Snap. Snap. Snap. In my mind's eye, I see a layout for a design or architecture magazine. The salvaged wood boards, some silvery and weathered, a few whitewashed, used for the restaurant's exterior. The wide barn doors leading out to the courtyard in front. Rough timbered walls and a wood-clad high-pitched ceiling. Lampshades stitched from baker's linen. Industrial sewing lamps peering out from the walls over banquettes covered in a large-scale striped herringbone.
The new Eveleigh on the Sunset Strip is an anomaly in a neighborhood known more for arch French or Italian chic than anything resembling this essay on the salvaged. You could say Eveleigh (pronounced, they say, "everly") plays the part of New York's trendy, rough-hewn Ace hotel lobby, a conveniently roomy space, open to just about anything and anybody. Take a stool at the bar or grab a table, order something to eat, and check in with Twitter or Flipboard. This Aussie-accented newcomer brings a rustic chic setting, appealing French-Italian comfort food and a savvy cocktail and wine list to the party on Sunset.
At the bar, framed in tall, skinny cabinets displaying arcane whiskeys and spirits, two bartenders each hold one arm overhead, shaking cocktails in tandem, adding their percussive note to Johnny Cash's growl or other lost voices playing on the soundtrack. A woman sipping a gingery Dark and Stormy swings her leg over the side of the leather wing chair in front of the fireplace. Maybe that's an Evelation her companion is drinking, Hendrick's gin with ginger, lemon and a faint hint of rosewater. An Old-Fashioned has just the correct amount of sugar and bitters.
This unlikely restaurant and bar comes from three young Australians — Nick Mathers, Lincoln Pilcher and Nick Hatsatouris — by way of New York's West Village, where they own Kingswood, a funky bar and restaurant with moderately priced food.
That's a big jump to Sunset Boulevard and the former Kenneth Cole showroom. The place is much bigger than it looks from the outside. Past the bar and the semi-open kitchen is another large room with a communal table running down the center, more tent (it has a canvas roof) than actual building, with a view out the open back to city lights and sides that open up to the breeze.
The modest menu from Aussie chef Jordan Toft is appealing and familiar, comfort food for the 21st century in Los Angeles. It's the kind of food anybody would enjoy, a combination of small and large plates, so you can come in for a drink or a glass of wine and have a couple of bites, or you might wind up deciding to spend the evening and dine with a group of friends inside or out.
Slurp some small Kusshi oysters sauced with Champagne and cracked black pepper vinaigrette with a glass of Gruner Veltliner or Riesling from the new or old worlds. The night's crudo, hamachi (yellowtail) laid out on the plate with beautiful little slivers of lemon flesh, sings with freshness. I like the pot-roasted clams too, which arrive in a cast-iron skillet with grilled bread to mop up the juices accented with lemon and red pepper.
For vegetarians, velvety hunks of dark orange butternut squash are anointed with puddles of blue cheese and a scattering of pine nuts, with either black trumpet mushrooms or big flaps of portobello mushrooms interspersed between. A fried eggplant salad gets a lift from a lovely soy-cumin dressing.
Dedicated carnivores should order the rich, oily pork rillettes heaped into a canning jar, the better to spread on charred toast.
About a third of the wine list hails from Australia or New Zealand or thereabouts, which makes drinking at Eveleigh a great opportunity for learning more about the wines from Down Under. Sommelier Jason Ditto, who was at the Bazaar in Beverly Hills, knows his stuff and has thought about which wines pair best with the dishes on the menu. Give him a few clues as to the kinds of wines you like and he'll be able to suggest something from the list that will be a discovery and a pleasure.
The kitchen is still working from the opening menu with few variations. The special is more often than not "Mary's chicken" roasted with herbs tucked under the skin, juicy and good but hardly exciting. Toft isn't taking any chances just yet. But then a lot of people like to go back to the same restaurant and have the same dishes over and over.
Those sorts of eaters are going to be happy campers at Eveleigh, knowing they can come in again and again for the beef cheeks braised with sunchokes or beef rib-eye with fresh horseradish. Roasted barramundi (billed as white fish) is nicely cooked, and flanked by braised kale and a mild-mannered romanesco sauce.
The one pasta dish is orecchiette, "little ears," with soft, well-cooked broccoli and cherry tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. The flavors meld beautifully and the pasta is cooked al dente. Someone just needs a lighter hand with the oil.
Desserts are low-key and in much the same comfort food vein as the rest of the menu. An eggnog pot de creme one night had a lovely fragile texture, but its delicate flavor was overwhelmed by too much booze. Individual bittersweet chocolate cake, molten at the center, is always a crowd pleaser. This one is no exception, served with crème fraîche ice cream and chocolate sauce. And for those who can't get enough crumble, here's a pear version.
Next time at Eveleigh, instead of dessert I might wait for one of those chairs in front of the fire and order what the Australians like to call a "sticky," a dessert wine, maybe the Mount Horrocks "Cordon Cut" Riesling from Clare Valley or a Banyuls from La Cave de L'Abbé Rous in southern France, both sold by the glass.
So far, so good. And come warm weather, I'm betting that back room will be filled with wine buffs, cocktail aficionados and women in flirty summery dresses, as it was back in early fall when Eveleigh first opened.
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: 8752 W. Sunset Blvd. (at North Sherbourne), West Hollywood; (424) 239-1630; http://www.theeveleigh.com.
PRICE: Small plates, $9 to $15; large plates, $16 to $29; sides, $6 to $8; desserts, $8 to $9. Corkage, $25.
DETAILS: Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. daily; supper menu from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (beginning Jan. 29). . Full bar. Valet parking, $4.50.