Monday, August 25, 2008

Dazzling The Senses With Something Organic, Fresh and Delicious - APPLE Restaurant

*** Update: This restaurant is now Closed.
*** Update: Chef Bryan Ogden has left Apple Restaurant, and his excellent Tasting Menu is now a thing of the past at this location.

When I first heard about Apple Restaurant & Lounge, my initial reaction was "Oh great, another manufactured venue with Food, Clubbing and Shows all wrapped up together." But thanks to Eater LA's extensive coverage prior to its opening (this past weekend), it seemed that Apple was at least serious about one aspect: The Food, with Bryan Ogden serving as Chef-Owner of Apple Restaurant. Chef Bryan Ogden is son of award-winning Chef Bradley Ogden (of the Bay Area Lark Creek Inn fame), and worked with his father in the kitchen of Caesar's Palace's Bradley Ogden Restaurant, besides Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. Apple's website states that Chef Ogden would be focusing on using Organic ingredients as much as possible, sourcing directly from "the farmers, ranchers and fisherman," along with a menu that changes daily.

Intrigued, I made reservations for their opening weekend to see if it might be possible to have great food amidst a lounge and nightly Pussycat Dolls shows. We arrived early to beat the lounge crowd and to focus on the food. Thankfully, we found out that Apple Lounge was currently only open 3 nights a week (Tues, Fri, Sat), so it was all about the food and atmosphere tonight. :)

The first thing that struck me as we walked up to the space was just how gorgeous and modern Apple looked: Sleek metallic lines, bronzed tiles along the inner wall, a water wall along the back patio; it felt modern and stylish without approaching gaudy.

We arrived 5 minutes early and were seated promptly, being the first table of the evening. While the outdoor patio was beautiful, it was just a bit too warm, and we opted to sit indoors, which was elegant and simple with a bar along the closest wall when you enter. We opted for their Spontaneous Nine Course Tasting Menu and ordered some cocktails while we were waiting: I began with their Watermelon Martini, which was pretty good, with some fresh Watermelon flavor, but a touch too much alcohol for my tastes.

The Amuse Bouche arrived, and from the very first course, one of Apple Restaurant's best characteristics came shining through: Outstanding Service and Plating. Our Amuse of Washington Kumamoto Oyster, Ponzu Vinaigrette was presented in beautiful, simple fashion, on an indented porcelain plate (to hold each tablespoon).

More importantly, the Kumamoto Oyster was fresh, lightly briny (in a good way) and delicious, with their housemade Ponzu sauce providing a nice balance without overpowering the Oysters themselves.

When we were finished, our plates were quietly and promptly removed without us having to even look to any of the waitstaff (a nice touch and something that has been missing from many of the local higher-end dining destinations). The next Amuse arrived: Osetra Caviar, Potato Rosti, Green Fuji Apple. Like before, the plating was original and gorgeous, with a diagonally-fluted plate design.

Our server explained that one of the goals Chef Ogden hoped to achieve at Apple was the easy accessibility of a combination of flavors and textures with each bite, and he certainly achieved that here: The Osetra Caviar worked beautifully with the Potato Rosti - with nice, crisped edges and a creamy inside - along with the little crunch from the Fuji Apple, and slight tang from the Creme Fraiche. Delicious!

We were offered bread service at this time, and I decided to try their Zucchini Muffin and Black Olive Bread. Apple Restaurant bakes all of their breads in-house, and the Zucchini Muffin was fragrant and light. The Black Olive Bread was equally delicious with nice pieces of Black Olive interspersing the soft bread itself.

Continuing on, our next Amuse arrived: Organic Yellow Corn Soup, Marinated Maine Lobster, Black Pepper Beignet. This was presented in a cute cup and plate, reminiscent of drinking coffee in a relaxed cafe somewhere. :) The Organic Corn Soup tasted very fresh and naturally sweet, and the light accent of Lime worked nicely with the soup and chunks of Maine Lobster, which was very good and cooked perfectly. The Black Pepper Beignet, however, felt like a throwaway in this dish, being a little too doughy and not really adding anything to the dish (except a texture change). Still, overall, this was another good dish.

Our next dish was an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Poached Salmon, Lemon Butter Puree. This was another unique plate with a beautiful presentation. The Poached Salmon was cooked just fine, and it was complemented nicely by the Fried Shallot Rings (so fragrant!) and Organic Orange Pieces and the Baby Pancake, but ultimately, the Salmon got overshadowed by the Lemon Butter Puree. The dish was a nice combination of flavors and textures (like before), that was engaging, but the star of the dish got lost a bit here.

