Saturday, May 12, 2012

BLVD 16: Commuters' Refuge at the Hotel Palomar

Raise your hand if you knew of the existence of a hotel on that stretch of Wilshire between Westwood and Beverly Glen?  Yeah, me neither.  Even after over a decade and a half of living in LA.

So it was that when I received an invite to a media tasting - to check out the new drink and food menu at Blvd 16, located inside the Hotel Palomar - I was intrigued. Hidden in plain sight on busy Wilshire Boulevard, the hotel sort of gets lost among the towering glossy condos on the row.  But once I stepped inside I wondered why it took me so long to make it there.  With its modern, chic yet relaxed interiors, it's kind of a perfect pitstop for those with long commutes, like me, looking for refuge from LA's notorious road congestion during rush hour.

We started off with a round of cocktails mixed in the lounge for us: The Lyder Side ($14), made with Bols Genever, hibiscus liquer, fresh lemon juice, splash of orange juice and agave nectar was balanced and refreshing.  An expensive drink for sure on the regular list. But love cocktails that use fresh ingredients and treated with culinary care - paying attention to how flavors work together. And love restaurants that see cocktails as an integral part of their dining experience.  Hoping some of the Happy Hour 'well cocktails' that are actually affordable will be pretty good quality as well.

Then came the food: starting with a giant bowl of hummus and pita chips
Then a vibrant, beautifully plated Crudo ($10) tuna, compressed watermelon, pickled chilies, ginger aioli. In the flurry of activity, none of us really caught what the callout of ingredients when the plate was set down, and when swooping to grab bites from the communal plate, were surprised when our forks met with resistance where we expected them to make easy passage through soft fish.  Turns out the whitish bits under the avocado were albacore tuna, and the pink pieces underneath, which we all assumed to be the tuna, was really compressed watermelon! I LOVED this dish and its pairing of creamy, buttery avocado with savory, tender fish, with crunchy, juicy, sweet watermelon. And those lovely colors! Not sure if this is the size offered during regular service but if so, I would definitely come back for this on my way home one night.  

They were generous with the pours that night and all cocktails were full sized! I could barely make my way through them - such a lightweight. But I really liked the Pisco Sour ($14) Kappa pisco, fresh lemon juice, egg white and Angostura bitters. Something in the way the 'bouquet' of this drink hits the nose reminded me of those Coca-Cola candies from Haribo that I used to have as a kid - yes, a sophisticated analogy, I know - but I loved this drink for that reason.  
Then came the Flat Bread ($7) - toppings change daily according to the "chef's daily creation".  The first we tasted was with asparagus, salmon and feta cheese - this was fairly good, though I wanted more fragrant bread that had more resilience to it.

The second flat bread had more unusual toppings: squash blossom, stinging nettle pesto and burrata cheese. I liked the creativity and risk-taking...but something in this flatbread was a little too pungent for me. Same comments on bread flavor and texture as above. The flat breads are both offered as "Bar Bites", but at the same price as full menu.


Next up: Short Rib Slider ($3 each regular or 2 for $5 / 3 for $8 / 4 for $10 at Happy Hour) robbiola cheese, crispy onions.  Everyone loved these little sliders, with the cute cornichons speared with a bamboo pick at the top.  These sliders were juicy, flavorful with buns that held up nicely, and crispy onions for textural contrast.  Not bad, and you can fill up on a bunch of them with drinks at Happy Hour.

The last savory dish was the Fish Taco ($4 each regular menu or 2 for $5 / 3 for $8 /4 for $10 at Happy Hour) - corn tortilla, pickled habanero, shredded cabbage, creme fraiche. Most of the other tasters seemed to like this, but it was way too spicy for me - I had to gulp down all liquids within reach to stop my tongue from burning.  So not a fun one for me - but those who enjoy heat in their food may like these.

For the sweet finish: Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee ($8) I think these were created for the media tasting, so while I loved the presentation on spoons, I would think the $8 charge on the regular menu gets you a bigger serving - the menu does mention that it comes with lavendar cookies.  I really loved the creamy, fresh flavor and carefully controlled amount of torched sugar on top (sometimes people overdo it and it's a too hard/crunchy sugary slab instead of a delicate crust!).

A note for those into live music: when we had just started the tasting, two random looking guys came in playing acoustic guitar and wandering through the clusters of guests.  The music actually was pretty good, but they were 'plain-clothed' (if memory serves correctly, in sporty looking shirts and shorts or cargo pants) and with the wandering we thought at first that they may have been UCLA students looking to pick up a few bucks - and just haven't been kicked out by hotel staff yet, due perhaps to initial surprise at their boldness.  Turns out, they are officially sanctioned performers who will play there Thursdays 5-6:30pm.


All in all, drinks are on the pricey side, but a nice spot to provide reprieve from the madness of LA roads if this is on your commute route - there are a few nice bites that I would come back for, perhaps during "Rush Hour" to catch drink and bar deals.
                
[Deal alert:
"Rush Hour" (Happy Hour)
Daily, 4pm - 7pm
Bar Bites menu daily, 4-10:30 PM
Fab $5 Well Cocktails, $4 Selected Beers, and $3 House Red/White Wine Bar Bites served daily 4pm - 10:30pm
Saturday and Sunday bottomless mimosas]                

*Disclosure: This meal was hosted.

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BLVD 16
10740 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood,CA 90024
Ph: 310.474.7765

Parking: Valet $7

Twitter: @blvd16
Website: blvd16.com
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BLVD 16 on Urbanspoon

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