For spring break this year, a few of my friends who also enjoy the pleasures of fine dining and I have ventured to the West Coast for the week. For our first Saturday night here, we went to Geisha House in Hollywood. This Sushi bar, sake bar, and restaurant had decent food and drinks, but was really phenomenal for its people watching. The huge space with loud, thumping music was packed with scantily clad women and hipsters.
After our experience at Geisha House, we were ready to try a place where the focus was on the food and the dining experience as opposed to the scene. We finally settled on Lucques Restaurant in West Hollywood for its fusion of French, Mediterranean, and Californian cuisines. This is certainly not to say that Lucques had an unpleasant atmosphere. Indeed, we were comfortable from the moment we walked in and were greeted with a warm fireplace through our dinner on the heated outdoor patio. The simple and chic decor suits the laid back Californian vibe of the establishment as a whole.
We started our meal with a few appetizers. The salad of arugula and blood oranges with kumquats, dates and toasted walnuts showcased the freshness of the ingredients with which the chef, Rodolfo Aguado, constructs all of his dishes. The colors were exquisite; even when there was no longer any food on the plate, the dish was stained a deep pink as if it had been a beet salad from the bright blood oranges. The dish was as flavorful as it was colorful. The bitterness of the arugula was balanced out by the citrus of the oranges, the tartness of the kumquats, the mild cheese shavings, and the sweet crunch of the walnuts. The kampachi crudo with cucumber yogurt, watercress, mint, fennel and pistachio was a refreshing example of classic Mediterranean flavors reworked in a way Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters would approve. The most substantial and perhaps most impressive appetizer, however, was the handmade pasta with duck sausage, beet greens and toasted breadcrumbs. The pasta was good, but the combination of the other ingredients made this starter so special. The sausages were chopped up into tiny pieces almost into a ragu, mixed with breadcrumbs for a crunchier texture. I am always happy to see beet greens on a menu as I have always argued that they are one of the most underrated green vegetables– probably due to the popularity of beet and goat cheese salads. Unfortunately, the beet greens were understated as they were mixed in among the sausage pieces and breadcrumbs. This dish foreshadowed the main courses in the way that the dishes that were centered around game were the most notable.
I ordered the lamb loin chops with turnip purée, citrus-glazed carrots, tamarind, and roasted dates, which was certainly well-flavored, but the weakest of the entrees in my opinion. Loin chop is not my favorite cut of lamb, and indeed the two large pieces had only a couple bites of perfectly tender meat as much of the cut had a rather thick layer of fat running through it. On the other hand, the quality and tenderness of the meat in the short ribs dish overpowered the other ingredients of the plate– sautéed greens, cippolinis (small, pale, sweet onions), and horseradish cream. While this dish was very delicious to try, it was very large and very rich; and the sautéed greens did little to cut the fattiness of the meat and cream.
While the lamb and the short ribs had a slight disconnect among their various components, the pork porterhouse with braised rice soubise, fuji apples, chestnuts, and pedro ximenez (sherry for flavor) and the stuffed saddle of rabbit with farro (wheat grain), wilted escarole, pancetta, and crosnes (tubor whose flavor resembles that of sunchokes) were both very well composed. The rabbit, for me, was the most successful dish. The meat was probably the most tender piece of rabbit I have ever had, and the dish was impressive in both appearance and taste. All of the dish’s elements came together in such a way that no single ingredient was overwhelmingly dominant.
The desserts also did not disappoint. The blood oranges made a reappearance here, in yogurt panna cotta with citrus and blood orange-campari granita. This dessert was not too heavy and rich as panna cotta can sometimes be; instead it was a light and refreshing finale to the large meal. The churros y chocolate with cinnamon and dulce de leche ice cream came in a deconstructed form, with the dark chocolate warmed and served in a mug and the ice cream in a separate cup. The churros were about as good as churros can be. I am not usually one to complain about dark chocolate; but when I dipped the churro in it, the chocolate was so rich that it completely dominated over the cinnamon flavored dough so that perhaps it should have been incorporated into the dish in a more subtle way. The dulche de leche ice cream was probably the best part of this dessert; it was creamy and not too sweet as I usually find this flavor. My favorite dessert was the hazelnut milk chocolate cake with coffee and salted caramel. The many various layers of the cake had a variety of textures ranging from smooth to crunchy, which really made this chocolate cake unique. I am also a big fan of sweet and salty combinations in desserts, as this dish represented.
Overall, I would certainly recommend Lucques to anyone in the LA area who is looking for an exceptional dining experience with an extensive wine list and fresh, flavorful food for a date or with a small group of friends. If I ever have the chance to return, I hope to try a seafood dish, as I did not have the chance to try one during my first visit. Based on the overall smooth flow of the evening, I have the impression that Lucques is a consistently excellent restaurant that has mastered the construction of all of the dishes on its relatively small menu.
8474 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90069