Hotel dining rooms, once considered dreary and dull, are making a comeback. Today they offer more than luxury--they also serve some of the finest food in California. Here is a sampling of recently reviewed hotel restaurants.
ANTOINE (Meridian Hotel, 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, (714) 476-2001). A very handsome restaurant consisting of a series of smallish rooms, mostly in rose shades decorated with old paintings. It has a cozy, protected feeling like the dining room of a rather substantial house. The food has a style based on quiet, simple means, using a lot of traditional haute cuisine ingredients like foie gras , sweetbreads and truffles. Sliced rack of lamb is arranged in wine sauce and accompanied by a tiny potato galette and a "gateau" of asparagus. Roast duck breast is sliced and served in a very thick red wine reduction, slightly peppery, accompanied only by a potato galette and some baby turnips poached in port wine. The most instantly appealing dish is a whole roasted veal sweetbread, simmered with diced onion and carrot and a slice of truffle. Dinner. Mon-Sat. Reservations. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $45-$80.
THE HOTEL BEL-AIR (701 Stone Canyon Road, Bel-Air, (213) 472-1211). It's hard not to be charmed by the Bel-Air's beauty: Walking across the little stone bridge, one can see picturesque ducks and swans floating regally on the water. The air is fresh and smells like smoke and pine. The dining room is soft and pretty--all tones of peach, the walls lined with tasteful prints--but the menu is a shock: salmon comes grilled with garlic cream, buckwheat linguine and caviar; duck is roasted Peking-style to perfection; even the vegetable side dishes are interesting. Equally enticing are the cracked crab and caviar, the rack of lamb, the filet of beef and the very good grilled chicken. The service is so good it makes you feel well-dressed, even if you aren't. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mon.-Sun. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Full bar. Dinner for two, $60-$110.
LA CHAUMIERE (Century Plaza Hotel, Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Boulevard, Century City, (213) 277-2000). La Chaumiere is designed to "reflect the grace and comfort" of 18th-Century an chateau--the room, one of the most dignified dining rooms in town, is all dark wood and old paintings. The front room, with its greenhouse airs, is open and pleasant and has a wonderful view. The menu is appealing but the food can be uneven; among the best dishes are whole lobster in vanilla sauce and lamb with dates in peanut sauce. Lunch Mon.-Fri.; breakfast, lunch and dinner. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $40-$80.
LE BEL AGE RESTAURANT (Le Bel Age Hotel, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 854-1111). Le Bel Age is so luxurious it makes you feel wicked. In this rosy little world, people look more gracious, move more slowly and eat with serious sensuality. Soft music envelops you as you sink into the overstuffed pink banquettes; the "Franco-Russian" food is rich, the service obsequious. Feel guilty if you must, but order the five-course dinner (if you insist, you can order a la carte). The $45 prix-fixe meal contains an assortment of caviars, a piece of very pink foie gras , the restaurant's pride, the coulibiac (a sort of voluptuous fish Wellington) and medallions of veal topped with duxelles (minced mushrooms). This is a restaurant for unbridled hedonism. Dinner. Tue.-Sat. Reservations. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Full bar. Dinner for two, $64-$135.
OSCAR'S (Sheraton Premiere Hotel, 555 Universal Terrace Parkway, Universal City, (818) 506-2500). An enormous crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the dining room; tables are covered with armies of expensive silverware and china. One bright, if incongruous, note is the understated artwork--paintings of the Roaring '20s that look rather odd amid the French provincial furniture. As for the service, you only have to look slightly wistful before someone comes running to find out what you want. The food is American, with hints of nouvelle cuisine : Smoked scallops with endive and raspberry vinegar is excellent, as are the skillet-fried shrimps in spicy butter. Blackened steak is wonderful, and a tenderly cooked baby chicken is served in a delicious sauce. Lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner Mon.-Sat. Reservations. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $40-$80.