The place was jumping on a Friday night. Magic’s limo pulled up in front. Brandy graciously chatted up a table of shy young fans. Not even one more person could have squeezed into the bar that night. With all the table-hopping and a lively crowd dressed to the nines, it felt more like a great party than a restaurant open only a few days. The Shark Bar Restaurant, an offshoot of the original venue in New York and its Chicago cousin, is definitely happening.
Take the old La Mer Brasserie on La Cienega, strip away the tacky art nouveau trappings, decorate with mega-posters and giant photographs, add in soul food served up in generous portions and a pulsing soundtrack, and you get the picture.
I’m not sure partners Keith Clinkscales (president of Vibe magazine) and former USC and Buffalo Bills defensive back Chris Hale expected this kind of crowd this early on. Bartenders and waiters were both in short supply. And if you passed by the kitchen, you could see half the crew turning circles in confusion. One waiter was desperately throwing corn muffins into the oven, while another contemplated a tray of burned ones.
The kitchen was clearly overwhelmed, and the food was a long time coming from the kitchen. At one point our good-natured waiter introduced himself with the words, “I’m Leon [not his real name] and I’m stressed!,” which made us all laugh. Nobody was particularly grumpy about it: The people watching was just too good.
When our dinner finally arrived, it was pretty decent, given the difficult circumstances, though main courses far outshone the appetizers. The best dishes we tried were shrimp etouffe and the chicken and sausage-laden Big Easy Gumbo. I’d like to see what this kitchen can do when cooks and the waiters aren’t so stressed.
The Shark Bar Restaurant, 826 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 652-1520. Open daily for dinner. Valet parking. Appetizers and salads $4.95 to $10.95; main courses $12.95 to $16.95.