I’ve always loved the Bel-Air Hotel, tucked into a quiet canyon in the hills above Westwood and Beverly Hills. The public and private rooms are tastefully elegant and the grounds are lush, with glorious trees, pools and streams, and greenery everywhere. After a major remodel in 2012, it re-opened and it’s more beautiful than ever. Secluded would be an understatement to describe the location.
For all that, however, the Bel-Air has never been much of a destination restaurant for the local folks, more a place for hotel guests. Until now. Since Wolfgang Puck took over the main dining room after the remodel, the quality of the food has soared. Weeknights still mostly are for hotel guests, our waitress told us, but locals flock to the place in droves on the weekends.
We were and the Bel-Air on a week night. The outdoor dining area was nearly full; the dining room held just a few parties.
We arrived very early and, even though they were willing to seat us, we opted for a drink at the bar. Great decision. It’s a welcoming room with comfortable seating for pre-dinner conversation. Jennifer and I like to sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders when we can. Another great decision. My Perfect Manhattan was perfect, the salt and vinegar potato chips served with our drinks were outstanding and the bartender was personable.
With the drinks downed, we were seated at our table and confronted with a menu that hit deep into my epicurean soul. Guinea hen and quail are my two favorite game birds. Both were on offer. Steak tartare, Cantonese roast duck, Colorado lamb chops, Sonoma lamb shanks, Sicilian branzino … Deciding what to order was going to be a challenge.
I settled on the steak tartare first course and the Guinea hen for the main, two things that are hard to find anyplace else in L.A. “We’ll have to come back for the quail, duck, lamb chops and branzino,” I told Jennifer. Then I quickly asked, “What are we doing this weekend?”
Jennifer started with a roasted beet saladthat brought swoons. Then she had the nightly special of Sonoma lamb osso bucco. Excellent. Colorado lamb and Sonoma lamb are among the best lamb being produced anywhere. To find both of them on the same menu is remarkable.
Now, here comes the kicker. Rooms at the Bel-Air Hotel start at $530 a night mid-week. Prices range up to levels not quoted on the web site. Yet, our dinner, which included three glasses of wine and one dessert, was pricey but not outrageously expensive – no in line with what we pay at most of the other “best” restaurants in L.A. Given the location I would have expected the bill to be at least 50% higher than it was.
So, it’s a trifecta for Puck in L.A. – Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, Spago in Beverly Hills, and Wolfgang Puck at the Bel-Air Hotel. All three are recommended at this web site.