Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hatfields 02/01/2010

6703 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 935-2977

Quinn and Karen Hatfields' eponymous restaurant shuttered in mid-2009 with the intent of reopening in a larger space by the end of the year. After a bit of delay, the restaurant now occupies the space on Melrose and Citrus that was the former home of Michel Richard's legendary Citrus, as well as a number of other restaurants including Red Pearl Kitchen and Alex.

The restaurant has adapted well to the added room, shedding the claustrophobic feel of the old restaurant. Tables set along two rows of benches provide the majority of the space but a row of booths along two sides of the room offers a more intimate dining option. As before, the restaurant also offers a patio dining option but it wasn't open when we arrived. The restaurant has picked up a few new elements, including an exhibition kitchen and a centerpiece that is both a light fixture and a piece of contemporary art, a "molecular" representation of honey.

Supposedly a sourdough but I couldn't detect much of the characteristic sourness; instead the bread had an almost honeyed sweetness to it. Regardless, nowhere near as good as the savory cheese bread of old.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the old Hatfield's was the tandem tasting where diners opting for the tasting menu got two separate courses. The restaurant has kept the format but reduced the menu from seven to four courses. Whether this is a permanent change or just a means of keeping things simple for opening night remains to be seen. Regardless we chose to supplement the menu with a selection of the most interesting appetizers.

Supplement: Warm Cuttlefish Salad - Maitake mushrooms, sunchoke purée, baby arugula, artichoke chips
A variant of the squid course during my first visit, the thinly sliced cuttlefish had a slight crispness reminiscent of geoduck. The natural salinity of the mollusk blended beautifully with the earthy fragrance of the maitakes. The sunchoke and arugula provided substance and contrast to the salad, sweet and bitter; both flavors were essential in adding complexity though neither overpowered the cuttlefish.

Supplement: Beet Cured Japanese Fluke - Herbed yogurt, pickled shallots, buckwheat crisps
The picture perfect tuna that wasn't. The fish was actually a whitefish dyed red by a bath in beet juice. A promising but flawed dish, the fish had a slight beet-induced sweetness with rock salt helping to bring the fish's natural flavor into focus. The lightness of the fish was blunted by the herbed yogurt which added a discordant leaden feel to the mix.

Supplement: Agnolotti - Mustard greens and ricotta agnolotti, parsnip, cinnamon banyuls
Not sure what the idea behind this course was, the sweetness of pasta's filling and the parsnip purée combined in an overripe sweetness that completely dominated the mustard greens added to that the course had a mealy one-dimensional texture that didn't help matters.

Supplement: Frisée and Smoked Trout Salad - Apple, avocado, warm fingerling potatoes in grainy mustard butter
Though this course is billed as a smoked trout salad, there didn't actually seem to be any physical pieces of trout. Rather the fish made it's presence felt with an intense smokiness integrated into the salad itself. The strong flavor of the frisee held its own quite well especially with the sweet apple and avocado to balance the astringency of the mustard.

01a: Pan Roasted Diver Scallops - Braised celery, salsify, apple froth
Having dispensed with the pre-prix fixe courses, we moved right into the set menu. First up was a classically prepared scallop; quite lean in presentation with herbaceous overtones from the celery and a tangy counterpoint from the apple. Nothing really special about this course

01b: Charred Japanese Mackerel - Oven dried pineapple, avocado, fried shallots, nori infused salsa verde
I was expecting an oppressive oiliness to dominate this course, but the creamy avocado seemed to mute the natural flavor of the fish. The salsa verde proved to be an apt pairing, relying on the natural pairing of the nori to tie together with the fish. The dried pineapple provided a palpable sweetness to further mellow the fish.

2a: Olive Oil Poached Alaskan Halibut - Orange scented beets, horseradish crème fraîche, herbed pepita crust
I always worry a little when I see halibut on the menu, call it a vestige of one too many overcooked rubbery pieces of fish. This was almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, intensely succulent and tender. The mild fish soaked up the citrus tang and distinctive bite of the horseradish making for a spicy sweet flavor profile with a wonderful toasty/nutty finish from the pepitas.

2b: Prawns a la Plancha Espelette - Creamy crab rice, roasted peanuts, preserved lemon, mint
The tray the prawns came out on made me think they were finished in a microwave an assertion strengthened by the dry rubbery texture of the prawns. Despite the lackluster texture, the flavor was quite nice; leading off with a classic Thai-inspired piquant spiciness on the shrimp and a coconut sweetness from the rice. I would have liked the crab to be more apparent but the dish was still enjoyable.

03a: Horseradish Dusted Short Ribs and Hanger Steak - Spring onion confit, smoked potato puree
Hatfields is one of the few restaurants where the poultry and red meat are stronger than the seafood. Happily those skills seem to have survived the trip intact. The short rib itself was superb tender and lean with a simple meatiness that reminded me of hot dogs, they would have been truly wonderful if not for the otherworldly short rib from Citronelle. The steak had a bit more bite and character to it but still proved to be one of the most tender hanger steaks I've tasted.

03b: Long Island Duck Breast - Whisky prune smear, butternut squash, porcini quinoa porridge
The duck was another stellar holdover from my previous visit, almost identical except for the porcini in place of the hon shimejis. The taste was reminiscent of Chinese roast duck but with a lithe even texture; a reflection of the kitchen's skill at handling the bird.

One of the few restaurants where the desserts are actually every bit as strong and intriguing as the savories. We opted to order one of each.

Dessert 01: Cinnamon Swirl Brioche Pudding - Pear confit, maple syrup ice cream, cinnamon toast chip
I likened this course to Cinnamon Toast Crunch in bread pudding form. The soft eggy texture to the brioche reminded me of french toast making this course ideal for breakfast as well as dessert.

Dessert 02: Sugar and Spice Beignets - Venezuelan chocolate fondue, preserved ginger milkshake shot
Another nearly unchanged remnant of the original menu. The fluffy beignets were wonderful on their own or with a coating of semi-sweet chocolate and the spicy milkshake was the perfect chaser for one of these donuts.

Dessert 03: Lime Cream "Pie" - Gingersnap crust, oatmeal crumble, citrus chamomile ice cream
There is a nutty sweetness on the attack from the gingersnap and oatmeal followed by a shock of acidity from the lime cream that gives this dessert its name.

Dessert 04: Coconut Custard "Macaroon" - Marinated pineapple, vanilla tapioca, passion fruit-elderflower sorbet
Extremely light compared to the other desserts, the sugary sweet macaroon and coconut tapioca core are brightened by the bracing sorbet and mellow pineapple. Bold and flavorful but light, this was my favorite dessert of the night

Dessert 05: Chocolate "Nutella" - Ganache cake, butterscotch rosemary ice cream, hazelnut toffee
A twist on the chocolate, peanut butter cake of previous Hatfields. The "Nutella" didn't have the bold contrast of the peanut butter, blending seamlessly with the chocolate cake. What set this dessert apart is the ice cream, sweet and buttery with a bold streak of rosemary.

I have to say things went quite smoothly for an opening night. The food came out promptly and well prepared. For the most part the restaurant was transplanted seamlessly with the food tasting just as I remember it. Both Kevin and I noticed a great deal of similarity between the menus. It remains to be seen if the move was purely logistical or if a new menu is in the works to compliment the new digs. Either way, welcome back Hatfields, we missed you.

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