Monday, May 18, 2009

Hats Off to Hatfield's...

I'm by no means a fine-dining foodie. To me, a fancy restaurant necessitates a stiff atmosphere, snobby service and saturated fat-laden staples like over-sized steaks and innocent vegetables drowning in pools of butter. I'd much rather enjoy a fresh, market-focused meal of lean meat, creative sides and a modest-sized dessert in an environment that is welcoming and friendly. Never did I think that I would find an upscale eatery that gave me the healthy seasonal fare and comfortable feel of a neighborhood bistro - that is, until I made my first visit to Hatfield's Restaurant on Friday night.

Stepping out of the car in front of the quaint space on Beverly Boulevard, I was immediately drawn to the covered front patio that beckoned me to enjoy its inviting rattan seats with a Limonocello Collins and meander toward my table whenever I so pleased. Naturally, I was visibly thrilled when our party was seated by the front window that peeked out into this appealing, sanctuary-like enclosure. Our table being between the window and bar, I was invited for the evening to feast my eyes upon the subtly shaded tile-laced bar, elegant yet hip vintage-looking glass chandelier, and the multiple parties of friends and families leaning in toward one another in intimate conversation and pleasant jesting. The incredibly amicable and impeccably trained wait staff entered into each scenario ever so discreetly and pleasantly; the attentive yet unobtrusive visits to our table were professional yet personal, and we never ceased to smile at each other out of sheer appreciation after each interaction.

Typically, dealing with an uninventive menu that fails to offer me any fresh and seasonal options is what I dread most about fine dining establishments. However, at Hatfield's, I was faced not only with delightful options for each of the three courses on the $49 prix-fixe menu (a great deal!), but with veritable indecisiveness over what I should actually order. Before our party even ordered, we were brought small angular plates with delicate Deviled Quail Eggs with Trout and Creamy Potato and Leek Soup. Served in miniature spoons and shot glasses, we immediately were impressed by such hospitality and attention to detail, and the warm cheeses gougeres and chive butter that followed solidified our impressions. Eventually, I settled on the Pan-Roasted Diver Scallops with Marinated Artichoke, Artichoke Puree, and Saffron Vanilla Emulsion for appetizer and the Branzino Filet with Roasted Haricot Vert, Red Onion Soubise, Dried Apricot, Crispy Almonds, and Caper Crunch for entree. The scallops practically melted in my mouth upon the first bite; perfectly seared and not a bit overdone, these tender morsels' delicate taste were delightfully contrasted the rich smokiness of the meaty artichokes and, simultaneously, artfully paired with the aromatic sweetness of the saffron and vanilla. The sea bass filet was everything I could have asked for; rather than saturating the mild layers of white flesh with heavy cream or butter, it was subtly grilled and brought to like by the popping of accents like tangy reduced red onions, chewy sweet apricots, smoky toasted almonds and salty crisp capers. What is more, the portion sizes were obviously very intentional, and each plate was presented with such artistic skill and intentional consideration that, at each course, I was left at once sentimental and salivating at the sight of my plate set before me.

My fellow diners covered many of the other dishes on the menu, all with rave reviews of their choices' presentation, taste and overall appeal. For appetizer, the Housemade Corn Agnolotti with Dungeness Crab, Cherry Tomatoes, Hon Shimeji Mushrooms, Fava Beans, and Sherry Beurre Fondue - served in a spaceship-looking plate with a bowl-like indentation in the middle - elicited oohs and aahs for its tender half-moons of sweet filling and artful accompaniments. For entrees, the Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Quinoa and Maitake Mushrooms, Butternut Squash, and Whisky Prune Smear was juicy and striking with its rich maroon wash of whisky prune reduction holding the components together; the Date and Mint Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb with Potato Chive Puree, Saute of Heirloom Carrot, Turnip, and Kohlrabi was an artful contrast of encrusted flavor on the exterior and envy-inducing softness in the interior (though a touch too raw, perhaps...); and the Braised Pork Belly with Curried Carrot Puree, Sauteed Pea Tendrils and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes proved to be a slow-roasted arrangement of well-paired items with the succulent pork, all cooked just right.

For the final course of our meal, we decided to order four different options and all take a fork to each one: the Baked Lemon Custard Tartlet with Huckleberry Compote, Shortbread Sable, and Cream Cheese Ice Cream; Chocolate and Peanut Butter Truffle Cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream, and Roasted Peanut Toffee (baked to order!); Chocolate Chip Shortcake with Brown Butter Roasted Bananas, Whipped Creme Fraiche, and Cocoa Nib Chip Ice Cream; and Coconut "Tres Leche Cake" with Marinated Strawberries and Horchata Ice Milk. By this time, I was feeling tragically stuffed, but without fail, I held up my end of the table-wide bargain and endulged in each luscious creation. The lemon tart and the coconut cake were my two favorites: the first was citrusy and slightly tart, rounded out nicely by the richness of the cream cheese flavor and the fullness of the huckleberry sauce (sadly, the shortbread sable added nothing but a foam board-like crunch). The second was remarkably refreshing and light, with airy layers of cream between sheets of fibrous cake and accented with freshly preserved strawberries allowed to remain faithful to their natural form.

Just when we though our three-course extravaganza had ended, we were hand-delivered bite-size Brownie Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Whip. The dollop of maple-colored coffee cream was far from overpowering, the hint of espresso powder being just strong enough to linger on your tongue for a few seconds to complement the rich chocolaty sensation of the cupcake itself. Though only one mouthful of sweetness, it was perfectly satisfying, and I would have completely satiated my sweet tooth with this tiny treat in the event that of not ordering dessert beforehand.

Truth be told, I have been converted to the belief that fine dining can be market-driven and flavorful by Hatfield's and Hatfield's alone. My faith in the upscale establishment has been restored (or in this case, instilled) by the wonderful offerings on the prix-fixe market menu, the impeccable service and the peaceful luxury of the Hatfield's space. I truly mourn the news from the LA Times Daily Dish that the eatery is moving to a new location, but have no doubt that I will return to dine in its new outpost. I am completely confident that this restaurant will only get better as it expands, and I am eternally grateful for the unforgettable experience I had at my college graduation celebration dinner on that fateful Friday night. So, hats off to you, Hatfield's - you are heads above the rest of the fine dining destinations.

Hatfield's Restaurant
7458 Beverly Boulevard
Between Fairfax and La Brea
(323) 935-2977

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