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Mark Peel has been a fixture in the Los Angeles restaurant scene for the past 30 years. As a native Californian, Peel worked in a series of kitchen jobs in high school and enrolled in the hotel and restaurant program at Cal Polytechnic University in Pomona. While in college, he landed a job with Wolfgang Puck peeling vegetables at Ma Maison. Later, he became the sous chef at Michael McCarty’s restaurant, Michael’s in Santa Monica. While working with McCarty, Peel met and later married the pastry chef, Nancy Silverton.
With an opportunity to work with Puck again, he became the original head chef at Spago in 1982. Years later, Peel and Silverton opened La Brea Bakery and Campanile restaurant on La Brea Ave. just a few blocks south of Tar Pit.
His latest venture is Tar Pit on La Brea, with a 1940s Hollywood glamour supper club décor. Art Deco ironwork separates the dark booths, and a long bar with an abundance of stools offers an amusing cocktail list. The cocktails are arranged by categories: More tart than Sweet, Crushed, A Little Adventure and Spirited & Direct. The bartender squeezes fresh fruit juice into the glass, has a variety of housemade simple syrups and good bitters. Cocktails are $12.
Glancing at the whimsically designed one page food menu, I noticed a lot of fun dishes and light meals. Pickled deviled eggs with bacon, fried oysters with crisp ginger and preserved lemon remoulade, and macaroni and cheese with Gruyere, cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan.
We ordered the crab salad with large lumps of blue crab, sliced fingerling potatoes, diced roasted red peppers, celery, chervil, chives and tossed lightly with a subtle saffron dressing. It was scrumptious.
Next, arrived juicy duck confit sliders with crisp little cracklings rendered from the duck fat and topped with an orange gastrique. They were presented with a small frisée salad on the side. Still a tad hungry we noticed almost every table had a heaping plate of Tar Pit fries, so we ordered one to see what the buzz was about. Crisp on the outside and tender inside, the potatoes are sprinkled with a spicy lemon salt, although I couldn’t taste the lemon, especially after dipping the fries into the heavenly housemade garlic aioli.
Peel was inspired to name his restaurant Tar Pit after watching the movie “My Man Godfrey,” with William Powell as Godfrey. Godfrey, a down and out man in the beginning, opens a fabulous bar at the end of the movie called, The Dump. Its location is at the exact spot where he was discovered in the beginning of the movie. (Not to mention, it’s a stone’s throw from the famed La Brea Tar Pits)
Peel seems to have good luck with his restaurants on La Brea Ave. He spends half his time at his successful Campanile and the other half at Tar Pit. He is very hands on.
We finished our meal with two desserts, an apple tatin arrived with sliced apples, kiwi fruit, spiced walnuts, puff pastry with a generous dollop of whipped crème fraiche and embellished with caramel. The other dessert, and my favorite, was the chocolate caramel tart with little scoops of bitters and orange ice cream bathed in chocolate sauce.
As we were leaving, the hostess invited us to come back on Sunday evening to hear the live rock/blues band, Vintage Trouble. Their influence is Ray Charles, Prince, Ike & Tina and The Rolling Stones. The band starts playing at 9 p.m. Check the Tar Pit website to see the band’s monthly schedule. On Mondays, Peel has a burlesque show that begins at 9:30 p.m.
With an affordable menu and live entertainment, I can see why this elegant supper club is packed with people nightly. Open for dinner and late night dining from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Happy Hour begins at 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. 609 N. La Brea Ave., (323)965-1300. $-$$ http://tarpitbar.squarespace.com
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