One of my favorite meals in 2015 was at Cavatina in the Sunset Marquis Hotel. I dined like a rock star at this hideaway restaurant within blocks of the Sunset Strip. Since the hotel opened its doors in 1963, real rock stars have enjoyed the world-class sound studio and have parked their tour bus underground to be incognito to their fans. Giant guitars are strategically placed in the gardens leading to the restaurant.
During awards season, the hotel sells out as actors, musicians, filmmakers, and supermodels reserve suites or villas. They also frequent Cavatina to enjoy innovative fare prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow and the new executive chef Jonathan Kim.
Schlow is a familiar face on television, appearing on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” “The Today Show,” and “Good Morning America.” He earned Best Chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation, and the Culinary Award of Excellence by Robert Mondavi Winery.
Schlow introduced himself as I enjoyed a glass of Alpha Omega unoaked chardonnay from Napa Valley and an amuse bouche of a Kusshi oyster with a dollop of fennel puree and Oscietra caviar. He said he first started working in restaurants as a dishwasher at age 14.
“I wanted to be a professional baseball player, yet after getting hurt in college, I started working in some of the best restaurants in the world,” Schlow said. Not only is he the owner and concept creator at Cavatina, he owns seven other restaurants in Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Wellesley, Boston and Mashantucket, CT. Cavatina is Schlow’s first West Coast restaurant.
He recently hired Kim, who previously cooked at Water Grill, Providence, Taste on Melrose, and Bashan in Glendale, to collaborate in the kitchen.
The Korean-American chef combines innovative Asian flavors in Cavatina’s dishes. I told him he succeeded with his artistic plate of scallop crudo drizzled with nori oil, small cubes of pickled apples, and a small pyramid of sesame powder, hijiki seaweed and sliced radish. His dish of tender pork belly on kimchi risotto with a sunny side egg was another winning plate with crispy shallots and sweet chiles giving texture and a touch of heat.
Other seafood dishes were the hamachi with a streak of red pepper confit made with olives, chilies and a sprinkle of sea salt. Sliced bright purple plum radish decorated the dish.
The albacore poke with Dragon fruit gel, tobiko – a flying fish roe – and a coconut soy sauce was inspired by a trip to Hawaii.
“I love the beauty of albacore fish. Chef Kim and I messed around with textures and flavors to create this dish,” Shlow said. The chefs peeled and seeded red-skinned dragonfruit, added a little gelatin to the seeds to make a gel. It was served with micro greens and a black squid ink rice crisp.
Warm dishes included shrimp and lobster with chorizo Piquillo pepper, spicy aioli, pearl onion, and crispy black rice served in a silver skillet.
Another unique dish was the grilled octopus with a black hummus made from black chick pea puree, olives and fresno chiles.
My favorite entree was a slow cooked ocean trout with Brussels sprouts and lemon oil emulsion with chives and dill. It was creamy without added cream or butter and served with a towering crispy fish skin chicharrón.
A glass of Daou Reserve 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles went smoothly with the prime dry-aged N.Y. strip steak with chestnut puree, purple cauliflower flowerets and a veal jus with red wine reduction.
After my surf and turf themed meal, Chef Kim brought out a creme fraiche cheesecake with a hazelnut crumble and scoop of Fossleman’s espresso ice cream to finish the evening. “Michael Schlow is one of the most kind and generous chefs I have ever worked with in a kitchen,” Kim said.
These two chefs make quite a winning team bringing exciting new menu changes to Cavatina each season. Be sure to put Cavatina on your culinary list for 2016.
The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. $$$ Parking validation is available 1200 Alta Loma Road. (310)358-3759.
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