Is there a more stunning hotel lobby than the one at the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel? With its heavy painted beams, chic leather daybeds and grand proportions, it exudes old Hollywood glamour. A stately hush hovers over the vast room, and most of the time it's quiet enough to talk, a perfect place to meet for a drink after a film at the American Cinematheque.
From the Library Bar tucked in one corner you can order up a classy Manhattan made with rye, Carpano Antica vermouth and maraschino cherry liqueur. The cocktails, in fact, are excellent. Plus, should you be so inclined, you can eat, and eat well, at the newly reinvented restaurant just off the bar.
Remember when it was Dakota, a high-end steakhouse with a pervy black-leather-intensive décor? Now it's Public Kitchen & Bar, more of an American brasserie with an inviting tavern or public-house look. The room has great bones, so it was more a matter of removing the overdesigned details than adding much. And the menu, which includes a slew of small plates, is much more easygoing and approachable.
This time around, pale gold glass light fixtures create a swirl of shadows, and giant brass chandeliers bring the light level up to the point where you can read the menu and see the food. Mahogany tufted leather booths are so generously sized that four people can feel a bit lost in one of them. Framed maps, flags, drawings and old photos mounted on the walls invoke an unspecific past, while jars of condiments, sodas and various ingredients signal "unpretentious" and "not too expensive."
Tim Goodell, who created Dakota — and the highly successful 24-hour burger bar 25 Degrees at the other side of the hotel — is on board for this new version too. And he's really engaged with the new concept, fine-tuning the menu, devising specials and turning out house-made charcuterie.
If his name seems familiar, that's because he once had one of the best French restaurants in all of Southern California, Aubergine, as well as several other innovative but short-lived establishments. After experimenting with Chinese and Spanish cuisines, he's focusing on what he does best, French and American food. And this time his food is less about showstopping technique and more about delicious, easygoing food with bright flavors.
It's hard to resist a kitchen that does such a good job with classics like steamed mussels. Here, the plump, sweet mollusks are steamed in Riesling, which gives the broth a zingy acidity. At Public Kitchen, a good many dishes are designed for sharing. Well before anybody else was doing it, Goodell was sending out French canning jars filled with foie gras. He's doing something similar here with a smooth chicken liver terrine paired with a puckery rhubarb marmalade.
Charcuterie choices are chalked on a long, skinny blackboard: mostly country-style pâtés and terrines, but also rabbit rillettes. Sometimes rabbit is disappointing, it has so little actual taste. Not this. Served in a tall heap, the rillettes are both light and full of flavor.
There are other appetizers that are good for sharing, such as the mushroom tart. Wild mushrooms and Taleggio cheese are spread over a pastry crust, then garnished with a few emerald arugula leaves. It's not a pizza, nothing like it, more a savory tart, the crust salted and short, almost cracker-like.
You can't have a brasserie without oysters, and here they're nicely chilled and presented with a lemon and tarragon mignonette to splash over, if you like. On the porky side of things, I almost passed up the chicharrones, but instead of the usual fried rinds, this is thinly sliced pork belly fried to a deep brown, crispy all the way through and irresistible with chile and lime.
Somebody please stop me from ordering those amazing Parker House rolls again, six freshly baked rolls served in the cast-iron pan they were baked in, warm and fragrant, tender, with a couple of slabs of Vermont creamery butter.
That's classic, but most appetizers get a spin from the chef. Cured and smoked steelhead — a little sweet, a little salty — is draped across a creamy fingerling potato salad, the better to taste the nuances of the fish. And the crab cake is actually almost pure crabmeat stuffed inside feuille de brik, the crackling crisp Tunisian pastry. What a great idea.
Crispy oxtail galette is basically a flat patty of braised oxtail with an egg on top. "Everything tastes better with an egg on it," reads the menu, and I kind of have to agree.
As the evening wears on, the noise level ratchets ever upward, mitigated somewhat if you sit in one of the two smaller dining rooms, adorable really, with bulging moss walls. It's a late-night crowd too. Come at 8 p.m. and the dining room may be mostly empty; later on, it's larger parties (one guy and seven women?), drinking and dining the night away.
The staff is friendly and attentive, full of energy and enthusiasm for the changes taking place. Actresses, maybe, but they also know their stuff.
Ordering is fairly free-form. You could have just charcuterie or simply an array of appetizers and stop there. But if you want something more substantial, the main courses are very much in the comfort zone. Goodell dresses up the ubiquitous hanger steak with a marrow butter that adds a gloss of richness to the workaday steak. It comes with a cone of excellent fries too.
Half a pan-roasted chicken is juicy and brown, accented with preserved lemon for a vaguely north African accent and served with the pan juices. Pot roast made from beef brisket is rich and beefy. It's good to know you can get a burger here, made from the same beef used at 25 Degrees, but without all the custom choices. I happen to like the classic fixings just fine — tomato, onion, cheddar, bacon, etc. And of course those hand-cut Kennebec potato fries.
What else? A decent pork schnitzel. And an excellent côte de boeuf for two, well-priced (at least these days) at $75. The meat is well-aged, cooked on the bone to a true medium-rare.
For dessert, get the Valrhona chocolate souffle for two, deep and dark, with a vanilla bean pastry cream spooned over. I never got to taste the Shaker lemon pie with buttermilk ice cream: It was always sold out. You can't mind too much when there's warm Berliners (doughnuts) filled with rhubarb strawberry marmalade. Have them with a good strong cup of joe from LA Mill in Silver Lake.
This time, I think Goodell has got it. Public Kitchen & Bar fits seamlessly into the hotel — as a respite for jet-lagged guests, as a place to grab dinner after an event, as a meeting place sprinkled with some of that old Hollywood glitter.
Public Kitchen & Bar
Rating: two stars Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.
Location: Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. (between Highland and La Brea avenues), Los Angeles, (323) 769-8888
Price: Shared starters, $6 to $28; appetizers, $9 to $13; main courses, $16 to $38; sides, $5; desserts, $8 to $12.
Details: Open 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday (late night menu begins at 10:30 p.m.). Corkage fee, $20. Valet parking, $6 (for three hours with validation).