Thursday, February 07, 2008

Special Foodventure #52: Whisper Lounge (The Grove)

The Whisper Lounge recently brought Anthony Jacquet (from the Restaurant at the Getty Museum) to head its kitchen and design the menu, so their PR agency held an event for us food bloggers & writers to check out its new offerings for free. Since it was a nice opportunity to taste their new dishes and to meet fellow blogger Caroline, I went for it with pretty much a blank slate mindset; I was aware of the mixed reviews (with general advice of going for drinks and small bites) but who knows, maybe a new chef and a new culinary direction is all it needs.

Upon arrival, the staff wasted no time getting us socially lubricated, so I indulged in one of their specialty cocktails -
Strawberry Ginger Martini with Ketel One vodka and it turned out well. It was fruity, but well balanced with the spicy ginger and the vodka so didn't wound up tasting like spiked syrup or jello shots.

Here's how the rest of the tasting panned out:
An amuse of Albacore Tuna Tartare with Radish Salad, Sesame Crisp and Citrus-Ginger Dressing, which was nice but nothing mind-blowing since it's not unique enough to differentiate itself from all the other raw/seared rare tuna dishes out there. It's not bad, and actually quite good for what it is, but I was hoping for something a little more edgy to start.

"Soup and Salad" - Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon and Apple Foam; Heirloom Beet Salad with Empire Apples and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette now this is a starter course I can get excited about; both the soup and the salad were not only delicious, but had elements of "that little something extra" - the apple foam and the savory bacon were nice complements to the soup, and the tangy, pungent vinaigrette contrasted beautifully with the subtly sweet beet-apple combo.

Homemade herb-ricotta agnolotti with wild mushrooms in truffle broth - who can hate stuffed pasta that ends up being a warm molten cheese explosion in the mouth? I think the technical term for this is "plain yummy" but if you want specifics, I not only appreciate the tasty pasta but also the broth for not being over-the-top with truffle flavors. I definitely do enjoy that aroma but it's often used too liberally, which makes me wonder 1) whether it's the real truffle or just man-made "truffle flavoring" and 2) what is the kitchen trying to cover up. Fortunately that's not the case here, so I can still enjoy the nuances of the pasta, filling & the other fungi on the plate.

Diver Scallop with Forbidden Rice, Baby Carrot in Blood Orange Vinagrette When it first came out a few of the fellow diners and I thought the black stuff may be caviar ("Wow? So much?!") but after a brief moment's pause & closer observation, we realized it was the forbidden rice. As with the tuna amuse, this dish was very good with the fluffy rice, the perfectly seared scallop and the tart-sweet sauce, but was just shy of that little oompf to make it memorable.

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Parmesan Gnocchi, Caramelized Vegetables and Jus I have weakness for gnocchi, and these were simply divine! Light and fluffy and flavorful, I only wished there were more of them! As for the short ribs, they were good but I expected something a little more meltingly tender (though a few of the dining companions liked that this braised meat had actual texture & substance and not mooshy). Then again, I'm personally a sucker for meats braised to the point of falling apart with just a fork -- so could be just me.

Finishing it all off, Zinfandel Poached Pear with Almond Tart, Cranberry-Champagne Coulis and Pear Gelato that I think was very nice because it was so well balanced in flavors and a great mix of textures. The pear wasn't poached to a mush, and the almond tart was just aromatic enough to complement the fruit & gelato w/o being overpowering (tricky to do with pears).

So what do I think after all is said, done and eaten? Well, for starters, it surpassed my expectations. Everything I had was good (or better) but of course, that came with a caveat that this was a specially pepared tasting menu that we were eating gratis and with the staff knowing that we're a bunch of writers & bloggers. And unfortunately, some of the items sampled here are not offered as part of their regular menu ~ major bummer for me since I would've definitely returned for the soup and the gnocchi!

Price-wise, I think it's a little steep, so I second others' recommendations to come for drinks & small bites - at least for first timers who aren't quite sure (you can always wound up staying for the meal if you like, and if you don't, check out some nearby places such as Celadon, Du-Pars or any of the casual eateries in Farmer's Market). But if their overall menu are as delicious as what I've had here, it's definitely worth considering going here for a more upscale meal and its speakeasy environs and tucked away location in the otherwise noisy & bustling Grove certainly makes it a better option for a classy date. However, for now, it's a bit early to make a final call - but I do hope that Chef Jacquet's breath of fresh air & innovativeness carries through to make this place successful in eats and drinks. And I certainly won't mind returning and giving this place another evaluation, and actually footing the bill.

The Whisper Lounge
189 The Grove Dr.
Los Angeles


Anonymous said...

man! i am getting snubbed left and right! haven't been invited to a single blogger fest this year!

H. C. said...


Darn! If I'd known you weren't on the list I'd try to get you on.

It's only February -- 10+ more months of blogger fest events to go ;)


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