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Deep Blue in Downtown LA

Posted: Oct 3, 2007 3:43pm ET

I went last night to a very cool restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Blue Velvet has a hip Miami meets Tokyo vibe, with its sleek modern design, outdoor seating and swimming pool. The girl in the bikini who was swimming in front of us during the first course didn’t hurt the ambiance either. I am not sure what she was doing swimming at 9 pm. But the restaurant is located in an old Holiday Inn turned upscale urban professional apartment building. It's on Garland, near the 110 Freeway, and apparently it is a common practice for residents to take exhibitionistic dips during the dinner hour. And I am certainly not complaining.

David Haskell from Bin 8945, one of the best wine bars in Los Angeles right now, asked me to go with him to Blue Velvet. He brought some Burgundies as well. I hadn’t been to dinner downtown for years. I always felt a little nervous in that area. I guess I keep thinking about the time my father got caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting a few blocks away from Blue Velvet. He wasn’t hurt but it was pretty hairy. That was about 15 years ago, and apparently a lot of gentrification is going on downtown at the moment. So, these days, such bad experiences are fewer and farther between.

Anyway, the food at Blue Velvet is ambitious to say the least. What comes out of the kitchen is subtle yet complex, from a perfectly cooked seared scallop served with a bacon-date puree and lentils and topped with lemon brown butter, to small, crispy pigs trotters with pear mostarda, braised red cabbage, shaved fennel and black sesame seeds. Or how about lamb's tongue, served with a black olive puree, heirloom tomatoes, celery leaves and crispy brioche? All of the dishes have four or five different flavor elements working for them, which can be confusing at times, but also fascinating. You have to focus for a moment on the food to understand what’s going on, and you have to have the right wines as well to complement them.

For example, we ordered a half bottle of 2005 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley off the small, well-selected wine list. I have read so much about the wines from Kosta Browne, but I haven’t drunk many of them. What a nose. I loved the crushed blackberries and strawberries with hints of chocolate and toasted oak on the nose. The palate was big, full-throttle and jammy, yet it was also round and racy. 92 points, non-blind.

I sort of felt that the fruit-forward style of the Kosta Browne smothered the food. My taste buds were so overwhelmed with the fruit of the wine that it was hard to find the food underneath it. And the food, as I said, is multi-dimensional at Blue Velvet.

By comparison, the bottle of 1995 Domaine Leroy Clos de Vougeot that David brought was sublime, and its subtely and finesse complemented every dish. It was wonderfully perfumed with spices, cedar, blackberry and licorice that followed through to a medium-bodied palate with ultra-fine tannins and fresh acidity. The finish was long and complex, with delicate strawberries and Indian spices. 96 points, non-blind.

It was one of the best Leroy from 1995 that I have had in a while. I have had many bad bottles of Leroy, which I put down to bad storage, but that’s another column.

We went outside after dinner and smoked a cigar by the pool and just hung out talking about wine, restaurants and life in general. Some yahoo law student next to us who owned an apartment in the building was going on about all the great 1982 Bordeauxs he had recently drunk. And he was testing my Italian! I just listened and smiled and said a few words in Italian. I didn’t want to ruin a great night. As I puffed on my cigar, I thought to myself how the only thing missing was the pool show from a little earlier in the evening ...

Alejandro Duclaud
Mexico City —  October 3, 2007 8:22pm ET
Jim,You should have pushed to the pool the yahoo law student and hoped he would be rescued by the star of the earlier show. Two holes in one.
Jason M Meyers
Medford, NY —  October 4, 2007 4:20pm ET
James...what? Are you the only blowhard entitled to wax poetic about fine wine? Give the kid a break...he was only trying to engage the famous wine writer in a little conversation...Be humbled that he knew who you were...
James Suckling
 —  October 4, 2007 6:10pm ET
It wasn't like that at all. Sorry you got that impression. I never mentioned a thing, and he didn't know me from Adam, as the say. I was just listening. No blowing hard on my part brother...
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  October 5, 2007 1:57pm ET
James,I love it when you editors go outside your normal wine regions. Hearing your description of the Kosta Browne versus JL's description is enlightening. Sounds like you appreciate the wine while preferring something a little more elegant and subtle. This is a little off-topic but you know what would be really cool? A blind tasting by you and JL with a mixed bag of french and CA wines, either Bordeaux and CA Cab or Burgundy and CA pinot. What do you think?
David Rauch
Los —  October 7, 2007 3:14am ET
James-I would have gotten the same impression as the other reader/writer, namely that the "ya-hoo" knew who you were -- I guess I would assume anyone who could knowledgably discuss 82 Bordeaux could pick you out of a line-up, but maybe that's just me.....

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