Shake. Shake. Shake. I’m drawn to the sound of a bartender shaking up a colorful drink. He sets the limpid libation in front of an appropriately flamboyant girl, then turns his back on her just as she begins to speak.
There’s something about his decisiveness that makes me take a seat at the bar rather than ask for a booth or wait by the window. I’m in a rather dependable Hollywood bistro called District. It’s a casual place, with a long wooden antique bar salvaged in France. Small tables run straight down the middle, and there are a few booths along the perimeter. Oh, and just so you know, you want to sit either at the bar or in a booth– this is Hollywood, real estate matters.
As I try to catch the bartender’s eye, I can’t help but think about the restaurant’s name District, and all the connotations it carries. After all, this is Hollywood, the entertainment district and movie capital of the world.
I decided to try and strike up a conversation with the bartender, something to pass the time as I await my friends. I can’t tell if I’m entirely too early or they are appropriately late. But like I said, this is Hollywood. Timely isn’t part of the equation.
“So, shaken or stirred?” I enquire, purposefully staring the bartender dead in the eye.
“Shaking bruises the gin, and dilutes the cocktail”. He deadpans straight to my face. I knew I liked this place. And it’s becoming possible that I just started liking it a bit more.
“What’ll you have?” he asks, showing a bit of the assertiveness that lured me his direction in the first place.
Me: “Hendrick’s martini. Not too dry, with a twist. Oh, and oysters.”
Him: “Martinis and oysters are a winning combination.”
Just then the door clanks open, every head in the place turns toward the sound. Like I keep saying, this is Hollywood. An opening door might just be Flamboyant Girl’s big break. Or so she thinks.
Instead, it’s Margot, a friend of mine, a very good friend. Flamboyant Girl and everyone else turns back to their companions. Even if that companion is an utterly depressing shaken pink cocktail.
I decide to greet Margot with a kiss to both cheeks. It feels right and I know that people are staring. Yes, she’s that beautiful. Not one to wait to be asked, Margot grabs a couple of menus. “Duck fat Yorkshire pudding,” she reads out loud.
“We better wait for the group on that one”, I tell her, knowing how Ken adores duck fat. We have had fights over less luscious bites before. “Well, we better order the biscuits then”, she says.
They’re baked to order, I think to myself, so they might take a few minutes. “Great”, I say to the bartender, “we’ll take an order of the biscuits.” I hate to admit she’s right, but I have had these cheddar-flavored biscuits before, they’re rich and flaky and licked by the smoke of jalapeno lurking in their golden shadows. They’re a must-have.
Just then the rest of the gang ambles in. All at one time. Boisterous in that way that only good friends can manage. After a bit of joking, we decide to take this party to a booth.
As we take our seats we’re given new menus. From what I see, the food is audacious and unapologetic. But I know from previous trips that it is also delicious. This is not a combination you are likely to find outside of a major metropolitan area. And the crowd in this place wears the unusual like a badge of honor. No wonder it feels like home.
This menu is filled with small plates and plenty of them. It also states: “modifications accepted only on February 29th”. Which makes me smile. Picky eaters are a pet peeve of mine. The menu is clear– ask for nothing on the side and make no substitutions. Which means you have to eat the food the way the chef intends it. I wonder if Flamboyant Girl knows this…
There’s also a nice selection of market veggies, and a few standard fare bistro-style mains listed on the menu. They’re well sized and plated for sharing if you like. I quickly narrow in on my selection of crispy pork belly with farro, almonds, scallions & apricot mostarda, knowing this gang will eat it up.
Make no mistake, everything on the menu is an indulgence, but retro cocktails and a decent wine list make it easy to forget the fat and live in the moment. After all, who knows what tomorrow may bring in this great big stinkin’ city.
We start to order, each one speaking over the other. But the server takes it all in with the flash of a pen.
Potato pierogies, dense with the heft of bone marrow. Carpaccio of pig’s heart confit, thinly sliced and served on arugula then drizzled with walnut oil. Burrata with Fuyu persimmons. Chili cheese fries with dry-aged steak & Hook’s white cheddar from Wisconsin, a sinful steal at 7 bucks.
The food comes out willy-nilly. Three plates here. A small lull there. Then a tangy surprise, followed by another blast of savory treats.
I love the duck confit with simply braised tangy red cabbage and squiggly spaetzle noodles, intensely flavored and slicked with a little duck fat. This dish is all about the integrity of ingredients.
Our table devoured the creatively undemanding Farmhouse Salad with market fresh shaved Brussels sprouts. It’s reminiscent of a classic chopped salad and every component is thoughtfully rendered. The quiet crunch of cauliflower balancing nicely with the bold bite of radish. And the crumble of Hook’s 12 yo cheddar reminds you that this is a distinctive salad of brilliance and simplcity– exactly what a chopped salad should be, but almost never is.
As I become satiated it is fun to watch my friends eating and laughing. Seeing the plates zoom across our table– tasted, shared and applauded.
We order mussels. We always order mussels wherever we go. They are petite and sweet. Just the way I like them. But I find myself disappointed in the curry-coconut broth with butternut squash. It’s unfocused and indecisive with none of the flavors asserting themselves enough to define their plump partners. We also have to ask our server for a baguette, which I find a bit disconcerting.
The octopus with fingerlings, fennel, green olives and burnt garlic sauce had been a favorite of mine on a previous visit. It’s unconventional, funky even– made bright with a squirt of lemon. But on this night, too many potatoes and too much of the bitter burnt garlic overpower the sweet tender octopus. Not enough to keep me from ordering it again, though.
But these near misses don’t sway the camaraderie this gang feels while crowding our small booth. Especially when the SPAM and quail egg sliders on a soy-mayo slathered brioche bun hit the planks of the table. SPAM, I know what you’re thinking, but this is an unholy mash-up of white trash disaster and haute cuisine. It’s left me with a full mouth and nothing left to say.
I’m just about to settle in with my citrus-infused dregs of gin. More than enough to end a meal in my book. But Margot has the dessert menu in hand, asking– no demanding that we turn our attention to dessert. So it’s poached quince for this table, accompanied by a dense and not too sweet brown sugar spice cake and the creamiest Calvados ice cream Margot has ever scooped into her well-manicured mouth. Or so she declares to anyone in Hollywood who dares to listen.
My Previous Project Food Blog Entries
FoodBuzz Challenge #8: Pumpkin Tarts, Sweet & Savory
SERIOUS FUN FOOD