Shade in the moonlight with chef Chris Garasic [Restaurant Review]
Shade Hotel started making a splash even before the place opened for creative upscaling of what was planned as a bed and breakfast, and the modern design that made it a showplace from day one. Reporting has continued as they’ve hosted celebrities and film shoots, battled noise complaints, and spawned an offshoot in Redondo. Their latest newsworthy act was to do something all of their neighbors already do – serve dinner.
The Zinc restaurant at Shade opened before most of the hotel rooms were completed, but it was originally envisioned as restaurant only for breakfast and lunch. In the evening it was a lounge that served snacks, not a dining destination. That distinction became hazy shortly after the place opened, helped by the increasing popularity of small-plate dining.
In the decade since, Zinc has developed a split personality. People enjoyed cocktails or wine with nibbles at the small tables indoors, a more food-oriented experience with conventional seating on the outdoor terrace. Recently Zinc finally started serving full meals, though they still offer a selection of the small plates that led to their initial success.
Several ambitious chefs have reigned over the kitchen and at times the menu has been very eclectic, but Chris Garasic has developed a selection that is slightly more restrained. There’s something for everyone — cheese and charcuterie plates for those who like a focus on quality ingredients laid bare, pizzas and salads for hearty snacks, and more complex and inventive items for culinary adventurers.
We were in an eclectic mood and started a recent meal with grilled brie and pear mini-sandwiches, a ceviche tower, and truffle sliders. These are all bar snacks with ambition, though two of the three were far beyond the skill of the average drinkery kitchen.
The brie and pear sandwiches are worth copying for a party appetizer – poach pears briefly in cider, pair with a luscious brie on baguette slices, and voila! It’s something I could do at home and will now that I have tasted one. The other two items are the kind of thing that makes you happy there are restaurant kitchens, since their flavors come from preparations that are both ornate and labor-intensive. You might make sliders at home, but you probably won’t be making them with American kobe beef, black truffle cheese, roasted portobellos, and wild arugula on a housemade bun. I’m not a fan of Kobe beef because it generally has buttery lusciousness but little flavor. But that mildness works here and the caramelized onions, arugula, and other elements shine. As for the ceviche, though it’s referred to as Baja style, there is little tradition about it, starting with the use of black cod instead of yellowtail or albacore. Black cod is a more sustainable fish and has a fatty, buttery texture, but a bit less flavor. It was a mild complement to the chopped vegetable brunoise with jalapenos and scallions accented with a hint of Asian-style citrus-chili sauce.
We could have easily made a meal of some other appetizers, like the Korean short rib tacos or vegetable pizzetta, but wanted to investigate the large plates. Miso sea bass and braised short ribs tempted us, but we decided on “South Bay” paella, flatiron steak frites, and linguine pomodoro. The paella was delivered with a theatrical presentation in a frying pan and was a very large portion, almost enough for two persons. In addition to the usual shrimp, mussels, calamari and clams there were both Aegean black cod and salmon, for a very wide range of flavors. The rice had been simmered in seafood stock and then briefly crisped in the hot pan, which is traditional but not everyone does. Fans of real Spanish paella may find the use of salmon unusual, but it works and the dish succeeds on its own merits.
The steak frites was a simple meal perfectly executed – a flatiron steak seared medium-rare, sliced and drizzled with a red wine and stock sauce, alongside fries, salad, and roasted cipollini onions. The arugula salad was a bit unusual thanks to the addition of sweet roasted tomatoes and pickled red onion. But otherwise this was a classic that was sensibly left unchanged. The linguini pomodoro also had innovative touches around the edges, like the addition of dehydrated kalamata olive. But the formula of fresh pasta with vegetables and creamy burrata cheese is so good that there’s no reason to mess with it.
Chef Garasic showed restraint – he could have used either of these as a springboard for something flashy, but didn’t. He did let his creativity run wild on the peanut butter semifreddo, which was extravagantly decorated with spirals and swirls of chocolate. Think of the flavors of a peanut butter cup but lighter and fresher, presented in a dessert halfway between an ice cream and frozen custard. This is the must-try. We also liked the flavors of the cherry cheesecake with a sweet and salty pretzel crust, too, but found it a bit overly rich.
We tried a trio of cocktails and one glass of wine. The drinks were well-made and the cucumber-pear concoction with a dash of elderflower liqueur was particularly refreshing. Our dinner for three ran $162 and we took a lot home. We might have cut out one of the appetizers and had plenty of food but less variety.
Zinc at Shade provides an excellent experience. The servers know their stuff and the outdoor patio has a great view of the plaza. The food is as good inside and if you like the buzz and energy of a hopping place you may prefer it. Whether you select large plates or small, inside or out, they deliver a great evening.
Zinc at Shade is at 1221 Valley Drive – open daily at 7 a.m., kitchen usually closes 11 p.m., sometimes earlier depending on demand. Valet parking or lot below hotel. Enter from Morningside Drive. Full bar. Menu at shadehotel.com. Reservations accepted at (310) 546-4995. ER