Our "First Course" arrived at this point, with Fried Georgia Shrimp, Vegetable Spring Roll, Ginger-Carrot Foam. The Georgia Shrimp was very good, accented with pan-fried Green Onions and Salt and Pepper, making it similar to a more elegant, lighter (and healthier) Jiao Yen Hsia (Salt & Pepper Shrimp) found in Hong Kong / Cantonese restaurants. :) The batter was perfect and added a nice crunch to the sweetness of the Georgia Shrimp.

The Vegetable Spring Roll was also nicely cooked, with a nice variety of summer vegetables. The Spring Roll itself had a nice crunch without being too thick or oily, and the slice of fresh Radish on top was a great counterbalance.

I was in a cocktail mood tonight, so I asked the sommelier for a recommendation for something that wouldn't overpower the dishes we were having, but would still be refreshing. He brought out a Pimm's Cup, which was perfect! Nice, light and refreshing, based off of Pimm's No. 1, a gin-based drink.

The next course arrived soon after: Organic Summer Vegetables and Tiny Lettuces, Ricotta Croquette, Smoked Tomato, Fava Bean Vinaigrette. This was presented on another distinct plate, and the pictures don't do it justice, but it was visually stunning, with all the natural colors of the various Summer Vegetables and Fruit.

While on paper it might've sounded mundane, the dish itself was anything but that: This was a true celebration of Summer, and really showed off Chef Ogden's strengths. The Organic Vegetables were brilliant, and each bite played off each other, with an excellent use of Watermelon bites providing a nice, natural sweetness, which acted as an unexpected and beautiful foil to the light bitterness of the Arugula and savory aspects of the rest of the vegetables (Squash Blossom, Asparagus, etc.). The Ricotta Croquettes were delicious, tasting almost like little Potato Ricotta Gnocchi deep-fried. (^_^) And the housemade Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette bound it all together. One of my favorite dishes of the evening.

I took a break at this time and walked around the rest of the restaurant a bit. Here we see a tease for the Pussycat Dolls show, apparently opening next month:

The rest of the dining area is just as simple and elegant as the main dining room:

When I came back to the table, I found that my cloth napkin had been replaced by a new one and folded, a nice touch.

The next course arrived: Wild Oregon Chanterelle Tart, American Prosciutto, Fava Bean Salad, Wild Arugula, Pinenut Vinaigrette, on another distinct plate different from before.

The Prosciutto by itself and with the Pinenut Vinaigrette was a bit too salty. However when eaten with the Chanterelle Tart and bits of the Fava Bean Salad, it completely transformed the dish. The wonderful, buttery flakiness of the Tart completely balanced out the Prosciutto, making the equivalent of nirvana in my mouth. Very tasty! (^_^)

Our next course was: Eggplant Parmesan, Mozzarella, Basil Pesto, Crispy Garlic. The Eggplant Parmesan turned out to be encased in a large Ravioli pasta, and the chunks of Mozzarella, Swiss Chard and Crispy Garlic with a dab of the Basil Pesto was *so* delicious and fragrant! Unfortunately, the Eggplant Parmesan Ravioli was too salty. Even my companion commented that it was too salty as well. If the sodium was toned down a bit, this would've been a great dish.

Continuing on: Pan Roasted Virginia Wild Striped Bass, Florida's Frog's Legs, Runner Bean Ragout, Tapenade, Lemon Thyme. This was probably the only complete "miss" for me, for the Tasting Menu: I liked how Chef Ogden presented a nicely crisped Wild Striped Bass (the skin was perfectly crispy), but it was a bit too pungent and fishy for my tastes; not as fresh as I had hoped. It was also (like the last dish), just too salty. I looked up after taking the first bite, and my companion said the same thing at the same time. Besides that, the Runner Bean Ragout and Wild Rice components were very tasty! Maybe it was because I just enjoyed excellent seafood with Chef Cimarusti at Providence, but the fish was a disappointment here.

Our next course arrived, beautifully-plated as well: Sous Vide Niman Ranch Pork Trio, Lacano Kale Pierogi, Roasted Radishes, Fennel-Fig Emulsion.

This was essentially a nice exploration of all things Pork: We started with the Sous-Vide Pork, which was wonderfully tender (as to be expected). By itself, it was a touch salty, but with the Black Mission Fig and its inherent sweetness, this was just perfect!

The Crisped Pork Belly was just perfect! It was so mouth-wateringly delicious and unctuous. The texture was spot-on, being fried to the right consistency while still having a great, moist interior. Amazing!

The Roasted Pork Tenderloin was next, and after the Crisped Pork Belly, it was a bit of a letdown, but still good. (^_~) Like the Sous-Vide Pork, the Pork Tenderloin was a touch salty, but with the Green Fig pairing (which was less sweet than the Black Mission Fig, but more fragrant), it really elevated the Pork Tenderloin to something greater.

The Lacano Kale Pierogi was a disappointment however: The Pierogi outer skin that was used ended up tasting more like a Fried Wonton, and it was overcooked. The Wonton-like skin was so thick and overfried that you weren't able to taste the filling at all.

