CHECKING IN : How Can a Hotel Restaurant Compete With Its Fancy Neighbors? Good Question.


The difficult task of any local hotel restaurant is convincing its guests--and the public at large--to ignore L.A.’s many other good places to eat. In Togo or Finland, perhaps, it wouldn’t take much persuading, but in Los Angeles, the menu has to be fairly compelling to fill the restaurant every night.

The four-star Beverly Prescott Hotel seemed to overcome that obstacle when it hired Hans Rockenwagner, the creator of Rockenwagner and Fama, as consulting chef. But somehow, the hotel’s restaurant, Rox, never quite took off, and a little more than a year later, the owners are making an abrupt about-face. They’ve hired Sylvie Laly Darr, a young French sommelier and former manager of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, to revamp the restaurant. And they changed the name from Rox to Sylvie.

Since Zuni continues to be one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, I was curious to see what changes Darr would make. Sylvie is only half-filled when I meet a friend for dinner there one night. She is early, I am a little late, so I join her for a glass of Veuve Clicquot at the bar, where rattan and batik prints, Oriental carpets and potted palms transform the room into an outpost of some tropical clime. Deep in conversation, we feel very relaxed, reluctant to move over to the dining room.


As we are seated, the waiter hands us a single sheet of buttercup yellow with the day’s date at the top, the name Sylvie spelled out in Mediterranean blue at the bottom. Words like feta , salt cod , pesto and aioli are the first clues that the menu has gone Mediterranean. Several dishes sound gutsy--a good sign. Hotel menus are generally more timid.

We start with a bowl of l’aigo-sau , a light, fragrant Provencal fish soup, then order crispy quail set on a hillock of tiny green lentils shot with pungent balsamic vinegar and the golf-ball-sized salt cod fritters with anchovy- chipotle sauce. The last two are good ideas, but the results are heavy and greasy.

We’re seated near the small open kitchen where chef Thomas Moloney (who worked under Rockenwagner) and the cooks are working furiously, heads bent over the food. Manager Darr is right there, inspecting each plate as it comes up on the counter, wiping away any splashed sauce, sometimes delivering the plates to the table. If she wants to remake the restaurant, this is the way to do it, by paying attention not only to the concept but also to the details of its execution.

We fare better with main courses. The roasted half chicken splashed with wine vinegar, strewn with mixed beans and served with sauteed swiss chard is comforting if a bit boring. A wedge of salmon is perfectly cooked, translucent at the center, delicious played against a soft pillow of cider-braised cabbage. The roasted pumpkin coulis seems to be there purely for visual contrast; the pureed pumpkin does nothing for the delicate salmon.

Salmon chowder is thin and pallid, but a bowl of steamed mussels in herb-flecked broth is simple and delicious. I love the idea of stuffed squid, but the stuffing and the strong tomato-oregano sauce taste murky: a terrible dish. Creamy wild mushroom risotto is rich but well executed, and rack of lamb in a thyme-scented red wine sauce is quite decent, but grilled rib eye is as gristly and fatty a piece of meat as I’ve ever been served in a restaurant.

The wine list is where Darr shines. Among the whites, my picks include the ’93 Honig barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc ($22), Josmeyer’s 1992 steely and floral Alsatian Gewurtztraminer ($30) and the lovely peach-scented 1990 Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc from one of the Rhone’s historic estates, Chateau La Nerthe ($44). The list is surprisingly short on Cotes du Rhones or even Chianti, both of which would go well with this food. But if you have a penchant for lusty red wines of the Rhone, consider the 1988 Cote Rotie from Gilles Barges ($48) or the 1988 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine de Beaucastel ($58).

The dessert chef, fortunately, offers more than the usual tiramisu and creme brul e e. There’s a flaky strudel filled with apples and raisins, a pear stuffed with mascarpone and poached in raspberry liqueur, and a deep, dark triple-layer chocolate cake that takes no hostages.


Would I come back on my own money? Not quite yet. Flavors need to be more focused and vibrant, less tentative, execution more consistent. I do think that, with Darr on the case, the restaurant has a good chance of becoming an interesting lunch or dinner spot.

But if it’s going to attract more than hotel guests, it has to aim higher than that.

Sylvie, the Beverly Prescott Hotel, 1224 S. Beverwil Drive (at Pico Boulevard), Los Angeles; (310) 772-2999. Valet and lot parking. Smoking at the bar, in the side room or at tables on the patio. Dinner for two, food only, $52-$86. Corkage $10.