The valet was full, as was the eastern garage next door, so we were directed around LA Live to the western garage, where we managed to snag the second to last parking space available, just in front of a purring Corvette.
Big night on the city. But what could have been a hassle — and a lost reservation — turned into a delight once we found our way to the 24th floor of the spanking new Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles. Why? Because that's where Wolfgang Puck's latest restaurant is located. And what a spot! The sprawling wraparound lounge and smaller restaurant beyond are both all windows, looking onto a segment of skyscrapers right out of "Batman." From up here, downtown L.A. looks ravishingly glamorous at night.
WP24 (his initials plus the number of the floor) is Puck's first Asian restaurant in a long while (remember ObaChine in Beverly Hills?). With a menu conceived by Puck and Spago executive chef Lee Hefter, it's a big step up from Chinois in terms of concept and finesse. All that eating the two have done in Asia in the last years has really paid off here.
Miniature dim sum are lovely — tall little bundles of lobster and shrimp in a gossamer thin wrapper, round dan dan stuffed with organic chicken fired up with a chile garlic sauce, or spring chive crystal dumplings with Alaskan king crab, shrimp and Kurobuta pork. My absolute favorite, though, is a swatch of crispy suckling pig with a house-made black plum sauce and a dab of hoisin. I'm coming back for this.
The menu is relatively small, though already supplemented with specials. The four of us order the special French wild sea bass cooked in a salt crust with lemongrass and spices. The whole fish comes out dressed in a pale gold crust, and when the server removes it, the flesh is fragrant and moist. It's served with an Asian chimichurri sauce and, if you like, the house-made crimson chile paste.
Whole-roasted "Peking-style" duck is really meant for two, but it was enough to give us each a few bites. We could have eaten more, but one at $60 was quite enough, thank you. After showing the mahogany duck to the table, the server then expertly carves the bird and passes tender little steamed buns and assorted garnishes. One involved pickled, julienned daikon and ginger sugar, the other slivered scallions and hoisin sauce. Oops, I almost forgot: Before the duck, we had seared duck liver slipped into those same tender buns — quite fabulous. If only we'd had a bottle of Château d'Yquem open at the time ... .
So far, so very, very good. Count WP24 in, along with Rivera, Chaya Downtown, Drago Centro and all the new wine bars and stylish bars among those helping downtown L.A. come into its own, at long last, as a full-fledged dining destination.
Where: Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, 900 W Olympic Blvd., L.A.
When: Open for dinner Monday to Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.; for lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for breakfast daily 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Price: Dinner starters, $13 to $18; sides (including noodle dishes), $12 to $18; fish and shellfish, $34 to $48; meat and poultry, $34 to $44; 6-course tasting menu, $95; 9-course tasting menu, $125.
Contact: (213) 743-8800; http://www.wolfgangpuck.comrestaurants/fine-dining/57129