Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Seaside in Hollywood - The Hungry Cat

Deep in the heart of Hollywood, amongst all the touristy and mainstream retail shops lies one of the area's best hidden (literally) eateries in The Hungry Cat. Opened by Chef-Owner David Lentz with his celebrated wife, Chef Suzanne Goin (of Lucques, AOC and Tavern fame), The Hungry Cat is one of those casual, laid back places that can satisfy at any time of the day.

Located in a small walkway behind the Borders bookstore, with no real signage (save a cute sidewalk standee that's put outside its entrance (sometimes)), The Hungry Cat remains one of the best complements to a night out at the Arclight, or if you're in the area and craving some fresh seafood and drinks. :)

I remember my first visit to The Hungry Cat years ago, walking in on a lazy afternoon, my guest and I enjoyed a well-made cocktail and their Lobster Roll, all in a comforting, relaxing setting. Since that first visit through today, The Hungry Cat has remained consistently gratifying, from the minimalist decor and clean lines to the extremely fresh seafood.

Besides the simple, focused printed menu, The Hungry Cat also displays their fresh catch for the day - a variety of fresh Oysters, Crab and Lobster - as well as featured drinks on their wall-sized chalkboard.

The Hungry Cat features a variety of interesting cocktails that change throughout the year. On one visit, I start off with their Granddaddy Maple (Roasted Ginger Infused Whiskey, Lemon, Orange & Pure Maple Syrup).

There's an immediate tartness from the Lemon and Orange, but also an upfront citrus-floral nose, but it's a bit too heavy-handed with the Whiskey for my tastes.

One of the most delectable items on the menu would have to be their Lobster Roll, served on a Butter Toasted Roll with French Fries.

The Lobster meat has consistently been fresh, sweet, and perfectly cooked through, with the Lobster exhibiting a wondrous supple quality while still retaining a good meatiness.

The buttery, creamy Mayo, fresh Parsley and light, crisp-toasted bun rounds out this classic offering. While their Fries can be frustratingly inconsistent at times (sometimes it's crispy, piping hot and fresh, other times, over-salted and over-fried), their Lobster Roll itself continues to satisfy each time I order it.

One cocktail that's worth visiting The Hungry Cat for is their Bloody Mary. They actually offer up 5-6 different kinds of Bloody Marys, but their Traditional Bloody Mary is still my favorite.

With the outstanding Hollywood Farmer's Market literally around the corner from them, they have access to some of the freshest produce around and it shows in their Bloody Mary: Using fresh Roasted Red and Yellow Tomatoes, raw Tomatoes, Horseradish, Fresno Chilies, Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco, and fresh Citrus fruits, the bartenders blend it all together with Vodka to create their housemade Bloody Mary. It's vibrant, sweet, herbaceous, lightly spicy and always satisfying. :)

And what better way to enjoy an excellent Bloody Mary than with some fresh Oysters? The Hungry Cat's seafood bar displays all the fresh seafood they're featuring that day, with their Oysters being arguably their best offering. On this visit, we order a half dozen Hama Hamas from Washington, and a half dozen Bluepoints from Virginia.

The Hama Hamas are mild, lightly briny and vibrant. There's a great clean taste and finish. The Bluepoints are even milder, clean and inoffensive. Between the two, I enjoy the Hama Hamas more.

Their Tempura Fried Squash Blossoms (with Burrata, Fava Bean Puree, Treviso, Black Olive and Breadcrumbs) are another excellent starter.

The light breading, expertly fried, crispy, airy Squash Blossoms mixed with the silky Burrata, and a bit of earthiness from the Fava Bean Puree makes this one of the better versions around town. I've enjoyed it more than the more famous version at Pizzeria Mozza.

Probably the most famous item from The Hungry Cat, and the reason for many diners' visits, would be their Pug Burger (with Blue Cheese, Bacon and Avocado) (with an option for a Fried Egg on top).

