Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Social Hollywood: Lights! Camera! Eat!

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at the new Social Hollywood. Like my Geisha House entry, there really isn’t anything budg. about this new restaurant, bar and private club but, also like Geisha House, it was another dining experience that was well worth the moolah spent. (Well, last night I was lucky enough to attend a dinner for press so in this case, it was well worth the theoretical moolah spent).

Occupying the former space of the Hollywood Athletic Club, the downstairs bar and restaurant have been given a sophisticated Moroccan makeover—including exposing the original, 1920’s fresco ceilings, carved wooden doors refinished as dining tables, seating accented with mosaic tiles and knotted rugs, all imported from Morocco.

The dark, very adult bar to the right of the lobby—filled with deep leather chaises, 15ft long draping red curtains, hanging Moroccan glass lanterns and etched glass walls—makes me want acquire a secret lovah (or any lovah for that matter, but I’m going on a tangent) just so I can plan multiple clandestine rendez-vous in this sexy lounge.

They have golden aged, la-di-da champagne cocktails and mint juleps but I opted for the juicy Lycheewood martini followed by a pomegranate-vodka with a floating edible orchid. Lychee. Pomegranate. Floating Edible Flower. I totally got sold just by those fun-sounding words but the cocktails lived up to their enticing ingredients and were very drinkable, too drinkable….I was nearly done with both before we moved over to the dining room for dinner.

I was lucky enough to be able to invite three guests and armed with my fellow foodie friends Chrissy, Chaya and Jess, I was confident we’d pretty much explore everything on the menu.

Appetizers included the often overplayed (but not in this case) crab cakes—this ubiquitous starter stood out for its meaty density and accompanying ‘gazpacho shooter’, a shot glass of refreshing tomato/cilantro-lime infused water—beet salad (ok, but not outstanding), fancy foie gras with ‘peanut brittle’ and tasty seared scallops over ‘rabo encendido’ (oxtail stew) which sounded like an odd combo but ended up being our table’s favorite.

Portions are small (I got two scallops) but not in a bad way—they were perfectly sized so we could each order an appetizer, entrée and dessert (oh, and a side of mac and manchego cheese) to share without feeling (too) gluttonous…although we did notice the waitstaff discreetly switched out our normal-sized plates for smaller ones so all our dishes we ordered could fit on the table.

Our entrée picks included the Loup de Mer filled with fennel-leek ‘fondue’ wrapped in grape leaves, wild salmon tagine with artichokes, sunchokes and truffles, short rib tagine with Oaxacan Mole, almond-crusted pumpkin and cous-cous, and pomegranate-glazed lamb rack over creamy polenta.

Both the salmon and loup de mer were cooked just right (not overcooked at all) and flavorful without overwhelming the fish. But the meats are where its at; the lamb was super tender and was well complemented by the polenta and although all of us skipped over the short ribs on the menu and only ordered it based on the high recommendation of our waiter/skipper, Chris, the able-to-pull-apart-with-a-fork tender short ribs was another unanimous favorite. The ribs were rich and super-flavorful without being too heavy.

Since our waiter did a dead-on job with the appetizer and entrée recommendations, we had him help pick out our desserts; we settled on the Social Chocolate, a complex and dense devils food cake dessert baked with banana and nuts, a weightless almond panna cotta capped with a sliver of chocolate, baked Alaskan Pie and another pomegranate appearance, this time a Parfait with fizzy pomegranate ‘essence’ layered with crème anglais.

The food presentation was beautiful (I had my camera but was too caught up with eating to remember taking pictures) and unlike some other shi-shi spots, the quality of the food equaled the visuals.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some of the shi-shi pretensiousness present; half the menu required an international cookbook glossary—the aforementioned almond-crusted pumpkin was referred to as a ‘Calabaza’ on the menu, and thank god we didn’t want the lobster bisque en croute with Jerez and lobster knuckles or I would have had to second-guessed myself whether I should know if lobsters have knuckles before asking the waiter, or if ‘knuckles’ is just ‘fancy’ for ‘chunks of lobster meat’. We were also assigned a ‘captain’ for the night—dressed in a very Fantasy Island white jacket—which I presume whose job was to oversee our waiter and busboy and entertain us with his Fantasy Island get-up. He did a good job keeping things shipshape as our personable waiter was very knowledgeable and accurate with his recommended picks. The pricey menu would also typically set you back over $60 per person for a 3-course meal before drinks.

Upstairs is restricted to members-only but we got a little tour of the upstairs private screening room, sleek, retro-styled game room with playing card tables, plasma screens for playstation playing as well as the original 1920’s billiards table once cued up by the likes of former screen legends Errol Flynn and Rudolph Valentino and adjacent (and appropriately named) avocado-green Green Room and lush, velvety Velvet Room available for private parties.

Our night at Social Hollywood was like experiencing an idealized version of retro Hollywood with the classy sophistication and glamour of that time but with a young and unstuffy vibe. Just like the Social is making a return visit to Old Hollywood glam, we’d definitely be down for making a return visit to the Social.

Social Hollywood
6525 Sunset Blvd

No comments: