One of my new favorite Los Angeles restaurant, a traditional steakhouse with Indonesian touches, HUTCHINSON COCKTAILS & GRILL (826 N. La Cienega Blvd., 310-360-0884) is two blocks below Santa Monica Blvd. where The Spanish Kitchen used to be (and once was the location of Alan Hale's The Lobster Barrel, he was the skipper on Gilligan's Island). This is certainly one of the best steak houses in the city, with the added advantage of serving delicious dishes from Southeast Asia. How did the Hutchinsons come to Indonesia? The two owners, Ian and Justin Hopper, will be happy to stop by your table to tell you the story of how their Iowa family came to California a century ago to farm. Their grandfather Richard Hutchinson Hopper graduates from Caltech with a degree in geology and went to Sumatra, Indonesia, to search for fossil fuels - oil - and was there when the Japanese Army invaded after Pearl Harbor. Richard fled to Australia where he married a young Aussie girl, Renee. After fighting his way through New Guinea and the Philippines, Richard settled the family down in Jakarta after the war. He then learned that the Japanese had co-discovered the largest oilfield in Southeast Asia at his original site, leading to him being called 'the real Indiana Jones.' Renee became an expert in the native cooking, especially the collection of national dishes, or rijsstafel (rice table). She then passed the skill along to the boy's mother, Lois. When they moved back to California, the idea of opening a steakhouse and Indonesian dining room seemed like a natural.
In my younger days I spent some time in this land of hundreds of islands, and have never forgotten the delectable dishes they offer, most now being served at Hutchinson. Beef Rendang ($36) is savory short ribs served with Indonesian curry, coconut rice, and caramelized baby bok choy cabbage. It is utterly incredible. I am addicted to a dish called Nasi Goreng ($18), fried jasmine rice which is flavored with chicken, pork and prawns, served with a fried egg on top. When you break the yolk and the silky egg drips down into the rice....heavenly. There are a half-dozen steaks on offer here, all cooked over a wood-fired grill with mesquite charcoal and white oak logs, the steaks range from a 7 oz. Colorado Skirt Steak of grass-fed beef, a real steal at $26, to an 8 oz. Nebraska Filet ($41). My favorite cut, the Strauss Ribeye ($54), is a 16 oz. dry-aged wonder with the bone in. My companions last night ordered the Prime N.Y. Strip Steak, 12 oz. for $44. One of my guests pointed out that they offered two Specialty Steaks, a massive Tomahawk Ribeye, 60 oz. of prime 28-day aged grass-fed beef for $150.....enough meat to feed three or four hungry trenchermen. A friend at the next table pointed out his Wagyu Steak, 6 oz. of real Japanese beef for a pricey $180. I must note that they offer five sauces for your steaks, ranging from a classic Bearnaise ($5) to a Szechian Peppercorn ($5), a Mint Coriander ($3) and a Coconut Curry ($3)...but there is only one choice for me, the Bone Marrow Bordelaise ($5), worth the price of admission alone.
For those of you poor souls who don't eat beef, there are a handful of tasty entrees to select from. An Organic Half Chicken ($22) which has been marinated in herbs and oil, then finished with tamarind-butter after cooking. My ex will probably order the Scottish Salmon, 7 oz. for $28, with its mint-coriander sauce, while a Fijian Tuna ($30) has the same mint-coriander sauce. Lobster-lovers will seek out the Whole Lobster-in-the-Shell, a 2 ½ lb crustacean at market price, usually about $25 a pound. Last night my lovely server, Aylya, told me that she had been named for an original character in Star Wars. Ian's talented wife, Lori Heuring, came by to talk movies with me...she is a prolific screenwriter and actress.
On another visit, I forego the steak and settled (happily) for a handful of their signature dishes. Apart from the succulent Beef Rendang, there is a mind-blowing Green Curry Fried Chicken ($24) which had been sous-vided, then fried, served with a cabbage-apple slaw (not to my taste), but it had a gula jawa syrup (don't you love that name) which was tasty and different. Several sides which are worthy of your attention, from that Nasi Goreng I mentioned to an amazing Mac & Cheese ($12, which featured aged gouda cheese, topped with toasted bread crumbs and chives, addictive beyond belief.) Wood-roasted Cauliflower ($11), Handcut Fries ($9), Green Beans ($12) and Brussels Sprouts which are $14 but served with crispy pork belly in a ginger-vinegar sauce...worthy of being an entrée in itself.
Did I mention some of the Starters? Satays are those native skewers, here $12 for the chicken and $16 for the sirloin, but they are a 'show' in themselves...crushed peanuts, Indonesian soy and sambal, a cucumber salad and mom's peanut sauce. (My mom never made a peanut sauce. Ian tells me that they are planning to bottle this sauce and offer it for sale.) I actually loved the Mushroom Spring Rolls ($12), lots of unusual fillings with pea sprouts. One night my date had a bowl of the Carlsbad Mussels ($18) and let me taste the exquisite tumeric-coconut broth. The Executive Chef, Joseph Patterson, sure knows what he is doing on both the steak end and the Asiatic one. Joseph was once the personal chef for my buddy Victor Drai before moving to the latter's restaurant on top of Hollywood's W Hotel. Mother Lois worked with him for many months to perfect the Indonesian dishes on this menu. There is a Philippine touch with the Pork and Prawn Lumpia Roll ($14), with pineapple sambal. (I took two home.) Yet to try, the Wood-Grilled Artichoke ($14), the Spicy Tuna Belly ($14) and the Lettuce Cups ($12). Desserts are as delicious as the rest of the food, with Ice Cream Sandwiches ($8) of Anzac cookies and golden syrup. I liked the Key Lime Cheesecake ($11) and the Manjari Chocolate Mousse Cake ($12) but my favorite was the Butterscotch Pot de Crème ($11), on a par with Nancy Silverton's.
There is a sound reason why the name of the restaurant contains the word cocktails, for they are all excellent and unusual. The Malibar vodka one ($11) is nice, the Renee Rudd hibiscus gin ($13) kind of strange, with its hibiscus sauce on top and served with a spoon, and my favorite is the one which comes in its own bottle, their version of a Moscow Mule called the Micronesia Mule ($14). The wine and beer list is full of boutique choices, somewhat expensive but interesting. I discussed adding Laetiita to the list and they were receptive. The fellows told me that they had experimented with a monthly special Rijsttafel Dinner which consisted of several courses of native Indonesian dishes which are too complex or unusual to put on the regular menu, but had discontinued it and will experiment with new dishes as they go along.
Robert Anderson is the genial talented Chef.
The look of this restaurant is unique, exciting and romantic. I heard that the $4 million renovation took untold months since they brought many of the fixtures and woodwork from Jakarta and Bali. I examined with interest the hand-painted desert survey map in the bar area, a reflection of Richard's work mapping the Mojave desert. There are 300 gorgeous antique brass Batik stamps called 'Tjaps,' individually framed around the upper dining area. Fish-trap lamps filter warm light through their complex design. The guys told me they represent their grandfather's expeditions through the many islands around Jakarta. Dark wood and deep leather booths (no tables!) make this a warm and inviting, even exotic and intelligent ambiance.
There are about 50,000 Indonesians in the L.A. area and I know they are frequenting this wonderful place. I was disturbed by the recent actions of the current government there but that too shall pass. A trip here is a treat for everyone of us who desires great steaks, delicious ethnic food, and an environment which is rich in atmosphere and elegance.
They are open Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm until about 1:30 am. There are private party rooms with all the hi-fi equipment needed for screening or party. Adam Sandler had his whole crew here recently for a dinner party.
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