The last time I dined at Patina, I was underwhelmed. I was there about four years ago to check up on the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine cellar. The cellar was in great shape. The kitchen seemed to be fumbling.
Since then, things have improved dramatically at this showcase restaurant in the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. Chef Tony Esnault, who worked with Alain Ducasse in New York and was private chef to Martha Stewart before taking over the kitchen here in 2009, clearly has put the cuisine back on track. His work, a superbly selected and maintained cheese cart and the deep, appropriately stocked wine cellar, make Patina this city’s most refined restaurant experience. (Joachim Splichal, who founded the restaurant, runs the entire Patina Group, which he sold several years ago to Restaurant Associates.)
I dropped in last week for dinner on a night when Disney Hall, where the Los Angeles Philharmonic plays, was dark. On concert nights it’s difficult to snag a reservation before 8 p.m. Other times it’s a quiet dining experience with unhurried servers. The quiet, formal setting, accented with a warm, eye-catching wall of polished, sculptured wood made to look like flowing drapery, feels luxurious without being overly ornate.
With time to study the wine list, I noticed how it strikes a good mix of familiar and more adventurous choices, mid to high prices, young to well-aged. We snagged a half-bottle of Taittinger Brut to celebrate the news that my daughter had closed on her new house. (We texted her a photo of us lifting our glasses.) The fizz also paired elegantly with a house specialty, marinated hamachi, the overlapping slices formed into a rectangle, garnished with a row of apple rings in various colors. It vibrated with freshness.
Seeking a wine that would go with our varied menu choices, which included pasta with sweetbreads, a lobster dish and a venison dish, I homed in on a few New Zealand Pinot Noirs. After consultation with the wine server (if he recognized me he didn't let on), we took his choice of Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard 2007. Its light texture and refined berry and mineral flavors played well with parsnip agnolotti, which had some sautéed sweetbreads tucked in with them. The venison, with its sauce poivrade, melded into a classic pairing. The wine had the acidity and clean flavors to taste great with butter-poached lobster, which shared plate space with contrasting flavors of endive, salsify and spinach.
Esnault’s kitchen delivered these dishes with panache, arranging several of them into artistic arrays on the plate without sacrificing clarity of flavor. I usually don’t like these kinds of presentations for hot dishes. They tend to cool quickly. But it worked well for these.
Last time Patina did not make me want to come back. This time, much more impressive. It’s fine dining without snobbery.
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 12, 2011 9:17pm ET
Anthony W Beck — Los Angeles, Ca. — January 13, 2011 12:20pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — January 14, 2011 6:30am ET
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