CHAMPAGNE, CAVIAR and silky, smoked salmon are the little black dress and pearls of luxurious entertaining. The caviar and the bubbly are easy to get, but finding that perfect piece of smoked salmon can be tricky. Now, just in time for the holidays, there's smoked salmon, one of L'Ermitage's signature dishes, which is made at the restaurant in a custom-built cold-smoker.
Chef Michel Blanchet starts with whole fresh Norwegian salmon, filets it and then dry-cures the fish in a mixture of sea salt and fresh herbs. "When you dry-cure salmon, the texture is a lot nicer," he says. "Most salmon is brine-cured, and the texture is a little mushier. When you dry-cure, you lose a little weight because of the water that comes out, but you gain a lot in quality." The salmon is then cold-smoked in a combination of hardwood sawdust, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme sprigs. The result ($18 a pound) is one of those perfect, simple dishes--a piece of fish that is as buttery smooth as it is flavorful. L'Ermitage Restaurant, 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 652-5840.