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The All-Night Standard

TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Driving down Sunset Strip, you couldn’t have missed the construction site on the south side of the street near N. Sweetzer Avenue. But now the sign is up--a white banner hung upside down, which a diligent reader can make out as “The Standard.” Groovy blue lights glow like lightning bugs against the undulating white facade.

Who would have the chutzpah to turn an old retirement home into a chic budget hotel for the young and restless? Owner Andre Balazs of the eccentric Chateau Marmont across the way is who. Balazs was quick to see the possibilities in the vintage structure. Open only a few weeks, it’s already tough to book a room at the Standard, or at least one of the less expensive ones.

Balazs has forgone the obligatory fancy hotel restaurant in favor of a 24-hour coffee shop-restaurant with an eclectic enough menu every one of his guests should be able to find something they’d like to eat--miso soup, a croque monsieur, a raw tuna wasabi pizza, arroz con pollo, steak and eggs--a sturdy cup of Joe. Just think about the room service possibilities.

He’s given it a sort of futuristic coffee-shop look that features horseshoe-shaped brown leather booths, comfy stools at the counter, and a stainless steel beaded curtain that gives the Strip outside a soft-focus glamour.

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Waiters get to wear designer outfits that include a white leather snap-on bracelet. “It’s all I can do not to rip open my jacket,” our server confessed one night, pointing out its Velcro closure. Despite the get-ups, the staff is astonishingly friendly. And the food--this is the real surprise--is good, even this early on.

The executive chef is Thomas Rivera, who cooked in New York at Odeon and the Metro restaurant. Rivera’s burger, a thick hand-formed patty on a good bun with all the fixings, is one of the best around. His Caesar is respectable and a chopped salad of fresh flavorful vegetables is delicious. A tomato basil pizza with bready crust is made with good quality bocconcini (those little mozzarella balls) that form creamy molten pools of cheese. But my B.A.L.T. (that’s bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato, if you please) arrives cold. For me, it’s the warm toast against the cool of the tomato and avocado that makes this one of the world’s best sandwiches.

The bartender makes a mean Margarita, too. Not only that, the Standard has a savvy little wine list filled with interesting bottles from up-and-coming wine regions. Though I haven’t had a chance to more than dip into the menu, this I know, I’ll be keeping this new wave coffee shop in mind for those wide-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night jet lag moments. Hey, it’s always open.

BE THERE

The Standard Restaurant in the Standard Hotel, 8300 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 822-3131 restaurant; (323) 650-9090 hotel. Open 24 hours a day. Appetizers $6 to $8; main courses $8 to $22. Valet parking $4 with validation.


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