900 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90015
Both Wolfgang Puck and Executive Chef Lee Hefter have an affinity for Asian techniques that are readily apparent in the food at Wolfgang Puck's flagship Spago in Beverly Hills. WP24 turns the model on its head and instead of serving Asian-inspired Western cuisine, applies the Western emphasis on quality, service, and decor to traditional Asian dishes. Though Puck and Hefter had input into the restaurant, day-to-day operations are overseen by Chef de Cuisine David McIntyre. Chef McIntyre got his start at Patina before joining up with Puck first at Spago for a number of years then as a consulting chef at CUT. He struck out on his own briefly and opened Crescent Heights Kitchen and Lounge prior to rejoining Puck with the opening of WP24.
WP24 is locate on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown and the restaurant affords a grand view of the meager LA cityscape. The interior consists of two bars, a lounge area, and a main dining room. The lounge offers a selection of pan-asian small plates while the formal dining room serves modern interpretation of Chinese cuisine. The bar is done in tones of black and grey with a clean contemporary feel. Just beyond the bar is a warm inviting lounge area with light wood "nests" giving diners a modicum of privacy. After the elaborate lounge, the spartan main dining room seemed almost like an afterthought. The wide open space is divided into a nomral dining area and a private dining area with two tables. We were seated at one of the two private tables while another party was at the other. A gauzy black curtain was draped between us but we were still able to see the other party which was distracting at times.
The meal kicked off with a set of small plates similar to the amuse courses that open the tasting menu at Spago.
Prawn Toast - Sweet & Spicy Garlic Chili Sauce
Apparently the meal at WP24 always kicks off with a plate of prawn toast. The subtle fishiness of the prawn coupled with the garlic chili sauce was very reminiscent of the dipping sauce at Brodard.
01: Spring Rolls - Maine Lobster, Prawns, 10 Spice Honey
Hard to go wrong when you take lobster and prawn and stuff it inside a crispy skin. By itself the spring roll didn't taste especially unique. Rather it was the sauce which gave the spring rolls an vibrant fiery sweetness.
02: Curry Dumplings - Braised Beef, Curry, Sesame
These looked exactly like the ones my mom used to make, down to the layer of glaze and black and white sesame seeds. The flavor was spot on as well, with a lingering heat that built steadily.
03: Steamed Baby Bao Buns - Sautéed Duck Liver, Sweet Bean Paste, Sour Ume Plums
Duck liver definitely isn't a traditional ingredient but when the resulting combination tastes this good who cares. Both the bao and the sweet and sour sauce play very well with the duck liver, adding the sweetness that foie gras craves but it the contrast from the sprig of fresh scallion that makes this work.
04: Chili "Dan Dan" Dumplings - Organic Chicken, Chili Garlic Sauce, Crushed Peanuts, Green Onion
Chicken filling not withstanding, these were actually fairly traditional wontons. Paired with the hot chili oil they reminded me of "hong you chao shou" or Red Oil Dumplings.
05: Chinese Spring Chive Crystal Dumplings - Alaskan King Crab, Shrimp, Kurobuta Pork
Easily one of the best dishes of the night. The dumpling skin had a complex texture coupling the chewiness of the glutinous rice with a charred crispy top. The combination of the crab and pork was equally effective, a delicious mixture of sweet shellfish and rich pork was finished with a the horseradish-tinged flavor of the mustard soy sauce.
06: Crispy Glazed Wolfe Ranch Quail - Garlic, Dried Chilies, Ginger, Black Chinkiang Vinegar, Rice Stick Salad
I am of the opinion that quail should be served as simply as possible, allowing diners to appreciate the decadent oiliness of the crisp skin coupled with the natural smoky sapor of the meat. The crunchy batter and thick vinegary glaze were enjoyable but might have been better suited to a milder bird. Had this been crispy chicken I probably would have applauded the strong tang and spice of the sauce.
07: Spicy Assam Prawns "Indian Spiced" - Curry Leaves, Garlic, Mustard, Yogurt, Cardamom, Fenugreek
Considering the heavy Chinese theme to the dinner so far this next course felt somewhat out of place. The curry sauce itself was spot on and would have fit right in at an upscale Indian restaurant, spicy with a gentle sweetness, a very nice change of pace from the harsher sauce of the previous dish. Unfortunately the prawns themselves were dull and rubbery, I suspect they overcooked in the time it took to present the dish to the table and to plate the individual servings.
