, wild mushrooms and corn. Last night we had a chance to sample the desserts, all $8 and made in house and terrific, from an authentic Italian Tiramisu to an addictive Apple Walnut Cobbler, finished with Beverly's Brownie with champagne custard. The bartenders are skilled with mixed drinks (have you had a Long Island Iced Tea lately?) and the wait staff is quick to recommend suitable wines from the reasonably-priced list. No Laetitia Pinot Noir or Brut Rose yet but I'm working on them.

I admire and am in awe of smart and farsighted people like those of the Hillstone Group, who realize that by giving a little extra pizazz in the way of service, food and atmosphere, you can win the undying and continuous gratitude and patronage of diners everywhere. So I salute my new friends at South Beverly Grill, Chef Cindy and waitperson Joseph and all of the smiling girls at the entrance. You are a welcome addition to the neighborhood!

Open 11 am to 11 pm weekdays; until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

You can subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter by emailing him at jayweston@sbcglobal.net