For everyone who wears glasses: remember the first pair you ever got? After months (or in my case, over a year) of blurriness and haze, the moment that you put on your first pair of glasses might almost be classified as magical—at least it was for me.
After struggling with myopia for over a year in fourth grade, partially due to not knowing any better, but mostly because I didn't want to be uncool ("four-eyes" was the insult du jour in school), I finally got the nerve to ask my parents to take me to see the optometrist.
Fast-forwarding all the boring bits, let me tell you the moment the optometrist opened the case and presented me with my new gold and lavender rimmed pair of glasses, my hand shook. I was entering the ranks of the "four-eyes," but, holy moly, did the world look amazingly sharp. I saw the texture in the carpet, the sound-proof holes in the ceiling and the crater-sized pores sprinkled over my optometrist's face (yes, I still remember to this day). It was exciting to see the world in a fresh new way.
My lunch at RH was a similar experience. Like glasses, I was avoiding RH because it was located within the Andaz Hotel (normally a tell-tale sign for boring, $ food at $$$ price). I was highly skeptical of the caliber of the kitchen, but, they had included duck confit and rum baba in their dineLA menu, both of which are some of my favorite foods, so off I went with my friend.
When we arrived, the host graciously seated us next to the kitchen, which was simply a work of art. There were no walls, just a wide marble counter and a cooking range that can comfortably fit 4 chefs and a garde manger station. Beyond the range was a floor-to-ceiling glass walk-in where the fresh foods were displayed like jewels.
They first started us off with a small loaf of sour-dough baguette—warm and crusty from the oven. The butter was also presented at the optimal temperature for spreadability and sprinkled with fresh ground pepper. My only critique was the butter could have used a grinding of salt as well, but that's splitting hairs.
Next came the Prince Edward Island mussels, baked in a cast-iron plate with a sauvignon blanc cream sauce and bread crumbs. A balanced delight of briny mollusks tempered by the cream and crispy crumb topping.
As for my friend, he chose the shrimp ceviche, which was a solid combination of lime-cooked shrimps, and garden fresh vegetables—perfect for a summer day.
For the main attraction, both of us ordered the Petaluma duck confit, and it was stunning. Normally, hotel restaurants try to over-complicate food by adding foams, purees and other showmanship tricks to compensate for their prices, yet failing in capturing the true essence of the ingredients, but not so at RH. They provided a crystal clear flavor profile with a simply well-seasoned, well-confit duck leg with expertly crisped skin. The duck was then paired with a tasty mix of oven-roasted red potatoes, spring onions, earthy shitake mushrooms and caramelized shallots atop a light pan sauce. There was no garnish because the dish didn't need any.
They really hit the ball out of park with my dessert, which was the rum baba topped with vanilla whipped cream and a fruit minestone soup. It was a play of tastes and textures with the almost-heavy rum soaked cake, sweet cream and the tart fruit compote.
My friend's walnut cake wasn't half bad either. Crispy on the outside, while soft and moist on the inside, it was paired with crunchy walnuts, caramel ribbons and vanilla bean ice cream. Aptly made, but lacked the extra something that the rum baba had, which was the play between the flavors. Something salty would add some interest, perhaps bacon and a light sprinkling of fleur de sel?
After the wonderful meal, I had a brief conversation with the executive chef, Sebastien Archambault. He shared his cooking philosophy, which was to cook with farm fresh ingredients and letting them shine and gave me a tour of his open-kitchen.
Having worked in a kitchen before, I asked if it is nerve-wrecking to cook in front of patrons just a few feet over, but Chef Archambault said it really teaches one to cook efficiently. Also, I asked what does he like to cook outside of the restaurant as it's a fascination of mine to see what chefs eat. His answer was a fresh, simple caprese. Well, I look forward to going back and who knows, maybe I can sample a RH caprese... bet it would be delicious.