On trips into downtown Los Angeles as a child, I always gazed with longing at Angel's Flight, the steep miniature railway ascending Bunker Hill. I never did ride it, but recently, I've made several trips to the new Angel's Flight restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental.
The new Intercontinental is bright and plush and filled with good art, much of which is from MOCA's permanent collection. Near the elevators, there's a series of early Frank Stella drawings.
Angel's Flight, on the hotel's third floor, is the hotel's high-end restaurant. To get there, you pass through the lounge, a realm of deep, beckoning sofas, a discreetly placed bar, a pianist playing mellow, jazz-tinged show tunes. If you make it through without being swallowed up by a seductive davenport, there's the reservation desk. While dinners are still fairly quiet, if it's lunch you're after, you'd better have a reservation.
Angel's Flight is nothing if not private, almost hushed. From one booth, we could see the leaping fountains outside, but had no view of another person, not even of the people in the adjacent booth. The colors are mostly beiges and ivories with the occasional touch of Wedgwood blue. There's a lot of impressive gleaming silver--silver salt cellar and pepper grinder, covered silver butter dish, silver bud vase holding a single, perfect rose. When there's no pianist in the bar, Mozart chamber music plays discreetly. The sense of privacy and insulation is luxurious, conducive to romance and business. And indeed, business is the order of the day. Especially at lunch, but also at dinner, the customers are largely male, well-dressed and engaged in talk about strategizing.
Serving this clientele is an attentive, efficient staff of waiters, runners, busmen. We did hear part of a life's story from one waiter--he claimed to be getting a Ph.D. in interior design--but hey, maybe out-of-town guests expect such disclosure from a California waiter. Generally, the service is impressive. And extravagant: Bottled mineral water is poured as a matter of course, constantly and at no extra charge. At lunch one day, when we said we were rushed, the staff smoothly and cheerfully served us a three-course meal in less than an hour.
And then there's the food.
There is an element of fussiness, of trying too hard in the Angel's Flight kitchen. When I requested a "simple green salad," our waiter recommended the Malibu greens, a fancy lettuce mix augmented with two kinds of olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. It was a salad that wanted to be a pasta. Spinach and snow crab salad from the daily special menu was better: Fresh and clean-tasting, it was tossed with a good lemon-caviar dressing.
A decent house-cured salmon was supposed to come with toasted olive bread; ours came with toasted raisin bread, a regrettable error.
Roasted chicken turned out to be a honey-glazed boneless breast, perfectly OK, that came with a wedge of rice casserole that may have been distantly approximating a risotto cake.
At lunch, we were especially happy with a generous loop of spicy duck sausage that sat on penne in a complementary light cream sauce, and an enormous, nicely cooked ahi tuna steak that came atop a good, lemony, pepper-flecked linguine.
You can go seriously wrong here too. My first meal at Angel's Flight included zucchini tempura stuffed with snow crab and served with a sour, dull plum sauce; it couldn't have been more boring. The skillet-roasted rabbit with spaetzle turned out to be some kind of a meat roll surprise. Lamb rump steak was overdone, tough and tasteless. Creme brulee was a weird, pasty custard spooned into what looked like a miniature tostada shell; there was no burnt sugar crust, only some ordinary chocolate syrup.
Other desserts were more interesting. The architectonic pear sorbet was as pleasurably mellow and grainy as a good pear, topped with sweet berries and a buttery lattice made of pastry.
It's off to a good start, but if this Angel's Flight is to become a Los Angeles landmark, attention to detail must be paid where it really counts: on the plate.
* Angel's Flight at the Hotel Intercontinental Los Angeles, 251 S. Olive St., Los Angeles (213) 356-4100. Open for lunch Monday through Friday. Open for dinner Monday-Saturday. Full bar. Valet parking. Major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only $55-$95.