Leslie Brenner visits the Hotel Bel-Air Restaurant for the vacationing S. Irene Virbila this week, and once again an extremely positive headline---"The landmark terrace restaurant promises a glimpse of the good life"---belies the unhappiness within. This a a grand-dame restaurant generally reserved for special occasions, not a regular night on the town, at least for most people. The beautiful patio, the setting, even the initial service seem to set the stage for a spectacular meal, but things quickly go south. Note to restaurateurs everywhere: Don't piss off Brenner, it doesn't take much, because once she's in a mood, forget it:
I almost fall off my chair when the first course of my five-course tasting menu arrives, "Balik salmon, domestic caviar." My eyes are riveted to the two dime-size dots of crème fraîche topped with about an eighth of a teaspoon of caviar. Are they serious? This is domestic, not Caspian Sea. Why so stingy? There is some very high-quality caviar harvested in the Sacramento River delta, but this ain't it: These fish eggs are mushy. The salmon is wonderful, but now I'm in a bad mood.Oh oh. And that was just one visit. She skewers the rest of that particular tasting menu, which ends in hasty and inept service and a huge bill ($884 for four, before tax and tip another), and her other visits don't fare much better. So what's to like at the Hotel Bel-Air? "The terrace is lovely," the spot-on sommelier and the bar. The restaurant gets a half star. Today the vacationing "S." stands for "Oh, snap!" [LAT]
ELSEWHERE: A fancy plate lunch at Shakas Hawaiian Flavors; new pastry chef, table service and more at Little Next Door; another tasty report for Sushi Zo; a 'mostly yummy' trip to Il Moro.