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THE REVIEW

RH at the Andaz in West Hollywood

The hotel restaurant's revamped menu reflects chef Sebastien Archambault's French roots. Despite some missteps, the classic and contemporary Périgord dishes are rich and delicious.

September 02, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

Hotel restaurants don't have much of a local audience, with good reason: Not that many are truly compelling. That's by way of explaining why I didn't rush right out to try the new restaurant in the revamped Hyatt (now called the Andaz West Hollywood) on the Sunset Strip. I did take a look at the menu, and passed.

But a couple of months ago, the chef at RH at the Andaz rewrote his menu to reflect his roots in Perigord. And that got my attention because the cooking of southwest France is so underrepresented in L.A.

The hotel at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Kings Road no longer looks like your garden-variety Hyatt. The lobby has a kind of Goth thing going with steampunk lamps, and the check-in desk is so minimal it looks like somewhere to check your e-mail. Its oh-so-courant look may be enough to satisfy guests on the prowl for the hipster haunt of the moment. But then they had to go and put in a pretty great restaurant to boot. Except nobody seems to know about it, and whenever I ate at RH, even on weekends, only a handful of tables were occupied, most by hotel guests.

"RH" is a reference to "Riot House," the nickname the Hyatt acquired in the woolly rock 'n' roll days when Led Zeppelin and other bands holed up here.

How times have changed. On a recent night, scene makers streamed out of the elevator from some event on the rooftop. And as we waited for our cars at the valet, I caught a glimpse of turquoise bermuda shorts, orange suspenders (or maybe it was the reverse) and marigold-colored hair: Web celebrity gossip Perez Hilton. And instead of a motorcycle out front, the valets were struggling to fit a sedate fat-tired city bike into a station wagon.

Meanwhile, RH chef Sebastien Archambault is quietly cooking some of the best contemporary French food I've had in L.A. and at prices that are a bargain by hotel standards. How smart is that? Very.

The former executive chef at Le Pirate in Corsica, which earned a Michelin star under his tenure there, has thrown himself into his new job with enthusiasm.

The kitchen is dreamy -- open on three sides, with waist-high white and gray marble counters, a central island and a glass-fronted refrigerated room at the back, the better to show off beautiful California produce in stainless steel baskets. Though there are no seats at the counter, the look borrows something from l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, French chef Joel Robuchon's casual concept in Paris, Vegas and more.

But the menu is pure Archambault. There are rich, rustic terrines from the bar menu, one of pork and foie gras, another of pork and duck, cut in a couple of thick slabs to eat with warm baguette. Their flavor is full-bodied, but maybe not quite as fatty as they would be in France. He's got an astonishing soup, an intense chicken broth enriched with garlic sauteed in duck fat, with egg whites stirred in at the last moment to form silky threads. Sort of a southwest French egg drop soup.

And then there is the insanely delicious perigourdine poached egg: A ramekin holds the egg and its deep gold runny yolk, sauteed mushrooms, a little foie gras and, on top, a shaving of summer truffles. They're not black Perigord truffles, but they don't claim to be anything but what they are, lightly perfumed summer follies.

His duck confit is the best I've had in L.A., crisp on the surface, moist and dark-fleshed underneath. There's a simple sausage dish -- two pork sausages on a plate with onion compote and mustard jus that gets raves all around the table. Even a chicken breast becomes a dish of note, when it's served in a Pineau des Charentes sauce lit up with piquillo peppers.

And then are the fries, or frites triple fried -- in duck fat. I watched three orders going out to another table and thought, yes, let's have some too. And then another order. And we would have been into our third if we hadn't come to our senses.

If the film "Julie & Julia" has whetted your appetite for classic French cooking, you can rediscover such classics as puff pastry filled with sweetbreads and morels in a svelte Madeira sauce. Or the elegant mushroom and green onion tart on a swatch of flaky dough. As a special, he turns out a great hanger steak, perfectly cooked to the rare side of medium rare, with a deep beefy flavor.

He's also doing an haute burger. Forget caramelized onions and blue cheese. This one comes with foie gras and those earthy morel mushrooms -- and the frites are showered with summer truffles. But if that's too rich for your blood, he also has a perfectly respectable plain burger made with the same Black Angus beef.

The kitchen does make the occasional misstep. Crayfish risotto uses too much butter and cheese. Ravioli of Hudson Valley foie gras looks amazing, the round ravioli submerged in a frothy summer truffle veloute. The pasta, though, is undercooked and tastes almost raw, which means it needs to be thinner not to overcook the foie. The biggest disappointment is the 12-hour cooked boneless suckling pig, which is dry and sad.

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