Friday, April 30, 2010

WP24 - Los Angeles, Ca

I had the rather fortuitous opportunity to go dine at WP24, the ass-slappingly new Wolfgang Puck restaurant on the 24th floor of the ass-slappingly new Ritz-Carlton at LA Live. I had the even more fortuitous opportunity of having someone else pay. Bonus. Despite being in LA for a couple years now, I don't believe I'd ever experienced a Wolfgang Puck-branded enterprise, other than his delightful canned soups, frozen pizzas and that one hooker in Salzburg.

It was pretty fucking good. The restaurant. The hooker was meh.

I'm a skeptic, especially when it comes to restaurants and especially when it comes to celebrity chef restaurants taking up an entire floor at a brand new swank hotel in a city known for beautiful, expensive restaurants with terrible food and shittier service. Despite only being in its third week of operation, WP24 is rocking out pretty hard.

Make sure when you enter the hotel you ask for directions, even if you know how to get to the restaurant. Since it's the Ritz-Carlton you'll be escorted by an impeccably groomed and friendly employee all the way from wherever you shambled in off the street all the way to the host station at the restaurant. The restaurant takes up the entire 24th floor, starting with a relaxed and spacious lounge--I believe the lounge serves the full dining room menu as well as its own menu of bar bites. An army of thin, beautiful hostesses escort you through the lounge to the dining room itself, past a bamboo forest of wine racks, each of which carries exactly 36 bottles of wine which, as far as I learned, have no intention of being opened any time soon. Then you are delivered to the army of thin, beautiful hostesses who handle the dining room proper.

The dining room is sumptuous, modern, and only ever-so-slightly overwrought. That's a compliment in LA. We were sat in a very cool booth/table hybrid with snooze-inducingly comfortable chairs. Three separate staff members simultaneously placed the napkins in each of our laps. It was a beautifully clear day so were able to enjoy a 270-degree view of LA at sundown. Gorgeous.

Already my experience was worth the (hypothetical) money. The space is beautiful, the atmosphere is welcoming, and the staff is very well trained--Klaus Puck (Wolfgang's brother and his front-of-house admiral) left the now-defunct Vert Brasserie to oversee the team at WP24 as well as the Bar & Grille on the ground floor of LA Live. Some of the younger staff members were visibly nervous, which is to be expected in a new restaurant with such grand expectations, but the waiters and managers were placid yet affable. I didn't really care how the food was, as long as it didn't shit the bed, as my sainted grandmother used to say.

But in the end the food was pretty damn good. The menu shares the Asian-Continental fusion style of many of the Puck restaurants--this skewed more heavily to the Asian (primarily Chinese, but also Indian and Thai) side. We had the kitchen send out a few of their signature appetizers. The prawn toasts (from the lounge menu) were warm, buttery and perfectly seasoned. Ditto the lobster and prawn spring rolls--fried crisp without a drop of excess oil. WP24 makes liberal use of pork belly--the pork belly bao was fatty and meaty without being overly sweet. That was followed by the sauteed duck liver and ume bao which was my favorite of the first course: sweet, tart and rich without being unctuous.

The wine list is excellent--originally assembled by Spago sommelier Chris Miller and now overseen by Klaus--with a beautiful selection of aromatic whites, ranging from the bone-dry to the semi-sweet, and a great selection of medium-bodied reds; perfectly selected for the cuisine. Mark-ups were not unreasonable, hovering right around 4-4.5 times wholesale, which is on the lower end for a fine-dining restaurant of this caliber. WP24 wine prices are in line with a slew of much more casual and poorly programmed restaurants in LA. We had an excellent Alsace Riesling before drinking our own wine with the main courses.

I had the Assam Prawns--five or six good sized shrimp simmered in a garlic-cardamom curry and served over rice. The curry was amazing--deep, concentrated slow-cooked flavors with a healthy but not overpowering spiciness; well-balanced and not overly salty. The prawns were plump and meaty though there was a barely perceivable "old" flavor on the finish of the meat that made me think that they had either been thawed and refrozen or had been ever-so-slightly freezer-burned.

I tasted my two companions' entrees as well. The Kobe steak, seared rare, was meaty and tender with an excellent sweet peppery sauce. The Angry Lobster was delicious. A whole two-pound Maine lobster, quartered live and rubbed with cayenne, salt and flour and then pan-seared before being finished in the oven. The spicy heat permeated the flesh and is complimented perfectly by the garlic-lime sauce. We shared a side of fried rice with Lap Cheung sausage and the best fresh peas I've had in a while. We also had a side of sauteed Chinese greens (a personal favorite of mine from my Daimo days) which were tasty.

Despite our better judgment we shared two desserts--I can't remember exactly what they were since we didn't order them and the dessert menu's not on the website. They were chocolate-oriented and well-executed. The stand out was the "Thai Ovaltine" which was a malted milk chocolate mousse on a chocolate crust with a chili-lime dusting. I think. It was a long night.

The restaurant is expensive to be sure but it's not overpriced. It might even be on the lower-end of restaurants of its type in Los Angeles. Appetizers are mostly in the mid to upper teens and the main courses start in the low 30s. Sides and desserts are in the $10-$15 range. Couple those prices with a wine list that features some excellent selections for under $50, and you can have an honestly elegant night in Downtown LA that isn't obscenely expensive.

My only significant complaint with the whole experience was that the menu was very safe. It was the same Asian Fusion cuisine that California's been churning out pretty reliably since Wolfgang Puck helped introduce the style three decades ago. It was probably the best-executed example of that style I've ever had, sure, but I always appreciate when even established successful chefs continue to challenge their diners.

But that's a minor complaint overall. Check out WP24. Great restaurant.

900 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca 90015

1 comment:

Tricerapops said...

i miss Vert actually. it was the only place in that horrible Hollywood and Highland complex worth anything. how it failed, i'll never figure out. Nice review, i actually didn't even know this place was opening. Puck is iconic and it's good his brand is still intact.