Whist at the Viceroy
1819 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA
7.30.06 - Sunday, 6:30 PM
Moi + Todd, aka French Foodie Friend
Todd - one my dearest peeps - and I had quite a day yesterday. After attending a Dream Circle with new-agey artist-types at the Elixir on Melrose, then hitting Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills for more goodies from Bar on 4, and then cutting a rug at LA's best weekend day party at EM/Hollywood Canteen, we finally landed for dinner. And hot damn, did we work up an appetite.
The Viceroy hotel is a swanky little spot a stone's throw from the Santa Monica beach, right on Ocean Avenue. It's not really a famous LA hotspot, but it certainly has it's historical significance. Inside this decadently decorated hotel lives Whist, the only dining establishment. I'm not sure how to describe the ambiance, but I was smitten - very British, with a kicky modern cool-girl flair. Lots of cushy white chairs, decorative mirrors, antique plates, and sleek silver. There's an indoor section and an outdoor dream - these beautiful, structured cabanas with more high-back white chairs. Really elegant - I was quite impressed. But the logo - imprinted on the back of every chair - is asymmetrical and really unbalanced. Distracting, over the top, but whatever. Nobody's perfect, righto?
Just FYI, the Executive Chef is a man named Warren Schwartz - there for about 2 years. And bless them to pieces, they do employ a Pastry Chef - Kim Seely.
The place was hopping when we arrived at 6:15 PM - or at least the pool area, directly adjacent to the outdoor eating section, was attempting to burst to life. A DJ played mediocre tunes, and a pitiful/typical LA crowd tried to look cool while sipping their 'tinis and ogling each other, trying to network and look effortless. Heehee, I enjoyed the show. Music blasting, no one dancing. So, so sad.
That didn't last long - by 7:30 or so, the pool had cleared out, and the restaurant was slowly coming to life. We had long since eyeballed the menu, and agonized, truly, over what to order. There's some unique items served up in this joint, and I was feeling adventurous. Oh yes, this is quite the tasting extravaganza we embarked on.
It's important to note that the menu has recently changed with the season. The tasting menu and many appetizers and mains are different than what the web site displays, and who knows when they'll get things in sync. That said, the additions, which obviously embrace seasonal ingredients like zuccini blossoms and heirloom tomatoes, were all quite tantilizing.
Service was steady, polite, but nothing to write home about. We did ask what Whist meant, and was told, rather flippantly, that it's an English boardgame. I guess patrons are expecting a more opulent definition. Yeah, so was I. Strange name choice indeed. Anyway, on with the goods!
Bottle of BlueJay Pinot Noir, 2004 Vintage
Choice of Olive, Apricot, and Baguette
* All were chewy and good, and served with butter, but no sea salt, which is always a bummer to me.
Blue Cheese and Polenta Cake with Marmalade
*Oh-la-la, this was punchy and good. A really fabulous mouth-kicking beginner.
Prime beef tartare
* Egg, capers, pickled onions, arugula and whole grain mustard aioli
** This had a really special presentation, and an equally phenomenal flavor. I'm not sure why this city is mortified of a good steak tartare, but will shovel in the sushi. In any event, I loved the peppery, creamy flavors and the incredible textures. We spooned this onto some toasted baguettes, and it was like buttah. Super dish.
* Crab, macadamia nut mousse
** The blossoms were stuffed with the crab mixture, encrusted with a batter and pan fried, then served on top the creamy nut mousse. I liked this a tremendous amount, but have to agree with my astute dining companion - the blossom texture was lost, and it's such a delicate treat, we rather wished they were allowed to shine a bit more.
Roasted Elk Tenderloin
* Bacon wrapped asparagus, swiss chard, dried cherry reduction
** That's right folks, I had the elk. Several medium-rare medallions were servied on top of the swiss chard and asparagus, with a too-small serving of the *divine* dried cherry reduction sauce. I like this dish a lot, but the problem with it matched our compaint with the Blossoms - the elk was severely overpowered by the ridiculously rich but very tasty bacon. The elk by itself was mild, lean, and very lovely, texture-wise, but lacking a lot of flavor. I would have loved this dish more with an additional helping of the cherry sauce and no bacon (did I just write that out loud?) - sacreligious, I know, but I'm a fan of letting the main ingredient shine.
Day boat scallops
*American caviar, braised leeks, potato puree and lobster butter
** Wow, this was ridiculously good. The caviar punched out a salty heavenly flavor from the very fresh scallops, and the lobster butter was surprisingly strong and heavenly. The scallops were served on mashed potatoes, with potato chips lodged in between - gorgeous, and really, really flavorful. Spot-on delish.
Wild mushrooms, shallots, and parsley
* Ohhh, these were woodsy, earthy, tasty morsels, but WAY too many of them were included. We eyeballed one table's Parmesan and Oregaon Fries and about fell out of our chair - HUGE portion. That's just not necessary. The mushies were good, however, just not AOC crack-shrooms good.
Hudson Valley Camembert
* GREAT cheese presentation. Yes, I know, Camembert isn't Camembert when it's from upstate New York, but we were curious. This was pretty damn close - consistency was awesome (soft but not as runny as usual), and the flavor was fierce, although a tad off from what I'm used to. Served with lots of figs, dried fruit, bread, and nuts.
Caramelized crepes with mascapone lemon and blueberry compote
**Let me start by saying that the dessert menu itself, although comprehensive and split into "Traditional" and "Contemporary", was woefully boring. Cakes, fruits, *yawns* - nothing inventive. All of it was seemed uninspired. But the crepes sounded interesting enough, so we gave 'em a shot.
I have never had caramelized crepes before, and let me start by saying I would like to have them again - every day of my freaking life. WOW. The crepes had the a near-perfect consistency, but there was too much lemony cheesey stuff slammed in the center. The blueberries were subtle enough to accent the dish perfectly, but I wasn't jiving on the over-filled insides. Overall, though, this was a marvelous dessert. I was pleasantly surprised.
The damage for one bottle of water, one bottle of wine, two appetizers, two entrees, one side, one cheese, and one dessert was $234 before tip.
RESTAURANT REPORT CARD
Ambiance - A-
Service - B
Food (Taste) - B
Food (Presentation) - B+
Wine/Drinks - B+
Value - C+
Vibe/Energy/Scene - B-
Overall Experience - B
Final word - This was a bit too pricey for the actual results, but the design is intoxicating and Warren's food is quite special. I'm super glad for the experience.