Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hatfields - 03/13/2008

7458 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

I am not entirely sure what prompted me to choose Hatfields for dinner. Certainly the reviews had been strong enough, but personal testimony from friends had been wanting. In terms of decor Hatfields is quite plain, a non-descript facade, fairly spartan interior, and a little "outdoor" area that is little more than a cramped corridor running alongside the building. Originally we were given a table outside. We requested a table indoors and were shown to two small tables in the front of the restaurant.

Initially, I was interested in getting the tasting menu, and fearing seven courses might be a bit much for my girlfriend, letting her do a la carte if she wished. Surprisingly the restaurant is inflexible in its tasting menu, not allowing substitutions and requiring the entire table to participate. The reason for this is the tasting menu tends to be a tandem tasting with 14 different courses shared between the diners. I ordered the wine pairing with my meal and I wonder if my girlfriend had done so would they have poured the same wines for her. I enjoyed the pairings but didn't bother to take down any notes.

Amuse Bouche - deviled quail egg with smoked trout, and cauliflower creme
The deviled egg had a creaminess from the whipped yolk and a salty smoky flavor there was also a bit of tartness suggesting some sort of relish or pickle added to the mix. The cauliflower cream soup was in contrast much subtler with a bit of sweetness and a smooth creamy texture. This combination reminds me a bit of the amuse at Picasso. one intensely flavored small bite and a soup of some sort, warm thick texture and mild flavor.

The bread was a warm roll topped with some sort of cheese, tasted to me like gruyere. The bread was warm to the point of being painful to touch with a light fluffy texture with a cheesy flavor. Being of simple bread tastes all I require is something warm and soft this met those requirements and then some.

1a "Croque Madame" - grilled brioche, hamachi, prosciutto, quail egg
My first course was the Hatfields take on the croque madame. A croque monsieur which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and the switch from monsieur to madame is due to the egg on top which resembles a woman's hat. I thought this was a very nice starter. I particularly enjoyed the addition of raw hamachi to the mix which was lighter in flavor although somewhat similar in texture to the prosciutto. The brioche was warm and as a result of the grilling crispy and fluffy.

1b Cuttlefish - maitake mushrooms, celery root pureé, lime zest
The second course consisted of cuttlefish mixed with maitake mushrooms, both of which have a slightly chewy texture. The maitake mushrooms gave a very earthy flavor which complimented the celery root pureé. This was a very busy course combining the chewiness of the cuttlefish and mushrooms with a grainy pureé of celery root. I felt the dish was a touch salty, given the relatively mild flavor of the ingredients it stands to reason something would have to be added, I just felt they added a bit too much.

2a Japanese Octopus - saffron braised heart of palm, fennel, red wine olive pureé
Having octopus immediately after cuttlefish seemed a bit odd. In terms of accoutrements, the two were fairly different. The octopus was paired with heart of palm which has a firm crunchy texture. The red wine olive pureé was far more pungent than the celery root pureé used previously. All things considered I felt this was a fairly weak course, the flavors each vied for attention rather than working together harmoniously.

2b Cranberry Bay Maine Diver Scallops - salsify pureé, braised celery, apple froth
Unlike the earlier courses, I felt the flavors with the scallops were muted. The salsify pureé had a flavor akin to an artichoke while the celery added a subdued bitterness and the apple froth adding only a whisper of flavor.

3a Olive Oil Poached Ocean Trout - herbed cardoons, smoked potato pureé, ruby grapefruit and watercress salad
Again with the pureé, the last four courses have had some form of pureé in it. Everytime I see this fish I think it is salmon. Its only when tasting that the differences become apparent. The trout has a much softer texture and milder flavor. Definitely the main flavor came from the smoked potato pureé. Another fairly disappointing course, the soft almost mushy texture of the fish mars the entire course.

3b Hempseed crusted hamachi collar - gingered brussel sprouts, citrus vinaigrette
I liked this course, the hamachi collar was firm but moist, and full of flavor. The ginger helped manage the bitterness of the brussel sprouts while the citrus vinaigrette acted very much like a ponzu sauce normally used for dipping broiled hamachi-kama.