While it may not seem very wide, make no mistake that the Pug Burger is hefty. Made with Niman Ranch Natural Beef, Chef Lentz creates a delightfully juicy, succulent Burger, well-balanced with the funk of the Blue Cheese, creamy Avocado and savoriness of the Niman Ranch Bacon on top.

Originally served on a La Brea Bakery Bun, The Hungry Cat now serves it with one made from Tavern (Chef Goin's newest restaurant). Together with a bit of Housemade Aioli, it combines to make one of the more satisfying Burgers in town. :)

On a recent visit, they're featuring 3 types of Oysters and my guests can't resist the urge to try them all. :)

We start with the Beausoleil Oysters from New Brunswick. They are surprisingly light and supple, but too mild. They're very fresh overall, with some good shucking (no shell pieces).

We move on to the Malpeque Oysters from Prince Edward Island. They're fresh, mild and lightly sweet. Meatier than the Beausoleil and more satisfying.

Finally, we try the Dabob Bay Oysters from Washington. They have a gorgeous rustic shell, and are everyone's favorite on this visit: Vibrant and infused with just the right amount of salinity to evoke images of a pleasant day traveling on the open sea. :) Excellent.

To accompany all the Oysters on this visit, I order a Maryland Mary (Traditional Bloody Mary Rimmed with Maryland Spice Mix & Served with an Oyster).

Their Maryland Mary is just as spot on as their Traditional Bloody Mary, with the Farmer's Market fresh ingredients, but their Maryland Spice Mix (a house blend of spices similar to the classic Old Bay recipe) gives each sip a more intense, peppery, spicy nuance. And the raw Oyster on top is a great topping. :)

We continue on with their Fish 'n Chips with Fried Caper Aioli.

On this day, Chef Lentz prepares pieces of Beer Battered Black Cod for the Fish 'n Chips dish, and the coating is pillowy and so thin and light that at times you almost forget that it was battered at all. The Black Cod itself is cooked just right, very tender and moist, the texture so seductively gentle.

The Fried Caper Aioli is a great alternative to the usual Tartar Sauce accompaniment, exhibiting a delicious, powerful garlic flavor in a dainty creamy Aioli that doesn't weigh heavy on the palate at all.

The Fries on this visit, however, are sadly over-fried and taste heavy and greasy.

Their Crab Cake Benedict with Black Kale, Bacon and Hollandaise arrives next.

The Crab Cake exudes a nice mixture of briny, sweet and salty, with fresh-tasting Crab meat. But it's the breading, which is too heavy, that brings down an otherwise excellent dish. The Poached Egg is flawless, and the Hollandaise reflects some excellent skills by the back of the house with its weightless creaminess.

The Hungry Cat Cobb Salad (with Crab, Tuna and Shrimp) is the final savory course on a recent visit.

It's a beautiful arrangement as it arrives at our table, and digging beneath the rows of ingredients reveals a lightly dressed Salad (joy :), something that seems to be rarer and rarer these days. The Eggs are cool, and not overly chilled (another plus), the cooked Shrimp taste very fresh and naturally sweet, but the Bacon is cold, moist and salty (not a good combination); it would've elevated this Salad greatly to have crisped Bacon. And the Tuna is a bit too salty as well. They've also messed up the proportions of the Pecorino and Crab: There's so much Pecorino Cheese that it feels more like a "Salad of Cheese" than of leafy green vegetables, and the Crab is nothing more than a couple bites worth.

For dessert, we try their Housemade Eggnog, which is one of the best Eggnog beverages I've had at a restaurant in the past few years. The festive, fragrant aroma of Cinnamon and Nutmeg greets you first, followed by a lightly sweet, frothy and creamy glass of goodness. :)

I love Pears, so I was really looking forward to their Pear Crisp (with Dates, Walnuts and Creme Anglaise).