08: "Angry Lobster" - Spicy Szechuan Chilies, Fried Garlic, Calamansi Lime, Black Bean Dust
Even though lobster with black beans is a fixture of every Cantonese seafood restaurant, I prefer to have lobster fried with ginger and scallion preparation as the black beans can sometimes overwhelm the palate. As expected, the sauce was a riot of flavors with nothing standing out in the salty, spicy, and sour cacophony, least of all the natural flavor of the lobster itself.
09: XO Fried Rice - Maine Lobster, Fried Shallots, Budding Chives
It seems a bit strange to have back to back lobster courses, though this dish was lobster mostly in name only. Instead the highlight here was the XO sauce, which is a chili oil with onion, garlic, ham, dried shrimp and scallops. The name of the sauce comes from the Chinese love for all things cognac and the term XO is often used to mean high quality. I thought the sauce added a slight umami-tinge coupled with a very ligh fish sauce like pungency from the scallops and shrimp.
10: Whole Roasted Duckling "Peking Style" with Traditional Garnishes
No Chinese banquet would be complete without a roasted duck. We were presented with the whole duck before it was chopped, deboned and drizzled with a sickly sweet sauce. With beautifully crisp skin and just the right amount of fat, this would have been one of the better Peking duck preparations were it not for the accursed sweetness of the sauce.
11: Hong Kong Soft Noodles - Golden Spring Chives, Wild Field Mushrooms
This reminded me of "hao you ban mian" or noodles with oyster sauce, a lunchtime staple of my youth. The noodles are lightly seasoned, drawing on the flavor of the chives and the mushrooms rather than any sauce.
12: "Szechuan Style" American Wagyu "Kobe Style" NY Sirlon from Snake River Farms "Au Poivre" - Smoked Chili-Shallot Sauce, Scallions, Cilantro, "La You" Hot Oil
I guess this is the restaurant's take on "fa shi niu liu" or French-style beef. The beef itself is an example of the ideal American Wagyu, extremely tender and loaded with visible marbling but still possessing a profound beefy flavor. The topping of scallion and cilantro helped to counter the heaviness of the dish. The grilled eggplant and shishito peppers proved to be unnecessarily heavy and added a vegetal note that was out of place against the beef.
This brings us to dessert. My companions and I were joking that we might be getting some shaved ice or red bean soup but the desserts proved to be far more elaborate dishes using Eastern ingredients but Western techniques.
Intermezzo: Orange Sorbet - Pineapple, Orange Crunch
A simple vanilla sorbet, very lively and refreshing due to the bright fragrance of the pineapple, somewhat reminiscent of pineapple and coconut ice cream.
13: Calamansi Vacherin - Szechuan Peppercorn Meringue, Calamansi Cream, Macadamia Star Anise Crumble
The first dessert sounded like it should have been up my alley with the citrus and meringue. The citrus proved to be quite enjoyable but the meringue felt dry and flat, with none of the sugary crunch that makes the dessert so good. One of my companions who has some experience in pastry said it had to do with the way they dried it.
14: Pistachio Cherry Fondant Crumble - Murry Farms Cherries, Yogurt Pistachio Sorbet, Curry Crisp
The second dessert proved more to my liking, with the interplay of the tart cherries and sweet crumble cake leading the way. The curry crisp was an interesting touch, adding a exotic savoriness to the dish.
The key to WP24 is approaching the restaurant with the right perspective. I thought the price was quite high for the food we were served, though I have been biased by a lifetime of cheap Chinese food. Judging the food alone, the ingredients were certainly of a higher standard than your typical SGV restaurant and the effort that goes into the food was far beyond the norm for Chinese food. The initial courses were excellent, a mix of traditional and innovative dim sum that compare favorably to most Cantonese restaurants I've been to. In the later courses, the sauce became more important and the food was consistently too sweet for my taste. Some of my companions regarded the meal differently, looking at the experience holistically and taking into account details that are often absent in a Chinese restaurant such as a serious cocktail and wine program, attentive service, beautiful scenery and decor (at least in the lounge). With that in mind, I think the best way to enjoy WP24 is to stick to the lounge, grab some dim sum, have a cocktail and watch the sun set over the city.
Monday, June 14, 2010
900 W Olympic Blvd.