Monday, May 6, 2013

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air: Escapist Afternoon Tea

I love ads.  Creative ones that also manage to serve their purpose. I have always been in awe of copywriters as commercial artists: how they are able to so concisely convey and burn into your memory, what they want you to know of the essence of a brand/product in 30 seconds or less, and often with one deceptively simple but oh so skillfully crafted tagline.  And one of my favorites is from Southwest Airlines: "Wanna get away?"

Often, the reaction is immediate, visceral and resounding: "YES!!!!"

But, as any functioning adult - who has not inherited or earned an amount of money large enough to enable them to do whatever the heck they want, whenever they want - knows all too well, getting away is not always possible at the moment that you most want to do it.

Which is why I love and appreciate places like the former Gonpachi, and Hotel Bel-Air - that let you feel like you've escaped to another time and place, a therapeutic safe haven, without any more planning or investment than a few hours and a fraction of the cost and 'production' level logistics of actual travel.

Even getting to the property feels like a treat: you know that gated street off Sunset Boulevard in Bel-Air that gives off the impression that you have to have a special pass or blood that runs blue to be allowed in? Well apparently, while very effective with its silent 'keep out' - there isn't any actual (at least not very visible) measure preventing entry during the day...

Ms Sassy and I drove up easily on a Saturday afternoon, up lush, windy roads that opened up to a reclusive retreat that for some reason made me think of that movie from the 80s: Secret Garden.

We had read about swans at the hotel, but on that slightly overcast/chilly January afternoon we didn't manage to catch sight of them.

The elegant, white-themed tea room has an outdoor seating area - we settled into a semi-circular booth under a heat lamp and immediately vowed to return when during warmer weather.

Afternoon tea here involves a prix fixe set of sandwiches, scones, dessert bites and all you can drink teas for $60 per person.

While that price may initially feel high, after experiencing and tasting the gorgeous and delicious spread, we felt it was well worth it:


The set starts with Savory Bites:
*Maryland Blue Crab "Roll", Herb Remoulade
*Japanese Cucumber, Herb Cream Cheese, Pan de Mie
*House Cured Smoked Salmon, Dill Cream, Brioche, Micro Arugula
*Organic Jidori Chicken Salad, Golden Raisins, Walnut Bread
*Sourdough "Grilled Cheese" Sandwich, Gruyere
*Wild Mushroom Duxelle & Laura Chenel Goat Cheese En Croute

Fresh From the Oven:
Then came some of the best scones and spreads we have ever tasted:

*Sour Cherry, Blueberry & Buttermilk Almond Scones

*Housemade Raspberry Jam, Apricot Marmalade & Echire Butter

The scones were impossibly flaky, soft yet pleasantly weighty, and packed with flavor - though not so much that they overwhelmed the jam, marmalade & butter that came with them. I wanted 20 more of these and was only able to maintain some decorum so as not to embarrass Ms Sassy too badly.

With your afternoon tea set, you also get your choice of all you can drink Loose Leaf Teas: and you can switch flavors as much as you want with each new pot! If memory serves correctly there were about 18 different teas on offer including original blends like Hotel Bel Air Swan Song blend of Guayusa, White Tip Jasmine, Hibiscus, Green Rooibos or Sacred Orchid with lilac and gardenia scent or you can choose from classics like Royal Chrysanthemum Blossom, Earl Grey with Bergamot, Assam, or Silver Needle. All were light, clean and refreshing.

As you can tell by the change in lighting in this pic, we were having such a fantastic time catching up and enjoying the food and tea that we didn't even notice several hours had passed. Last up was the Assiette of Sweets:

*Sicilian Orange Cream Puff
French Macaroon

*Raspberry Hazelnut Financier
Apricot Vanilla Tart

*Chocolate Dipped Wafer Cone

Unfortunately the dessert plate was not as impressive as the others earlier in the set - there wasn't any single item that was particularly memorable. But the exquisiteness (yes, you have to use that word at least once when talking about the civilized activity of afternoon tea, with pinkies out and all) of the plates preceding more than made up for this last one.

All in all, a great place to escape for an afternoon - a beautiful, quiet reflective place where you can hold actual conversation without stressful battles with traffic, parking, nor distractions of the usual hustle & bustle of most restaurants 'in the city'. It comes at a price, but we thought it was well worth it, and plan to be back again soon.

(Note: 20% gratuity is automatically added to the bill - it's up to you if you'd like to leave more, but just something to be aware of)

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience -  6.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
701 Stone Canyon Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90077
Ph: 310.909.1644

Parking: Valet $8 with validation from restaurant. Free street parking on Saturdays just past hotel entrance (double check street signs)


Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air on Urbanspoon

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