In what might be the most anticipated opening, or re-opening of 2010, Quinn and Karen Hatfield took over the former Citrus space on Melrose Avenue, repainting the wretchedly red façade (that was once Red Pearl Kitchen), and instilling an air of elegance to the expansive room. Josh and I were invited to the restaurant and chose to dine on their tasting menu with a full wine pairing from Peter Birmingham, the former sommelier of Norman’s and Pourtal. We were seated on one of the central banquettes, though almost all of the seats afford a splendid view of a room that once lacked a ceiling.
Back in Michel Richard’s Citrus, the restaurant initially offered no respite from inclement weather, though a roof was finally put up. The tent-like feeling is still apparent with the space’s lack of central pillars. Perhaps the most talked about restaurant design piece in town hovers over diners like a zeppelin – a honeycomb mobile that complements the greenish hues and other design cues from their previous abode on Beverly Blvd. What adds warmth and character to the room is the large window to the kitchen, which features numerous cooks wearing tall toques. The exhibition makes for a nice experience, allowing almost every diner in the room to peer into the source of the restaurant’s cuisine.
To start the meal I ordered a winter bellini, made with a slightly sweet-tart rhubarb puree. I tried to enjoy it but the prosecco or puree didn’t seem chilled enough for the drink to refresh the palate. Since Josh and I were doing the full tasting, we decided to order each item in tandem so that we could try every element. The menu will run you $59 for food alone; pairings are an additional cost.
An amuse bouche of yellowtail came in gentle chunks and a curry/lime seasoning. Diced sweet potatoes balanced the bite. The dish offered good flavors, and it wasn’t a distraction, which I’m finding more amuse bouches to be. Josh and I chose to supplement our tasting menu with a few extra dishes, so we started with Chef Quinn’s signature dish – a croque madame topped with quail egg and constructed with layers toasted brioche, yellowtail sashimi, and prosciutto. It’s a delicious dish that paired nicely with a taste of Louis Roederer Brut Premier. I like to make sure I try a soup with a tasting menu since that is a classic way to start a meal. The celery root soup had a fine, velvety texture, with tender chunks of pork confit and masala-spiced pumpkin. However, the dish clashed with the Spanish garnarcha-based rose that was paired, which offered too much floral aroma vis-à-vis the earthy-hearty flavors of the soup.
Next courses were the first of the tasting menu. The more creative of the two was a dish of charred Japanese mackerel slices that were layered with roasted pineapple, avocado, and fried shallots. A salsa verde made the foundation of the dish that was at first confounding, but later came together on the palate. The over-roasting tempered the tartness of the pineapple, the creamy avocado countering the well-cooked fish and the fried shallots providing a crunchy top note. I saw in this dish that Chef Quinn was starting to push some boundaries. Birmingham paired a Moscato with honey and lychee aromas that had a drier palate, working to bind the phalanx of flavors in the mackerel dish.
The diver scallop dish was more singular but still compelling: pan-roasted with diced braised celery, salsify, and an alluring apple foam that worked in tandem with the celery to bring out sweetness from the scallop.
Prawns served in a rustic cast iron pan held creamy crab rice, roasted peanuts and preserved lemon, the whole of which made for a delicious if a bit heavy course after the starters. Piesporter Kabinett brought forward a sweetness that cut through the Asian spices, and matched the sweet prawn and crab (in the rice).
My second favorite dish of the night was the seared dorade, a rich white fish cooked perfectly with a savory, crackly skin. A carrot puree undergirded the fish while Chinese broccoli and a mushroom ragout rounded out the wonderfully composed flavors. This dish exhibited a heightened finesse from what I remembered of the previous rendition of Hatfield’s. Birmingham paired a 2007 Cambria Pinot Noir that had a fruit-forward palate that didn’t quite have the balance to counter a multi-faceted dish.
Long Island duck breast sported a well-seared crisp and tender flesh that was cooked sous-vide, ensuring a moist and juicy texture. Butternut squash chunks and a quinoa “porridge” made for great companions while a wonderful savory sauce covered it in a dark glaze. I liked the pairing Birmingham made with this dish, a pour of 2003 Serie Magno Gran Riserva, Tempranillo-Malbec blend from Argentina that was smooth with lush notes that extended the finish of the duck on the palate.
The beef course featured a duo of meat: hanger steak and short rib, the latter of which was sous-vided to give it a tender texture. I would’ve liked both if they had a nice char, but the depth of beefy flavors were there. The short ribs, laid in a base of potato puree, were covered in horseradish, which cut through the unctuous flesh while the hanger steak came sided with brightly flavored spring onion confit, whose vinegary flavors made for a nice bite. A 2007 Dusi Zinfandel from Paso Robles was the wine pairing, and I thought it worked as a whole, even though I might’ve liked a more restrained red to pair.
Diners are delighted with incredible desserts at Hatfield’s. Karen Hatfield creates a terrific set of imaginative sweets that combine rich and bright flavors that have nuance and whimsy. I particularly enjoyed my dessert of lime cream pie, topped with a tuile of oats and sugar and sided with a perfect quenelle of citrus chamomile ice cream ballasted by an oatmeal crumble. Wonderful little black currants gave the harmonic note that bound the superb dessert. Maple ice cream came with the cinnamon brioche bread pudding, a decadence topped with a thin cantilever of cinnamon toast and sauced with dark caramel.
Though some dishes and pairings didn’t quite work, on the whole the experience at Hatfield’s is an incredible relief for diners wanting more than the multifarious ethnic cuisine in Los Angeles. If there’s a niche that this city has yet to master, it is the fine dining one. Cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have establishments that challenge, amuse, and beguile the palate whereas L.A. aches for more than just the small handful of places it contains. Thankfully, Hatfield’s sets a new tone, beckoning people to dine at a more-or-less reasonable cost and indulge a bit despite the recession (which might finally be nearing an end). The restaurant has built upon to its former identity from Beverly Blvd, giving diners creative dishes and suave service in a way that elevates the food culture of this city.