Monday, February 11, 2008

Special Foodventure #53: DineLA Dinner @ Circa 55

The very last of my DineLA dinners (literally, this took place on the last day of Restaurant Week) and it was a cool occasion to 1) meet up with the bloggers from What's to Eat LA and 2) check out the new Trader Vic's lounge right next door at the Beverly Hilton.

After a tropical libation at swankier Trader Vic's lounge (and the cocktails are still as deceptively potent as I remembered from its old location), we met up and proceed to grab our seats at Circa 55, the somewhat upscale and stylish-looking Californian-Fusion restaurant in the hotel.
Being a restaurant in a hotel, I'm immediately suspicious of the food, since they typically cater to the tourist/business conference crowds that are too lazy and/or not picky enough to look around for food - but the menu (both the regular one & the DineLA prix-fixe) was interesting enough for me to get over the initial skepticism. And hey, it *is* Beverly Hills, surely the tourists & meeting-goers have more discerning palates.

Indeed, they made a great first impression with their sophisticated bread basket (served with butter balls & olive oil), and I *rarely* get impressed enough with the pre-meal baked carbs to take photos of them.
So we happily feasted on our breads of varying flavors & textures until the arrival of the first course, California dungeness crab cake with grain mustard aioli, cherry tomatoes, white asparagus and wild cress salad
which was delicious: oodles of sweet, succulent crab meat that's pan-fried to near perfection and kicked up a notch with the wonderful mustard sauce. The vegetables accompanying the crab cake were also very fresh-tasting.

Following the delightful appetizer, fruity soy marinated 10 oz. New York steak with roasted pepper & blue cheese topping, served with garlic mashed potatoes and assorted vegetables
A generously portioned, juicy and full-flavored slice of meat - I didn't pick up much of the fruity soy marinade, but it went very well with the slightly tangy blue cheese topping. The accompanying starches and veggies weren't bad either.

One of my dining companions got the herb crusted halibut with mustard greens and yuzu pepper sauce
I had a forkful and it's a nice flaky filet of fish. Again, I didn't pick up much of the sauce but felt the halibut is fine on its own with the crispity, aromatic herb crust.

Finishing off the meal, my favorite course - dessert! - which for me meant a journey into chocolate
which contained a classic Opera Cake, a Chocolate-Thyme Mousse Cake and Chocolate Soup in a shotglass. All of them were delightful in their own right, from the familiar chocolatey creamyness of the Opera, the eccentric cocoa-herb combo of the mousse cake (very interesting, but not sure if I would order it on its own) and the soup which my companion very accurately described as "liquid chocolate churro".

Not quite as successful was my friend's passion fruit creme brulee
which looked pretty, but wound up being a bit too tart and a bit too soupy for his preferences. Oh well, live and learn.

So in short, Circa 55 is pretty good (and certainly way better than my initial expectations). Given its location and its price range (around $50-60 a person sans drinks), it's probably a place I'll save for special occasions or if I'm in the Beverly Hills area. But its DineLA dinner, which saved us $25-30 compared to the regular prices, was quite a bargain -- so it's definitely on my check out list if they're participating next year.

Circa 55
9876 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills 90210



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