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RESTAURANTS : REGENCY STYLE : It's Opulent, Dramatic and Romantic-- They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore

June 27, 1993|Charles Perry

Is it Oscar Night? Did they really call our names? This is such a surprise , we really haven't prepared anything to say . . .

Now we're being seated at a table, and they're giving us menus. Whew. We're nobodies again. We're only going to have dinner.

This is the Regent Dining Room experience. The place is shaped like a shallow amphitheater, studded with columns, rife with drapery and oil paintings. Those few moments descending the broad stairs that take you into this opulent, high-ceilinged, downright operatic room are heady.

But to the food. At a major hotel restaurant like this one, located in the venerable Regent Beverly Wilshire, you expect to find dishes with names like double chicken consomme with diamond-cut vegetables and truffle juice: labor-intensive deluxe food for cautious palates. And so you do. But in its stately way, the Regent has moved with the times. It has a mesquite grill. Nouvelle and even Pacific Rim touches appear here and there.

When you order foie gras , it isn't just set on a plate with toast points and French gherkins. It comes as a "mosaic," layered with crunchy cucumber skin and shiitake mushrooms, a memorable contrast. Big shrimp are fried in a rice-paper wrapping (like stiff filo) and served with an appetizing wine reduction scented with ginger.

When the Regent does classics, it doesn't fool around. If you want a salmon appetizer, you'll have to be specific: the hand-carved Scottish salmon, with a wonderfully delicate, smoky flavor, or the lush-textured, dark-orange Norwegian salmon, cured on the premises, with its little potato tart and scatter of caviar?

At appetizer time, you can't go wrong with anything that comes from the sea, especially the poached oysters from Crescent Beach, Wash., served on the shell in a little shallot-and-wine sauce and topped with tangled threads of leek, and the lobster ravioli in a dry vermouth sauce, garnished with crayfish.

The crab cakes, made properly from the back meat, may be a little too delicate for their roasted-sweet-pepper puree. Other than that, the only appetizer that doesn't belong in the first rank is a plate of bland, fussy packets of quail and mushrooms wrapped in leek greens.

Chef Richard Levickis has a noticeable taste for mushrooms. He even uses a wild mushroom reduction sauce on lobster, but since the sauce has a classic French stock base, it gives an effect of rich meatiness, not of wandering in the forest undergrowth with a lobster in hand. But Levickis uses mushrooms most impressively in his noisettes of lamb, topped with soft, poached oyster mushrooms, and the very dark wine sauce explodes with concentrated mushroom flavor. A potato lasagna, alternating slices of potato, spinach and eggplant, is on hand if you need to take a break from the mushroom dimension.

I wouldn't order the breast of duck on vegetable-and-green-lentil puree again unless I could get some guarantee it would stay warm; I thought I was eating cold duck bacon, and the loud lentil flavor didn't help. But everything from the mesquite grill comes out beautifully. The charred filet mignon with its shallot-and-Cabernet Sauvignon sauce has the edge in tenderness, of course, but the grilled dry-aged New York steak comes with good home fries and a bearnaise sauce of an attractively tart pugnacity.

The obligatory breast of free-range chicken boasts a Sauternes-tomato sauce and a decorous bit of mesquite flavor, and it comes with linguine wrapped up, turban-fashion, around a mound of zucchini and sweet peppers. The best thing from the mesquite grill, apart from the lamb noisettes, has to be the wood-fired veal chop with Santa Barbara olives. It's a bit herbal, very meaty and what you might call al dente tender.

Pastry chef Daryl Gilbert provides a couple of the necessities of dessert life, such as cheesecake surrounded by squiggles of passion fruit puree, and a creme brulee with a perfectly crisp caramel crust. But Gilbert also provides a lot of welcome surprises: the thick layer of almond paste instead of pastry cream in the fruit tart, the rhubarb compote with the enjoyably mushy hazelnut bread pudding, the mango-lime sauce on the lemon meringue tart, the steamed chocolate cake. But all the desserts take a second seat to the espresso-and-amaretto semifreddo : two light, almost fluffy cylinders with an elusively spicy mocha flavor, flanked by curving lines of banana slices, crunchily caramelized.

They don't make restaurants like the Regent anymore. It does Friday gourmet feast dinners revolving around one ingredient (such as lobster) and Saturday fashion-show luncheons, and it pours Piper-Heidsieck Extra Dry at Sunday brunch. And it remains the sort of place you need when only grandeur will do.

*

Regent Dining Room, Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills ; (310) 274-8178. Breakfast and lunch served Monday through Saturday, dinner nightly; Sunday brunch. Full bar. Valet parking on El Camino Drive. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $66-$119.

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