One thing that was really nice throughout the evening was the choice of Music: Quiet, but energetic Lounge and Electronica, with some Trip-Hop thrown in for good measure. It just added to a nice, sophisticated night on the town. Ultimately it's personal taste, but at least it wasn't as loud as say, Osteria Mozza's tunes.

Our final main course arrived for the evening, and was a real surprise: Japanese Grade A5 Wagyu Strip Loin, Yukon Gold Potato Foam, Roasted Maitake, Red Wine Essence. The fact that they got Grade A5 Wagyu Beef from Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan was a surprise, in this day and age of seemingly every restaurant using "American Kobe Beef." (FYI: For those that are curious about Grade A5, I wrote a little blurb on it here. :) As before, another unique plate and plating design served to highlight the king of Japanese Beef.

Taking a bite, and it was definitely real: Amazing marbling, pure buttery goodness! (^_^) It was cooked perfectly Rare-to-Medium-Rare, allowing the natural marbled Wagyu perfection to shine. The A5 Wagyu by itself was so good, but with a dab of the Maitake Foam and Yukon Gold Potato Foam, and it was heavenly! :) The Red Wine Reduction was a nice complement, but a tad too powerful for the A5. Ultimately, I prefer Urasawa's preparation for A5 Wagyu better, but this was another highlight of the evening.

We began our Dessert portion of the Tasting Menu with Artisan American Cheeses: Point Reyes Blue, Bellweather Farms Carmody, Humboldt Fog Chevre. The aspect I enjoyed the most was that Chef Ogden paired each Cheese with something distinct (instead of the usual freeform Cheese plates).

My favorite was the Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, paired with an Ice Wine Reduction. The natural bold aroma and flavors of the Goat Cheese went really nicely with the Ice Wine Reduction.

The Carmody was paired nicely with a housemade Brioche, and the Point Reyes Blue was nicely offset with Toasted Walnuts and slices of Green Fuji Apple.

Our next course was just another striking example of beautiful Plating and Design: Heirloom Melon Tasting, Watermelon Broth, Cantaloupe Sorbet, Crenshaw Melon. It was served in a giant, elegant "spoon." :)

I really liked the fresh Watermelon Broth, and the Cantaloupe Sorbet was refreshing and lightly sweet, with the Cantaloupe taste coming through nicely. The Crenshaw Melon was grilled, and in the broth, it provided a nice texture variation, but didn't shine as brightly as the Broth and Sorbet.

I had thought we were done, but Chef Ogden surprised us with a crazy finale: A 9-Item Dessert Tasting! The presentation was stunning and beautiful, and I was in Dessert Heaven just by looking at it. (^_^)
What's even more impressive is that currently Chef Byran Ogden is creating all of the desserts as well!

I started at the Top Left, and began with the Lemon Pancake, Raspberry, Lemon Curd. The Lemon Pancake and Raspberry were delicious and the Lemon Curd had a nice tartness to the sweetness of the rest of the dessert.

The Strawberry Brioche, Shiso Leaf was delicious! Natural Strawberry Juice soaked in the Brioche and the Shiso Leaf was a nice accent.

The Banana Bread was nice and fragrant, tasting of fresh Bananas (and not powdered).

The Panna Cotta Foam was also spot-on, so delicious and light and airy!

The Brioche with Vanilla was only so-so. Nothing standout about it, but serviceable.

But the Malt Ice Cream with Chocolate Crunch was so good! (^_^) Delicious, chilled and the malt ice cream and crunchy texture of the Chocolate was the highlight of the desserts.

The Homemade Donut, Strawberry Reduction (with Cocoa) was a disappointment. I was looking forward to it, but it was too small, so the result was eating a lot of deep-fried outer surface area, with not enough interior.

The Raspberry Cheesecake, was a deconstructed version of the traditional Cheesecake, and it was delicious.

Finally, the Chocolate Cromesqui was a complete Chocolate Lover's Dream! A Panko-crusted ball of pure gooey Chocolate inside! I was struggling even before the Dessert course began, and this was the finisher. :)

Our server mentioned that the name "Apple," was partially selected to reflect some of the ideals of the presentation and service from the Big Apple, of the focused, dedicated service at some of Manhattan's best eateries. And for only their 3rd day in operation, on that Sunday evening, their service was the best service I've had in L.A., outside of Urasawa. It was professional and crisp. It was about the little things, like promptly removing the plates when you were finished, one plate at a time (one busser stacked the plates, one time, but everyone else removed our plates one at a time). When a fork on one of my finished plates slid and clanked in the plate as it was being removed, our waitress offered a quiet apology: "Excuse me." And many other little touches. To be fair, we were one of maybe 2-3 tables at any one time, so it remains to be seen if they can keep up this level of service with a full house. Our total for the evening was ~$290 per person (including tax and tip).

