Wednesday, May 26, 2010

District: the home of Duck Fat Yorkshire Pudding in the heart of Hollywood

District is the new Hollywood spot from George Abou-Daoud, who owns spots including Mission Cantina, Delancey, the Bowery and the Mercantile (next door to District). The chef is Kris Morningstar who most recently was the opening chef at Casa (in California Plaza, across from Starry Kitchen), and prior to that was at 750 ml, Blue Velvet, Meson G, AOC, Grace and Patina. I guess you could say that Morningstar gets around.

District is a bistro / gastropub going for a classic old Hollywood look, as if it had been there forever, although it just opened two months ago at the end of March. The website touts its nearly 100 year old bar. I found myself there this past Sunday for a light bite before heading to the Mutineer Magazine party at Falcon nearby.

The meal began with an amuse of burrata cheese with blueberry and hazelnut. It was a pleasant and unexpected way to begin the meal. At a restaurant where almost all the entrees hover just over the $20 mark, an amuse bouche is surprising. A nice touch but I am not sure it fits with the casual vibe of the restaurant. Perhaps it is a sign of Morningstar's ambitions.

The first section on the menu is labeled breads and had duck fat yorkshire pudding, house made dinner rolls, and biscuits, each for $3. I ordered the dinner rolls with truffle butter and the yorkshire pudding.

The dinner rolls with truffle butter (first picture above) came in an order of four connected rolls with both the truffle butter and the garlic chive butter. The flavor of the garlic chive butter was very strong, so much as to be unappetizing. However, the truffle butter was delicious and had large chunks of mushroom in it (no simple truffle oil here). I enjoyed the butter so much I kept it to use on the pudding.

Nearly all the opening press mentioned the Duck Fat popovers, called Duck Fat Yorkshire Pudding w Thyme on the menu. They come six to an order and arrive in a napkin. (Bottom of the two pictures above.) It is a variation of the classic English dish of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. The puddings were eggy, warm, and rich, like a savory French Toast. Note that the menu warns to expect this dish to take 15 minutes as it is cooked to order.

I followed up my cavalcade of breads with an order of "Bone Marrow in the Style of Fergus Henderson with Parsley Salad, Pickled Pearl Onions, Fried Capers and Bread." ($9) It was a bold move to pay homage to Fergus Henderson, the chef/proprietor of St. John restaurant in London and one of the leading proponents of nose to tail dining. The bone marrow is one of his signature dishes and one I tried last year at a dinner at St. John. This version was not nearly as good and had too little parsley to evoke Henderson's dish. It was served with a dish of gray salt, in addition to the accompaniments mentioned above. There were two cylinders of bone with marrow and two toasts; as the bones contained a lot of marrow, two toasts is not enough. I recommend that they serve three toasts with this dish or proactively ask if more is needed. The dish was tasty but it wasn't special in the way the title led me to believe it might be, although it is a very good value.

The entree of dry aged chop steak comes with a side of aged beef fat fries. I was curious about these fries but was not up to ordering an entree as I had eaten a lot and was about to go to an event where food was being served. The chef came out of the kitchen while I was eating the marrow and I asked him if I could have the beef fat fries as a side. He said they don't usually do that but was willing to do so this time. The fries had a beefy assertive flavor: these were not shy potatoes but spuds cooked in beef fat and smelled of it. They were served with a dipping sauce and came with herbs (green onions?) on them. Not something I would order again but I was glad for the opportunity to try them.

The restaurant is attractive but was almost completely empty when I was there from 6:15 - 7:15 on a Sunday evening. Despite the fact that only one table was occupied and I was the only patron at the bar, service was poor. I had to ask several times to get a glass of water and it was never refilled. The bartender/waiter did not know how to use the POS system to input my order. His delay meant the 15 minute wait for the popovers turned into a 25 minute wait, which was annoying. It would have been much faster if he had walked the 20 feet to the kitchen to input my order while he tried to figure out the complicated technology.

This same bartender/waiter also refused to ask the kitchen if they would make me the fries a la carte, instead as part of the steak entree. He said, "we don't do that here. It's part of the meal." If he had gone into the kitchen and they refused, that is their prerogative. I found it frustrating that he wouldn't even ask, especially considering that when the chef came out to the front of the house, he was willing to do so. I wouldn't have gotten to try the fries otherwise. In short customer service is lacking, although the staff is cheerful.

Surprisingly for a restaurant of this type, there is no beer on tap, only 9 bottles that range in price from $6 to $12. I had a Weihenstephaner Weiss Bier ($6) which was refreshing. There are several wines by the glass in each category, although many of the bottles are quite expensive relative to the price point of the menu.

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