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Inside the grand Hollywood restaurant Paley, Jonathan Gold takes amused small bites

The last time I visited Paley, a bored parking attendant waved me into a Do Not Enter lane, through a maze of narrow passageways and down to a cavernous lower level where mine was pretty much the only car. An elevator whooshed me up to an unfinished office floor of a glass-and-steel building. A corner of the building across the plaza looked as if it had melted in the summer heat. A security guard wanted to know how the hell I had gotten up there. Five minutes later, down a flight of roped-off stairs and past what looked like a sports arena furnished only with ladders, I found the restaurant, feeling very much as if I had just limped off the set of a Jacques Tati movie. One sip of an Alpine negroni, which offsets the usual bittersweetness of Campari with something that smells pleasantly of pencil shavings, and I was back in the movie again.

Paley is a grand new restaurant in the new Columbia Square complex, adapted from what was built as the original headquarters of CBS Radio in 1938. The restaurant is fairly majestic in scale – high ceilings, lots of glass – with the finishes and elegant curves borrowed from the Hollywood Moderne style, but modernist glass light fixtures and a vibe that is more 1963. Face east, and you could be in a white telephone movie. Face west, and you may as well be in the Theme Building at LAX.

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The restaurant (named of course for CBS founder William S. Paley) has become the venue for the ritual known as "taking a meeting at Neue House,'' which is to say having coffee or a bite with one of the members of the big co-working facility in the original CBS studios across the plaza. (Who works in Neue House? People who work in one or another of the creative industries, but have graduated from a table at Starbucks and aren't quite up to the burden of a suite with their name on the door.) And in certain ways, Paley is perfect for those occasions when you find yourself having a meal without really having a meal, nibbling on paleo-friendly snacks of charred carrots or coal-singed Wagyu beef with your glass of Grenache; picking at a mound of steak tartare dyed scarlet with the Korean chile paste gochujang; or pushing slivers of slightly overcooked amberjack around your plate because they're not quite up to the version at Animal.

Paley is run by the Tokyo-based Plan Do See group, which runs restaurants around the world and a number of wedding facilities in Japan. The chef is Greg Bernhardt, who has worked on and off with Ludovic Lefebvre since his L'Orangerie days, and was the opening chef at both Church & State and Perch. If you wish to be seen as a baller but don't feel like eating that much, you should probably order the Paley Plateau – not one of the tall wedding-cake seafood towers but a broad, iced platter holding most of the raw bar on a single level – oysters, shrimp cocktail, maybe some yellowtail with shaved fennel or thin slices of cured scallop draped over a bit of ripe melon. Have a martini. Or another glass of iced tea.

Grilled duck breast with umeboshi, ginger pomme puree and mushrooms is a favorite at Paley.
Grilled duck breast with umeboshi, ginger pomme puree and mushrooms is a favorite at Paley. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Bernhardt is good with fire – half the menu is wood-roasted, coal-roasted, or smoked, including a really nice dish of grilled asparagus striped with creamy chopped hardboiled egg. But something about Paley doesn't lend itself to the idea of fine dining – the ingredients may be well-chosen and carefully cooked, but the basic unit of consumption here seems to be a bite or two – Bernhardt's cooking is designed to be amusing, not profound.

The tiny plate of foie gras with apricot and pistachio is delightful, an airy smear that looks and tastes like a hint of summer; the foie gras wrapped in cabbage, a play on a onetime LudoBites standard, is overcooked and leaden. The chicken liver mousse scented with the French curry vadouvan is delicious. Roast chicken with escarole was fine – who's going to ruin roast chicken? – but dull. The conceit behind "martini mussels'' flavored with gin, vermouth and pickled onions is clever, but begins to feel tired after a mussel or two. I liked the crisp-skinned grilled duck breast served with a smear of puréed umeboshi (pickled plum) and a thicket of wild Japanese mushrooms frizzled on the grill. The wild rice with cabbage and ginger was as fragrant as the summer woods. But in the end, Paley may be a place to come for a strawberry Pimm's Cup and a bite of braised bacon on the patio, or an espresso and a dish of popcorn-flavored ice cream with powdered brown butter after a movie.

Do remember to take a look at the remarkable Dustin Yellin art in the plaza out front, a monumental blend of installation and collage that looks like a cross between a Jonathan Borofsky sculpture and the perfervid mind of a third-grader.

Paley

A grand Hollywood restaurant, with a veteran chef who likes fire and small plates

LOCATION:

6115 Sunset Blvd. Suite 100, Hollywood; (323) 544-9430; www.paleyhollywood.com.

PRICES:

Snacks $9-$12; raw bar $14-$15 (plateau $38); appetizers $11-$20; main courses $18-$32; desserts $6-$9.

DETAILS:

Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs., 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch Sat.-Sun, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking accessible from El Centro Avenue and Gower Street.

RECOMMENDED DISHES:

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Foie gras mousse; coal-roasted A5 Wagyu beef; grilled duck breast with umeboshi purée; popcorn ice cream.

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