Another worry is just how loud Apple Restaurant can get. Throughout our Tasting Menu, with only 2-3 tables at any one time, it was *very* pleasant and a sumptuous dining experience. But just as we were leaving, a group of three loud partygoers stopped in at the bar for a drink. Their conversation could be heard everywhere in the dining area (not surprising considering the wood paneled floor and bare walls). Apple Lounge is supposed to be only active 3 nights a week (Tues, Fri, Sat), but we'll have to see how much sound dampening there is, and how much of the music from the downstairs Lounge carries upstairs.

For its Opening Weekend, Apple Restaurant has delivered in spades, under the direction of Chef Bryan Ogden, with his focus on Organic, Fresh Ingredients, Creative Plating, and Outstanding Service. There were a few missteps, but generally this was one of the most *engaging* Tasting Menus I've had in a while. Each dish in our Tasting Menu was plated with the utmost care, and with the unique plate designs (the plate itself and the design on the plate), it added a subtle but important note to enjoying food: It's visually engaging first, and then engages your other senses, which is something too often overlooked.

At first glance, Apple seems like a stereotypical "flashy L.A. / Hollywood experience," with the sleek architecture, handsome, well-groomed men, and beautiful women on staff, but Apple delivered a great dining experience. I fear that their truly outstanding service and romantic dining room may fall by the wayside when the Apple Lounge and Pussycat Dolls Shows become a part of the "Apple Experience," but for now, Apple Restaurant and Chef Bryan Ogden deliver one of the best Tasting Menus in town.

Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0)

*** Update: Chef Bryan Ogden has left Apple Restaurant, and his excellent Tasting Menu is now a thing of the past at this location.

Apple Restaurant & Lounge
665 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tel: (310) 358-9191

Hours: Wed - Mon, 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.


mstinawu said...

Looks delish--but $290/person for those portions? I'd rather throw in another $100 for dinner at Urasawa. OK, OK. Different types of food--I won't compare. =P In any case, I was actually really intrigued when I first read this review and already decided I wanted to go there after skimming through the pictures, but it just seems like a lot. 9 courses though.. It is a lot. Were you full afterward?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi mstinawu,

Yah, actually the Spontaneous Nine Course Tasting Menu (it was more than 9 courses as you can see :), is $175 per person, but we had quite a few cocktails (not shown) and bottled waters, and a generous tip because of the great service. :)

We were *so* full and my companion loves to eat (with a big appetite) and even he could barely finish.

Charlie Fu said...

There are coming to be far too many $150+ tasting menu meals in Los Angeles. Even new restaurants burst out at $175 a menu.

It's disheartening , just like the advent of new $175 cabernets from Napa.

It's getting hard to see what's worth it or just following the trend.

Glad this one was worth the $$!

Anonymous said...

Ok I wouldn't eat and spend as much as you did. (I hope you knew price was going to be the focus when you mentioned $290/person) I will definitely make reservations soon, the decor looks fabulous and the food looks even better! My mouth was watering while looking at the deserts. I've been to Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas and their food was amazing! You gotta expect a lively crowd with any restaurant on Robertson Blvd...for the people who like the quit atmosphere I always say to get there before 8pm because most restaurants in LA are loud in the night time. Thanx for the pics!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Food looks beautiful. Your review has made me curious, but i heard on Goodday LA (i think) that you need to have "connections" to go to Apple... unless that only relates to the lounge part. Is that true? You mentioned you went early, how early?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

Thanks. Yah, I agree about new restaurants debuting with higher priced Tasting Menus. An unfortunate trend that hopefully gets reversed soon. Otherwise it was a great evening. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anonymous 1,

Thanks for the kind words. :)


Hi Anonymous 3,

No, we were able to get reservations with no problems. That comment must've been just for the Lounge. The Restaurant is taking reservations. We had a 6:00 p.m. Dinner reservation. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Did you meet Brian Ogden? I wonder if he's actually there every day.

Exile Kiss said...

Yes, I met Chef Ogden briefly that day. As for if he's in every day, you should just call in and confirm if he'd be cooking the day of your reservation to be sure. Enjoy!

Epicuryan said...

That meal looks very good. I was looking for a place to take my foodie friend for his birthday, this might fit the bill nicely.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi tangbro1,

Thanks. If you end going, please report back; I hope you enjoy your meal there. :)

Food, she thought. said...

what a wonderful review. thank you so much for the time and attention to detail, and your amazing photos. i want to eat here, sometime soon. i have loved the food of both ogdens...and have a feeling apple will be a great adddition to the LA dining scence.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Food, she thought,

Thanks you. :) Yes, so far, Chef Ogden's dishes at Apple have been very good (with some missteps noted), but generally delicious.

If you end up going, please report back, or I'll look for your thoughts on CH. :)

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