SOMETIMES I just love reading news releases, such as the one that describes Empress, a new Asian restaurant in the old Sushi on Sunset space on Sunset Boulevard, as “tenaciously designed as an alternative to the bustling restaurant scene ... offers the absolute attention to detail and privacy sought by a discerning Los Angeles clientele.”
It went on to lay out all the different private dining areas and conjured up the image of a lush cocoon of sensuality -- right on the boulevard but turned away, so to speak, from the sizzle and the glitz.
You can imagine my surprise when Empress turned out to be no quiet cocoon, but more like a stylish Asian cafe. True, there are a few tables out front next to the sidewalk, but I’d hardly call that secluded, and a small dining area downstairs. Upstairs is the boxy main dining room with wood tabletops covered with the restaurant accessory of the moment: Chilewich woven Plynyl placemats.
Designed by Thomas Schoos, best known for Koi, Empress has plenty of design pizazz. Bamboo cut in varying lengths hangs from the ceiling like stalactites and bamboo staves lean against the walls, giving the effect of a bamboo grove.
Schoos’ signature votive candles are mounted on walls covered in glittery pale green and blue pebbles, and the windows along Sunset are open to the breeze.
From a table along the back windows, which looks down onto a staircase, I note a clever detail. Schoos distracts the eye from the everyday scene by placing a bowl of rocks spouting flames on the steps.
It’s enough to make a girl very thirsty. And my Manhattan, when it comes, is about the best I’ve found in L.A. -- very cold, not too sweet, and strong enough that you can taste the bourbon.
But more seriously, what’s to eat? Derek Zimara, who cooked under Rodelio Aglibot, Koi’s original chef, at Yi Cuisine, provides a slew of hot and cool appetizers, and they’re quite good.
He does a wonderful spicy tuna on shrimp toast, and a more oddball Wagyu sashimi tataki on shrimp siu mai with hot mustard and soy. Crispy salmon tops a salad of Asian greens to round out a selection of cool items.
On the hot side, he uses domestic Kobe beef for rare, juicy satay with lime pepper sauce. Firecracker chicken in a chile caramel glaze is another good bet. But my favorite had to be the black cod fritters with miso aioli.
Main courses cover the bases with lemon grass-crusted rib eye steak, a seafood curry with udon noodles and Thai-style Jidori chicken breast. And for a fancy noodle dish inspired by Thailand’s addictive pad Thai, he uses not just any shrimp, but grilled spot prawns.
For dessert, get the individual tres leches cake, and give your neighbor a bite. In the end, Empress is a sociable place, and as soon as everybody discovers that this savvy Asian cafe has moved into the old Sushi on Sunset location, it’s going to have a crowd. Then, it’s bye-bye to any visions of a quiet retreat.
Where: 8264 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
When: 4 to 10:30 p.m. Wine served. Lot parking in mini-mall in front.
Price: Hot and cool appetizers, $5 to $16; main courses, $16 to $36; desserts, $8.
Info: (323) 656-8377