An evening of viewing art followed by an excellent meal at a fine restaurant often requires two trips in the same night. But Esterel Restaruant, at the Sofitel Los Angeles, challenges the concept by providing both the expression of art and the experience of fine dining at the same time, presented as a serving for your table.
Artists and their canvases take many forms, and Executive Chef Victor Boroda at Estérel considers his canvas the plate as he composes his dishes. His "Collection d'Art" is a special menu selection he has created inspired by the the avante garde artists in the early 1900's who decided to challenge the establishment and redefine their own art by deconstructing the norm. Picasso, Dali and Chagall did quite well with their original work now the standards we now know as cubism, surrealism and fauvism.
But how does that translate to cuisine? Chef Boroda's inspiration to stimulate the mind and the palate resulted in a dining experience that was superb, the food was robust while staying elegant, with as many tastes as there are pigments in an artist's workshop, a notable achievement in the extremely competitive restaurant industry of Los Angeles. I had the luxury of experiencing this first hand at the first of three tasting experiences, a prix fix menu inspired by 'cubism' just last week (which are followed through June 30th by the Chef's menu inspirations for surrealism and fauvism as well). Here taste, texture and graphic presentation all hold equal importance from farm to table and palette to palate.
The meal began with an oyster shooter in kumamoto with a quail egg and caviar, floating in three distinctive layers in a shot glass, the center layer transparent so the light cuts through it, and beef tartare with pickled mustard seed and egg yolk aioli. The tartare not blended, but the pieces placed next to each other so that their shapes were angular, not smooth, following the deconstruction theme of cubism of course, and the beef as tender as you could wish for.
The entree of seared ahi tuna on a bed of black rice was cooked on that high heat just right, so that the surfaces were almost crunchy, while the interior was rare and warm and melted in your mouth. This dish arrived with two triangular pieces of the seafood placed in opposite directions on top of each other, once again thematically arranged. This is an entrée that is certainly familiar in many venues, but I have to say this is one of the best I have ever had.
I couldn't resist ordering the grass-fed New York steak as well, a gold standard for any fine restaurant. The finish had a slight glaze as it was seared to perfection, buttery soft on the inside, just a hint of charred on the outside. The grits and vegetable ragout that joined them, equally well prepared, the southern side dish had just the right creamy taste, while being smooth and velvety, that elusive texture the biggest challenge as any southerner will tell you.
The opera cake dessert that came in small spherical shapes was unique, not just because it looked like a cubist arrangement, but because of the real solid gold flakes that dotted the surface.
"Revealed" is the companion art exhibition on display in the hotel bar and lobby, which is a collection of 30 large impressive photographic images of Picasso, Salvador Dali, Kees Van Dongen (painting Brigitte Bardot), Magritte, Chagall and others. The exhibit is curated by Olivier Widmaier Picasso, grandson of Pablo Picasso and the consideration and thought put into the evening from canvas to plate around the theme of art made the evening particularly enjoyable.
The only downside to the menu in fact, is that as each serving arrives one isn't sure if you should merely eat it, admire it, or place it on the wall to be admired with the other art presented at the venue and wait for the next course.
The prix-fixe menus continue through June 30th, with surrealism and fauvism as their next two thematic interpretations, but the restaurant's entire menu is prepared with great care.
Restaurant Manager Nilou Rahmani managed a smaller restaurant before Esterel, committed not only to helping those in need, but establishing relationships with local providers and quality people. Her belief in doing things 'the right way' continues now at Sofitel, as she maintains the same local relationships with a larger budget and higher volume. Her lettuces are mostly organic, nuts are local, eggs are cage free, steaks are grass fed, and when her needs are not obtainable locally she still seeks out other farms as opposed to industrial providers. The result is all on the end of your fork, where each bite impresses. She tells me her customer service philosophy is simple. "Focus on giving people a great meal, and they'll come back. Period."
To make a hotel restaurant a destination choice is a challenge, but as the avant garde artists in the early 1900's challenged the concept of art so too is Esterel producing some of its finest work and is a hidden gem in the Los Angeles landscape.
"Collection d'Art" tasting menu experience continues through June 30th, but Estérel's fine dining continues apace. To make reservations call (310) 358-3979
"Revealed" collection of 30-plus prints curated by Olivier Widmaier Picasso currently is on display at the Sofitel Los Angeles.
Photo credit: Sofitel