Gardens, the restaurant at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, has had various updates over the years, but no matter what, the indoor-outdoor restaurant always felt boring and dated.
No more. Gardens has been swept away and replaced by the hotel's new contemporary Italian restaurant, Culina. (For those who didn't spend four years in convent school, that's Latin for "kitchen").
You'd never recognize the old place now. Gone are the double tablecloths in favor of sleek bare tabletops under a zeppelin-shaped cloud of mouth-blown glass bubbles.
Outside, the garden area features fire spouting from rocks in front of a gentle waterfall with sofas arranged in front for drinks and dalliances.
Executive chef Victor Casanova has installed a crudo bar right next to the actual bar, where the giddy blond and stiletto-wearing crowd can watch a winsome young chef prepare raw seafood specialties, such as ricci di mare (sea urchin) dressed simply with olive oil and lemon or ahi tuna drizzled with ginger oil. Somebody hold the salt, though. Our portion was overdosed.
The atmosphere is almost dizzy as hotel guests and excited locals troop in to inspect the changes, ogle the crudo bar and maybe have wine with the piccoli piatti (small plates) priced at three for $12, i.e. nibbles.
The main menu has appealing flourishes. Beyond the crudo, there's respectable pizza, panzanella salad prepared tableside and a lovely dish of baby octopus with garbanzo beans and a touch of harissa. Pastas include spaghetti alla chitarra (square cut) in a lively San Marzano tomato sauce, pappardelle in a rustic, slow-braised lamb ragù accented with mint, and potato gnocchi with lobster knuckles and pea shoots.
Of course, the kitchen has the inevitable bistecca alla fiorentina and branzino but also a country-style roast chicken with cannellini beans and rapini coming in at under $20 and terrific scottadito (little lamb chops) with Sardinian fregola (similar to couscous) and mint pesto.
Culina is a definite step up for the hotel's dining situation, with its glam new bar, outdoor seating and updated Italian fare.
Whether the hotel's restaurant will regain its power lunch status remains to be seen.
But I'm betting the bar, with its piccoli piatti, will become a magnet for the must-be-seen crowd.
Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills Where: 300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles.
When: Open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays- Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sundays
Price: Dinner small plates, any three for $12; crudo, $9 to $30; antipasti and salads, $9 to $14; pizza, $13 to $17; pasta, $14 to $24; main courses, $18 to $42; sides, $6.
Contact: (310) 860-4000; www.culinarestaurant.com.