By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
April 8, 2010
Not going to be able to catch the Cannes film festival this year? Don't cry. You can still vamp it up at the smart new Delphine, the W Hollywood's ode to the Riviera at Hollywood and Vine. In the bar, vintage black and white photos of the grand hotels along Cannes' Boulevard de la Croisette set the scene. And the sidewalk outside the glass doors, facing the Pantages and just steps from the Metro station, is not a bad stand-in for Cannes' famous seaside promenade and its gawking crowds.
Look, there's a Josephine Baker look-alike swanning through the dining room. Her hair is close-cropped and her lithe dancer's body is poured into a long evening dress that plunges practically to her tailbone in back. And yes, that is a real black fox boa slung over one shoulder. She gets one of the swell little booths. But her date is late, and she consumes an entire cocktail before he deigns to show up.
Delphine has captivating looks, a hard-working staff and French Mediterranean food that has a little something for everyone. It's not Cannes — or even Café Boulud or Bouchon — but it's a bright new star on Hollywood Boulevard.
That Baker look-alike is not the only eye candy around. We can't help it. Our eyes are caught, watching the giant seafood platters progress across the room. Two servers in cinch-waisted black vests and long aprons ferry the broad aluminum platters filled with ice and covered with chilled seafood. The two tiers are set up on a rack, with a trio of sauces, bread and butter.
That's the petit, our server whispers, eyebrow raised -- as opposed to the grand, which is three tiers and roughly double the price. Seafood platters are very much in vogue at this new Hollywood restaurant. All around us, at long tables peopled with pretty women in clothes ripped right out of the pages of W or Polyvore.com, guests are nibbling at pearlescent Kumamoto oysters, fat white shrimp and messier crab claws. It's perfect girl food: You can look busy even when you're not eating much.
Although Delphine is set in the heart of Hollywood, Mark Zeff of New York's Zeff Design has given the place an easy, beachy vibe with a vaulted wood ceiling, blue and white patterned tile floor, and enormous wood-framed oval mirrors that reflect the scene back on itself. There's a handful of curvaceous booths and for the tables, white wicker armchairs. The space is roomy, making it easy to push tables together to make festive longer ones. And there almost always seems to be some group celebrating a birthday or some special occasion. A silvered bookcase lines one wall, but the only thing anybody's reading is the menu.
The food from chef Sascha Lyon is updated French Mediterranean bistro fare. And it's very competent for a venue this big and this new. Like Bouchon, Thomas Keller's Beverly Hills bistro, the menu is pretty much fixed, printed on placemat-sized paper and supplemented by a few specials each night.
Oysters? Check. Beautiful Kumamotos or Malpeques that slip out of their shells with ease.
Escargots? Check. These are plump and chewy, with plenty of garlic-parsley sauce and butter.
Steak au poivre? Delphine has an excellent one, with a sharp blast of cracked black peppercorns in a silky reduction.
Moules frites? Ditto. A dash of Pernod goes into the mingled juices, perfuming the dish with its distinct anise taste.
And, of course, the menu includes a croque monsieur, or madame, if you prefer. Super-sized, the pink ham and Gruyere sandwich is slathered in béchamel, a real trencherman's special, maybe better to share. Madame is crowned with a fried egg.
Lyon, who worked at Daniel, Balthazar and Pastis in New York, mixes it up with his hors d'oeuvres. He does a rollicking, garlicky brandade de morue — salt cod puree mixed with potatoes, ready to be scooped up onto little toasts. But also a lovely fritto misto of shrimp, squid, mussels, clams and lemon slices.
Pizzas are more like flatbreads with various toppings. I liked the pissaladière well enough, a pizza topped with the elements — caramelized onions, anchovies and onions — that go onto the famous Niçoise flatbread, but the quatre fromages blanketed in four cheeses garnished with tomato and basil is ultimately more satisfying. Pastas are gutsy and delicious, especially a classic penne puttanesca.
Lyon breaks out with striped bass in aigo bouido, a flavorful fish in a light garlic broth dotted with celery and perfumed with orange zest in the Provençal style. Braised lamb shoulder sofregit is accompanied by creamy polenta and stewed peppers. Fish and chips, made with Atlantic cod, comes with tartar sauce and pickled onions. And, incidentally, there's one of the best mac 'n' cheeses around, a perfect balance of cheese to cream and pasta.
Bouillabaisse (Friday night's special dish — what's more South of France than that?) comes in an adorable enameled pot, a meal in itself. Without scrappy Mediterranean fish, it's not possible to replicate the true taste of bouillabaisse here, but this is certainly one of the better versions around, a tomato-based seafood soup delicious in its own right.
The restaurant offers basic wines by the glass or reasonably priced carafes, but to drink something more interesting, you'll have to look over the wine list, which is organized by weight, starting with light-bodied white wines, moving on to medium- and full-bodied white wines, then light- to medium-bodied reds. The good news is that there's plenty of choice in the $50-and-under range, including a fine Pinot Blanc "Cuvée d'Amours" from Hugel in Alsace and a Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir, both less than $50. You can spend much more, of course, on well-known California or Bordeaux labels.
Desserts are simple and direct, especially the profiteroles with vanilla bean ice cream and a dark chocolate sauce. Apple hazelnut crostada is a variation on the apple-pie-with-cheddar idea, here substituting goat cheese for the cheddar (with less success). All sweet tooths should like the fluffy warm pistachio brownies served with hot chocolate and marshmallows.
And for affogato fans, Delphine offers a French version, espresso and chocolate sauce poured over vanilla ice cream buried under so much sweet frilly whipped cream it's hard to get at the ice cream.
And that seafood platter? It's incredibly generous — "le petit Delphine" is almost too generous for two, certainly too much if you plan on eating anything else afterward. It's replete with oysters, steamed mussels, clams, fat shrimp, sea snails to eat with a pin and larger whelks, and includes a terrific scallop ceviche on the half shell and Dungeness crab. In all honesty, it's not the best platter in town, but it's definitely the biggest bang for the buck.
The folks behind Sushi Roku, Katana and the Boa Steakhouses have produced Delphine as a hip hotel restaurant, but with prices moderate enough that guests don't feel hustled. You don't have to be a big spender to have breakfast, lunch or dinner here. I can imagine dropping in for a salad or a croque monsieur or an omelette aux fines herbes and stopping at that. The service is capable and pleasant. A trio of hostesses in black call out a hello when you walk in and goodbye when you leave.
Remember the days when hauteur and rudeness ruled at the restaurant of the moment? No more.
Delphine at the W Hollywood
Rating: two stars
Location: 6250 Hollywood Blvd. (at Vine), Los Angeles; (323) 798.1355; http://www.restaurantdelphine.com.
Price: Dinner antipasti, $6 to $16; hors d'oeuvres, $7 to $14; pizzas, $12 to $15; sandwiches and salads, $12 to $15; main courses, $17 to $36; cheese plate, $15; desserts, $9. Seafood platters, $58 and $98. Corkage fee, $15.
Details: Open for breakfast from 6:30 to 11 a.m.; for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. Full bar. Valet parking, $5 for the first 2 1/2 hours before 5 p.m. with validation, $7 after 4 p.m. Note that a 15% service charge is added to each guest check regardless of the size of the party.
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