5 Course Bliss on the Sunset Strip
8570 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
7.7.06 - Thursday, 7:30 P.M.
Myself + 1 guest (Val)
RESTAURANT REPORT CARD
Ambiance - B
Service - B+
Food (Taste) - A
Food (Presentation) - B+
Wine/Drinks - B+
Value - B-
Overall Experience -B+
About 2 weeks ago, a beloved foodie on the Chowhound LA boards named JBC kindly asked me if I would review one of his favorites - Norman's. Never one to refuse a food challenge, I grabbed my darling friend Val, starved myself the majority of the week, and prepared for what I hoped would be a very memorable meal. The place has got some accolades.
As it turns out, Friday nights are special events at Norman's - they feature a Pig and Paella night, where a porky critter is roasted on their patio and served up with a seafood paella. From the moment my nose wafted into the front door, I was in heaven - woah god, the scents. That was one sweet-smelling pig.
Val was waiting at the bar to the right of the entrance - a large, expansive area dimly glowing in oranges and browns, and empty, save my companion and his glowing martini. We were then ushered to our table, on the other side of the restaurant - nestled against a gigantic window that looked out onto the strip. And so the journey began.
Environmentally speaking, Norman's is certainly elegant, but not perfectly designed. Val's observations were spot-on - while the windows were dramatic and lovely, the liveliness transpiring on the Strip ala Friday eve was tres distracting. If we were a married couple bored to tears with each other, this would have been a godsend. But as two not-sick-of-each-other-yet close friends with a ton to discuss, we didn't need a show to escape to.
And speaking of shows, just beyond our area in the sunken-in dining section, additional gigantic windows looked into the kitchen - one could get lost in watching the well-rehearsed movement of white coats and white plates, all maneuvering gorgeous looking, colorful dishes. So much movement. I was getting hungry.
We were relatively well taken care of by a few members of the wait staff, though I did have to do some flagging to order the wine. I have to say, however, from the hostess to the servers, everyone was incredibly personable and friendly here. I felt right at home - if home were an ultra-fancy locale with a tasting menu. Why can't I live at Norman's? Curses.
I pondered a marriage proposal to the menu, I'll be honest. There's a ton of daring, creative, and mouth-watering combinations, with all kinds of meats and seafoods represented. And the pig was beckoning. Damn it, what's a girl to do?
Order the tasting menu. Duh.
And so I went for it, and Val was feeling piggy. Which means I got to sample heaps of amazing dishes.
Here's the scoop --
For cocktails, Val had a straight-up martini -- standard, strong. I went dirty, but not dirty enough - a solid gin martini, but I needed more olive goodness.
With dinner, we had a bottle from one of my top 3 wine regions - the Loire Valley. I opted for a modest Michael Redde Sancerre - kind of an old standby for me. Very smooth and lovely.
Ohhhh, these are marvelous selections, and man did I eat a lot of them. We were served both small french toasted rolls and flatbread with an awesome, if not somewhat greasy, spice rub. Butter was included, along with an elegant smattering of red sea salt and olive oil. It's the little things that wow me, and this succeeded.
Creamy Cracked Conch Chowder Saffron, Toasted Coconut, Oranges and a “Cloud”
** Featured in the picture above, this was an absolute treasure. A very small portion, but rich enough to warrant such things. The citrus was subtle, and conch absolutely divine. A whole myriad of textures and flavors, but perfectly balanced.
* This was *amazing* - complete with table side presentation, and served with a pineapple roja salsa.
Down Island French Toast, Curaçao Scented Foie Gras, Passion Fruit Caramel, Gingery Candied Lime Zest
** There really are no words. An absolutely daring, not-too-sweet, texture-perfect dish.
We were served a tiny portion of peach and fennel soup, chilled. A fantastic pallet refresher - it's also interesting to note that that fennel fooled me into thinking it was mango, not peach - fascinating how flavors play upon each other.
Roasted Pork Havana, “21st Century Mole”, Golden Haitian Grits, Sweet Corn-Black Bean Salsa, Sherry Wine Reduction
**Wow, this was quite the complex creation. The pork was a bit cold, unfortunately, and I was crazy about the dryness of the Haitian grits, but the update mole and reduction - some of the most difficult flavors in the world to master - were beyond stellar. I definitely enjoyed the artisty of this dish, just not all of the textures.
Roasted Pork and Seafood Paella
** This was served with a sweet potato + plantain mixture - a very large portion, and goddamn was it good. The pork literally melted on tongue-contact -- I highly recommend this LA lua.
Dessert - shared (a part of my tasting menu)
A “New World” Banana Split, Rhum Flamed Bananas and, Macadamia Nut Brittle
** A damn-near perfect dessert, this was also prepared in dramatic fashion table-side (the flames! the flames!) The brown sugar caramel sauce may be my favorite dessert drizzle ever. Loved. This. Dish.
We were given five tiny dessert morsels as a last hoorah - they were decent, but not mind-blowing. Not after that New World banana split; it's a tough act to follow.
The damage for 1 cocktail, 1 bottle of wine, the tasting menu and pig + paella meal was $230, including tax and tip. I didn't bat an eyelash. This was quality.
Final word - For pig's sake, people, go on Friday night and let loose. This is a very special spot.