This week, Besha Rodell offers an extensive take on Gwen, Curtis Stone’s Hollywood blockbuster of a restaurant. The nearly 2,000 word review does a beautiful job unpacking the complex nature of the concept, and is further evidence of B. Rod’s mastery of her craft. Here are the most important lines from the three-star review:
Besha describes Curtis
Chef Curtis Stone is also a strange beast, having gone about this tumbling series of career goals backward. He got TV-famous before he had a high-profile chef job; the endorsement deals and cookbooks happened years ahead of his first restaurant. [...] But damn it, that drive to prove himself wouldn’t let go.
Besha describes Gwen
Gwen is an establishment that is striving for greatness in so many ways it’s a little head-spinning. It’s a meat importer, a butcher shop, a cocktail bar, a chophouse of sorts and a return to serious glitzy Hollywood dining the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. Stone [...] has said publicly that he hopes the project will tempt Michelin to return to Los Angeles.
And explains exactly how much the whole ordeal must have cost
The whole affair must have cost approximately three bazillion dollars. It would have cost, give or take, two bazillion dollars for the design alone, not counting the floor-to-ceiling meat and charcuterie cases, not counting the glassed-in open kitchen that’s a feat of engineering, holding multiple types of open flames that leap behind the glass as animal parts dangle and sizzle all around.
The answer to whether chef Stone succeeded?
Yes and no.
A beautiful description of the space
If you come at the right time of day, even the sun itself seems complicit in making this an iconic Los Angeles experience, that white light luminescence blinding you like it does nowhere else in the world.
The vegetable dishes are "stunning"
The multiple vegetable dishes that come as salads and sides are deceptively simple but always reveal a trick of technique or creativity that makes them shine. Beets come "pickled, raw and chewy," with that last descriptor referring to dehydrated beets that become almost candy-like and set up a captivating textural interplay.
And so is the meat
The meat course presents the animal of choice — lamb, say, or pork — cooked a number of ways, each of them pulling out the best attributes of that part of the beast. Lamb ribs were sticky and wonderfully musky, the fat crisped just so.
But it all comes at a price
Gwen, in general, will cost you.
There’s a fundamental pricing problem
I love the food at Gwen, I love the experience, but do I love it $400 worth? It’s a tricky calculation. When you add up what it must cost to put on a show so meticulously choreographed, so incredibly sourced, so beautifully accessorized — the cost of the flatware alone could probably pay off my college debt — there’s no doubt that the price makes mathematical sense. And yet, there’s something about the format here that doesn’t quite work.
And problem in concept
And this is my other quibble with Gwen — to come in and be greeted by meat in the butcher case, to smell the meat cooking on the grill, to see sides of beef and sausages hanging in the glassed-in meat lockers, all make you primed for an intensely meaty experience. But unless you’re willing to shell out an extra $75 or $275 (on top of the well-over $100 per person you’ve already spent) for a steak supplement, the meal you’ll get is not actually that meaty. It feels like a bit of a tease, no matter how tasty the lamb ribs or pork loin are, to not get a few bites of all that beautiful beef on display.
Despite the issues in format and price, it is still a beautiful dream of a restaurant
Gwen is a monument to one guy’s glorious, meaty Hollywood dream. It’s a beautiful dream, from the butcher counter to the room to the delicate vintage glassware to the food, which is cooked with talent and love. Does it make sense? Dreams, especially the complicated visionary kind, rarely do.