While the Baked Pear is soft and gives off a radiance of warmth, there's not enough of the delicious "Crisp" portion. The crisp, toasted crumbles are delicious, but too sparse, leaving most of the dessert with just Pears and Creme Anglaise (which are delicious), but more Crisp would've made this dessert perfect.

Service at The Hungry Cat over the years has been fine. The various servers I've encountered have generally been casual, but attentive to our needs. Prices for the Rawbar (Seafood) range from $2 all the way up to $155 (for a massive 3 Tier Seafood Platter). Entrees range from $10 - $26. Cocktails from $7 - $13.

The Hungry Cat represents one of those charming little hidden eateries, slightly off the beaten path, that despite being landlocked in Hollywood, consistently serves some very fresh seafood, and some tasty signature dishes like their Lobster Roll and Pug Burger. Add in the wonderful Farmer's Market-driven Bloody Marys, a place for Brunch, Lunch or Dinner, and walking distance to the Arclight, and you have the makings of a winner. :)

Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0)

The Hungry Cat
1535 Vine Street (behind Borders bookstore)
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tel: (323) 462-2155

Hours: Mon - Wed, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 11:00 p.m.
Thurs - Sat, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.


Anna A. said...

I've been dying to pay the Hungry Cat a visit! Great report and pictures. I love bloody mary's too. Yum!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna A,

Thanks. :) You gotta hit up Hungry Cat soon! :) And especially if you love Bloody Marys. Let me know how your visit goes. :)

g said...

We went to the Hungry Cat a couple years ago, and ate dinner at the counter, and really enjoyed it. I remember we had a cocktail that was quite delicious, and my partner had mussels cooked in a spicy broth with chorizo. I don't even remember my meal, his was so good!

Looking at all those oysters makes me swoon! We have to go back.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi g,

Very nice. :) Definitely love their fresh seafood as well. Let me know if you go back. :)

burumun said...

Ahh I've only been here for their CrabFest but it was really2 good and I loved their cocktails as well. I don't know why I haven't been back, it's such a great place. Thanks for reminding me about it!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi burumun,

Nice! The Hungry Cat's Crabfest is reason enough to go. :) Hope you enjoy the follow-up visit. :)

Noah said...

This is one of those places that's been on my list for years, yet I never wind up going to. I'm afraid, I suppose, that I could get very easily excited and wind up spending a hundred plus bucks on lunch (with drinks, of course).

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Noah,

Masaka! We have to rectify that. :) It's a great place to hit up, especially since it's so close to Arclight. :)

Peter said...

I think this is the first place you blogged on that I have actually been to already. Great seafood.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Peter,

Nice! :) I'm glad you like The Hungry Cat as well. :)

Michael said...

Hey, Exile--

We went to Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara a couple weeks ago, even though we'd never been to the one here. Gotta say, it was really delicious. I agree with everything you said! Did they have the spiny lobster and pork belly dish when you went? It was crazy amazing. Served over potato puree with brussel sprouts and shiitake mushrooms. Great selection of local spirits, too!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Michael,

Nice! :) Thanks for your report back. I've never been to the Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara, but I'm glad to hear it's also very good. No, they weren't serving a Pork Belly dish the multiple times I've been there (bad timing I guess). Darn. :( I'll be looking for it the next time I'm there. :)

g said...

Hi, Exile,

We went to the Hungry Cat last weekend, and when we got there it was still early so they were only serving their "midday" menu.

We had the peel and eat shrimp, which were fantastic, a dozen Beausoleil oysters, the marinated mussels and the tandoori hamachi - the latter two just absolutely wonderful. The cucumber pickles served with the hamachi were just amazing.

At first glance, the menu was disappointing because there seemed to be so few choices, but after eating we were totally satisfied.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi g,

Thank you for the report back. :) I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed your visit to The Hungry Cat. Like you, the very first time I went years ago, I remember looking at their sparse menu and thinking the same thing. :)

And then after having a great Lobster Roll there and some fresh seafood, I have complaints. :)

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