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Hideaway up on a hill

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

July 03, 2003|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Perched just above the Sunset Strip, hip and discreet, Chateau Marmont marches to its own retro drummer. This aging grande dame has a boho glamour that makes it a favorite with writers, musicians, the clandestine and, particularly, New Yorkers (who may be all of the above).

Even in the daytime, it's so dark inside you'd hardly notice if a famous face crossed your path. That's the point. There's no big lobby to cross (though there is a wonderful salon with big, comfy chairs and subdued lighting).

But there is a restaurant.

Actually, though it's just been redecorated with smoky mirrors, gilt lamps and lace that recalls the look of one of the little rooms at Caffe Florian in Venice, most people don't eat there. Room service is big, naturally. Or you can also eat in the salon or the courtyard garden.

On a recent summer evening, the darkened garden, lighted only with flaming torches, beckoned visitors. It's a magical space with a carpet of grass in the center and a bar built under the canopy of a sturdy palm tree. Pretty woven French bistro tables and chairs are clustered around the bar and swatch of grass. The Chateau looms overhead, the striped canopy of one of the swell suites up top bucking in the breeze. Someone was sitting in an armchair beneath the gothic arches, reading in a pool of golden light.

The restaurant has a new chef, Mohammad Islam, from Mercer Kitchen in New York, and he's constructed a menu designed for travelers in need of comfort. That means soothing soups, a classic shrimp cocktail or a plate of prosciutto di Parma with some ripe pear and a arugula salad. The night I was there, he served thick slices of heirloom tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil. Much of the produce comes from farmers markets, and specials reflect the seasons.

On the lighter main course side, Atlantic salmon comes with a salsify ragout and a drizzle of chive oil. Filets of black bass are set off with the earthy taste of braised purple artichokes. The New York strip is a nice piece of beef, but rather skimpy; the fries, however, are irresistible. The kitchen offers blue plate specials such as beef stroganoff on Sunday or roasted Maine lobster on Fridays.

For dessert, zero in on the yogurt panna cotta. Tart and sweet, soft as a cloud, it's served with chunks of roasted pineapple. The cookie plate is worth ordering, too. This isn't just the fallback dessert -- each cookie is distinctive and delicious.

By the time I'd spent a couple of hours in the Chateau's dreamy garden, I felt like I'd been away for the weekend.

*

Chateau Marmont

Where: 8221 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

When: Breakfast from 6 to 11 a.m. daily; lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. daily. Full bar. Valet parking.

All major cards.

Cost: Dinner appetizers, $8 to $14; main courses, $18 to $32.

Info: (800) 242-8328; (323) 656-1010.

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