4a Pan Roasted Duck Breast - quinoa and hon shimeji mushrooms, butternut squash, whiskey prune smear
About this point in the meal the courses started to improve noticably. The duck was well seasoned with the oils from the layer of fat resting between the crispy skin and the tender meat. The quinoa was similar to a rice but had a nutty flavor that went well with the savory richness of the mushrooms.

4b Slow Roasted Chicken Wings and Foie Gras - lentil pureé, royal trumpet mushrooms, chimay jus
Cooked to perfection the tender chicken wing paired extremely well with the flavor of foie gras. Meaty mushrooms and a slightly sweet sauce pair well with the main ingredients.

5a Braised Pork Belly - vanilla scented turnip pureé, heirloom carrot, charred pea tendrils
Another strong course, the pork belly had a wonderful balance of lean meat and fat broken into layers running horizontally across the meat. I don't recall much of the other ingredients on the plate as I had focused on enjoying the rich fattiness of the pork.

5b Slow Cooked Beef Rib - crispy spaetlze, Chinese broccoli, mustard infused garnet yam pureé
Okay I swear no more courses contain pureé of any sort. Thats probably because this is the last savory course and my favorite course of the night. Unlike so many beef ribs I have eaten recently this one wasn't slathered in a thick tangy layer of sauce. Rather the meat had a distinctly Asian flavor with hints of licorice. The addition of crispy spaetlze, think thick fried noodles like udon but denser and less springy provided a nice texture contrast. Adding Chinese broccoli made this whole dish taste like a gourmet beef noodle soup. The mustard yam pureé added a sweetness that went very well with the meat, given my disdain for yams, that compliment is high praise indeed.

My girlfriend knowing me as she did knew I would love the beef course and after taking a single bite offered it to me in what I thought was a gesture of affection. No sooner had I tasted the beef, than she presented her terms, the lions share of the desserts. Seeing the enjoyment on my face she knew she had me trapped. With my head held high in what I hoped was an appropriately dignified manner I accepted her offer. Everything I had read suggested that the desserts at Hatfields were not to be missed we would soon find out if that were true.

6a Fresh Citrus Napoleon - crispy phyllo, almond cake, mascarpone, satsuma tangerine sorbet
This dessert consisted of a base of almond cake, alternating layers of mascarpone and crispy phyllo. The tangerine sorbet was intensely concentrated tart and cold it was the perfect foil to the richness of the mascarpone and the sweetness of the almond cake. The crispy phyllo offered a buttery crunch to the softness of the other ingredients. Easily my favorite dessert of the night. Yes, my girlfriend was kind enough to leave me a bite of each dessert so I could write my reviews.

6b Buttermilk Panna Cotta - pineapple ginger sorbet
This struck me as immediately different from normal panna cotta. The use of buttermilk made for an extremely smooth and soft panna cotta with a hint of sourness not found normally. The pairing with pineapple made this another very light and flavorful dessert a close second behind the citrus napoleon.

7b Chocolate Mousse Tartlet - chewy caramel, espresso ice cream, chocolate coffee crumble
Personally this was the weakest of the desserts in my opinion. The tart was nothing to write home about the textures all tended towards soft and smooth with the exception of the coffee crumble. A very uniform and monolithic dish, somewhat dull given how good everything else was.

7a Sugar and Spice Dusted Beignets - Venezuelan chocolate fondue, vanilla-chai milkshake shot
It seems gourmet doughnuts are becoming popular among fine dining establishments, from French Laundry's Coffee and Doughnuts to the Doughnut Shoppe at Grace on Wednesday nights. I found these very similar to the doughnuts served at french laundry, sweet with a hint of cinnamon, the doughnuts were warm and of medium density, not as airy as say a Krispy Kreme but no where near the heaviness of a cake doughnut. Paired with this was a thick rich chocolate fondue for dipping and an aromatic vanilla and chai milkshake to wash it all down. Good but not quite up to French Laundry.

