This review, I’m guessing, is going to start with a parsnip, a fat, late-winter example of the pale root vegetable that Vartan Abgaryan has cooked, glazed with duck fat, and buried under a heap of flowers at his restaurant 71Above. What looks like powdered sugar is crumbly powdered duck fat, made using a modernist technique popular in the last decade. There is a scoop of chilled lebneh, thick yogurt, and bits of herbs and roasted pistachio are scattered over the vegetable.
It looks like an elaborate dessert. But if you don’t think too carefully about the particular sweetness of the parsnip, it carries many of the sensations of eating duck: the slight crackle, the richness, the fleshiness of the vegetable and the multidimensional fragrance of duck fat. The dish is a wee bit dated (the cool kids leave out the animal these days), but it is also kind of a tour de force, a splendid new dish.
Unless you have remarkable powers of concentration, you will notice none of this. Because the key fact of 71Above is neither Abgaryan’s lush cooking nor the sprawling list of Burgundies, the suave caramel custard nor the quirky cocktails named after Los Angeles neighborhoods. You are there for the restaurant’s location, 950 feet above downtown Los Angeles, a circular dining room reaching nearly all the way around the building.
The view from your window seat ranges from the pale pink neon of Rose Hills above Whittier to the gray outline of Catalina Island, from Malibu to the Hollywood sign. You may be able to see Dodger Stadium and the snow-smeared peaks of the San Gabriels if you crane your head to the left. The last time I ate in a restaurant this high, I was at Wild Blue atop the late World Trade Center, and not even a Dujac Vosne-Romanée distracted from the view.
Could a 2006 Anne Gros Richebourg tear you away from the view here? Unless your bonus was unusually high this year, you’ll probably never know.
To get to 71Above, you pull in at the parking valet, check in at a desk in the US Bank building lobby, whoosh up two banks of elevators and led down a dim corridor to the hostess stand of the restaurant itself. The process is oddly luxurious, as when you luck into a TSA PreCheck queue at LAX, but it is hard to ignore the fact that you have passed through five checkpoints before you have even reached the restaurant.
You are led to your table — a window table if you have reserved one in advance. You will discover a simulated compass dial that tells you which direction you are facing and a set of mirrors that is probably meant to extend the panorama but may also give you the uncomfortable vision of the back of your head that you last experienced in a department store changing room. Your waiter will point out landmarks that you may not have noticed and also the fact that the new Wilshire Grand building, technically taller than the US Bank Tower, looks as if it is quite a bit below.
The dinner menu is prix-fixe, two appetizers and an entree for $70, dessert extra, with an 18% service charge added at the end. (Lunch is $35 for two courses.) In theory, this may be more than you want to pay for a meal that doesn’t coincide with a birthday or an anniversary divisible by five. In practice, at least you don’t have to argue about who got the celery root and who got the steak, and dinner ends up costing about the same as it does at most other high-end restaurants in town.
If you know Abgaryan’s cooking from his former post at Cliff’s Edge, you may remember his tendency toward seasonal ingredients, slightly stodgy sauces and elaborate presentations, as if he had been the chef at a destination restaurant in a somewhat remote French town. At 71Above, his cooking has taken a slightly more luxurious turn — foie gras terrine, truffled steak tartare with tapenade, blandish roast chicken with foie gras, truffles and mushrooms stuffed under the skin.
The puréed sunchoke soup is poured over a construction of trout roe and dill. Slivers of raw hamachi are arranged into a sort of soy-slicked Noguchi sculpture. Beautifully poached oysters are garnished with a bit of sea urchin, a dab of caviar and a drizzle of Champagne butter — the flavors may blur into one another, and there always seems to be one ingredient too many, but there is no question that you are getting what you paid for. A dish of potato, chorizo and egg may sound like the burrito you had for breakfast last week, but the textural contrast between the soft egg and crunchy potato is lovely, and the suave spicing of the chorizo is closer to Bel-Air than to Boyle Heights.
Abgaryan’s pastas tend to be both fudge-textured and over-salted, but he is good with vegetables, including crisp-edged cauliflower seasoned with the Sri Lankan curry mixture vadouvan, and delicious, savagely burnt Brussels sprouts with yogurt and toasted hazelnuts. Vadouvan shows up again in the rare, seared sea scallops, paved with sliced carrots and chewy as taffy. And if it’s on the menu, you should probably try the suckling pig, which includes both medium-rare slices of roast loin and a chunk of soft, intensely flavored belly confit that may be something out of a charcuterie dream.
The writer Guy de Maupassant, it is said, dined frequently at the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant because it was the only place in Paris that he didn’t have to look at the damned thing. If he lived in current-day Los Angeles, I suspect he might be tempted to become a regular at 71Above.
On the 71th floor, elaborate cooking and a panoramic view
633 W. 5th St., 71st floor, Los Angeles, (213) 712-2683, 71above.com.
Two-course lunch prix-fixe $35; three-course dinner prix-fixe $70.
Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m.-midnight Saturdays, 5-11 p.m. Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking on 5th Street.
Egg with potato and chorizo; parsnip with duck fat; cauliflower with vadouvan; suckling pig; caramel custard.
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