This winter when Ken Frank took off his apron and closed up for the last time at La Toque, he had already signed on as chef for House of Blues down the road. The immense hall clad in weathered tin siding opened on May 1 and as for Frank cooking, well he is and he isn’t. As head chef, he oversees the in-house restaurant one floor above the performance stage. But the only hands-on cooking he is doing these days is for the Foundation Room upstairs, a private venue open only to members of the International House of Blues educational foundation and their guests. So for most of us, it is goodby to truffled eggs and Frank’s extravagant French cooking. We’re going to eating in the regular restaurant.
For all the confusion of opening week, the food in the restaurant downstairs--when you could get in--was a cut above most club food. The two-level room with an eye-popping bar along one wall is an exuberant homage to the blues and to Southern folk artists. Every inch of surface is painted, patterned, stenciled, hung with naif paintings and sculpture or embellished with bottle caps and cutouts. While you eat, the sound system belts out the blues in all its permutations. Hey, I had a great time munching golden puffs of deep-fried catfish while listening to old cuts of B.B. King and Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown. The music definitely inspires you to order Southern. I’m sorry, but diced tuna fettuccine or roasted garlic pizza are simply no competition for jambalaya laced with shrimp and andouille sausage or the tasty chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy and flanked with mashed potatoes and vinegar-splashed mustard greens.
There’s a good half-pound burger, too, topped with your choice of cheese--choose the blue, natch. And put your money on the Jack Daniel’s hot sauce for the Tennessee-style baby back ribs. My next mission: the New Orleans po’ boy the fervent waiter just set down two tables over. On a clear day, I’ll take it outside on the veranda, thank you, with its big view of L.A. skies.
* House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 650-0247. Open from 11:30 a.m. daily until midnight weekdays, until 1 a.m. weekends. No reservations taken. Appetizers $4.95 - $9.95; entrees $7.95 - $17.95.