Technically that concluded our meal but there was one dessert online that caught my eye as one of the main reasons for choosing this restaurant. Naturally I had to order it before we left

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Truffle Cake - salted caramel ice cream, roasted peanut toffee
Another very heavy dessert, this was in essence a molten chocolate cake mixed with peanut butter. The salted caramel ice cream added a significantly different flavor to the dish. Normally I find molten cakes paired with vanilla or something else bland but creamy in an effort to dilute the richness of the chocolate. Here, judicious application of salt and the pleasing burnt flavor of toffee enrich the dish without trying to mask the intensity of the chocolate.

Chocolate Hazlenut Praline
Yet more chocolate to end the meal. Fairly good, definitely comparable to any high-end chocolate.

I can certainly see validity to supporters who enjoy Hatfield's food, the dishes are all fairly solid and a couple are standouts in my mind. This is one of the rare times I found the earlier seafood oriented courses significantly weaker than the later poultry and meat courses. Even those were overshadowed by the desserts which I find normally pale compared to the savory courses.

At the same time I certainly can see the point of detractors as well. Some of the earlier courses, while carefully prepared seemed to miss the mark. Not going with the tasting menu, one can easily pick a couple of weaker courses and end up with a poor impression of the restaurant.

To sum it all up the food here is strong but lacks a certain polish that sets it apart from the truly great restaurants in my mind. That and maybe ease up a little on the pureé.


JLA said...

Really enjoyed your review and thought it was pretty spot on. We discovered Hatfields through our foodie friends and have gone a few times since.
One of the standouts there are the cocktails. I hardly ever order one, preferring to stick to wines or whiskys, but Hatfields' bar makes a good drink. We had a Concord grape gin cocktail that sounded unusual but was phenomenal.
The decor is plain and the service isn't top tier, but for LA, it's a very good restaurant.
And here is the thing for me and my husband... no matter how great a place is here in LA, any reviews we have will always place it a notch below anything in NY. So we may say an LA joint is fantastic, but you always has to quantify it by saying, "for LA." ;)
We're off to Hatfields tonight, so here's hoping for a good meal.

Tangbro1 said...

I agree with you on the service and decor, neither is particularly impressive.

With regards to your LA/NY battle. I would be curious to see what you think of Urasawa vs Masa. I have heard the student has surpassed the master but I didn't have the chance to try Masa last time I was in NY.

I hope you enjoyed your dinner. I have been meaning to try Hatfields again. I will be sure to try a cocktail next time.

oasiszealot said...


Yes, the meal at Hatfield's was good, but I feel like a new chef is in the kitchen?

For one, the Croque Madame was... tasty, but the composition was a bit messy. The brioche was thick and overly toasted so that it was hard to cut with the dinner knife. And while they were generous with the hamachi, the cuts were not even so it spilt over as you cut into the sandwich.

Also, there was a lot of brushing of sauces all over the large white plates, when before, the food was neatly served on a plain plate with a light hand of swirled sauces. The brushing was pointless decoration and nothing you could use for eating.

Also, based on your pictures, I suggest the chocolate peanut butter cake to a friend and for myself and we were both unimpressed (though the salted caramel ice cream and toffee bits were yum). However, I definitely think it was the making that night, and not your review. I have a feeling it could have been really delicious, but something in the kitchen didn't feel the same.

Even the cocktail that night wasn't as good as previous ones we've had. My friend got the limoncello gin and it wasn't tasty, so I stuck with a Riesling (which was nice).

Oh, I so want to try Masa and Urasawa! I actually had made a reservation last June for my (then) fiance's birthday but we ended up going to NY for business so we ate a ton of food there. We were going to consider Masa, but realized one meal there could feed us at least 2 places elsewhere so we passed.

I look forward to hearing when YOU go to Masa for your comparison.

Should we go to Urasawa soon, I will definitely let you know!

Thanks again for your kind responses.