My friend Thistle reminded me of a recent dinner I had via a post comment he left for me. Thistle and I enjoyed an adventurous late summer evening in The Vegas, but that’s for another post. Like Flaubert before me, I search for le mot juste. Thankfully, no one ends up taking arsenic. He currently appears to have developed a lust for butterscotch pudding (and who hasn’t?) He being Thistle, not Gustave Flaubert, master of 19th century French literature.
In any case, a recent posting I made on the hamburger-or was it the picture of the late pope-inspired Thistle to a yen for butterscotch pudding, which reminded me of a recent evening I spent at Wood and Vine. The clever among you will realize that this is a local restaurant, poised adjacent to the iconic intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and what its name lacks in punniness, it makes up for in spirit. Wood and Vine is located in Hollywood’s historic Taft Building and features a regularly changing menu (a new one is printed daily), offering small plate selections along with a couple of weekly special dinners, market on Monday, Southern on Sunday.
Wood and Vine makes a point of being a community restaurant: they source their food from local farmers and ranches, serving California wines and beers brewed in our glorious state, and they make a point of supporting the community: for example, 100% of proceeds to their profiteroles (a delightful blend of pate choux and seasonal ice cream) goes to benefit the Los Angeles Youth Network, an organization purposed to provide outreach, shelter, etc to the disenfranchised adolescents of our city.
The night I went, the restaurant was offering a celebration of Low Country Georgia fare, and I must say that generally, I was happy. I would qualify a recommendation to this restaurant by reminding the gentle reader that it is located across the street from the world-famous Pantages Theatre (where I was privileged, in my youth, to see Yul Brynner in The King and I-one of his last last tours-it was just amazing, though it was easier for Moses the lead the children of Israel out of Egypt than it was for my sister and I to find the theatre from the city of Santa Monica) and is thusly a Mecca for pre-theatre diners. If you choose to go on play-night, make your reservations after 8pm (7 on Sundays.)
I neither had nor made such reservations when I visited, and found the place a little Bedlamish, the hostess a little harried: she told me that I could leave my name for a table or wait for a seat at the bar, but neglected to take my name. I eventually ended up at the bar, and was eventually approached by a bartender who succinctly took my order. Keeping with the Southern theme, I ordered a Sazerac: it was craftily made, stirred and strained, garnished with a generous handcut peel of lemon. It was misted with a pastis (I prefer my glass rinsed) and it floated trippingly across the tongue.
I began my meal with grilled white peach accompanied by burrata and arugula. The peach was nicely caramelized and smoked upon the fire, its tartness a delightful contrast with the buratta’s creaminess, the sharpness of the arugula providing a peppery kick. It was pleasantly presented upon its plate.
I selected the braised pork as my entree. It was served with creamy grits, bacon infused collard greens, and fried eggs, giving it a moderately southeast Asian tone. Or it was just like breakfast. Either way, oh how that pork was braised. It had been marvelously browned, and a roux was clearly involved! And what a roux… Someone had clearly stirred the fat and flour together until it united in a marriage of sexy, smoky sultriness, like a sunset over the red clay of Tara. The collard greens were lightly seared with bacon, and smothered to a crisp-tenderness, still green, their natural harshness offset by the sour-sweetness of cider vinegar. A lone lima bean found its way onto my plate, but I ignored it. The creamy grits lived up to their name, soft and eggshell white, perfectly seasoned with salt and white pepper that did not mar their subtle colour. The egg… was fried. The white was soft and firm, the yolk barely congealed. But the pork… Tender and juicy, perfectly seasoned, it paired judiciously with the egg, the greens, the grits. Scarlett herself would have scraped the plate and asked for seconds.
When it came to dessert, there were no profiteroles to be had, even for ready money, so I elected to select the Butterscotch Pots de Creme (which is what reared the Proustian head when Thistle mentioned his late pontiff inspired obsession.) Silky smooth, rich and creamy, burnt and sweet, the butterscotch was served in a jar, garnished with Malden salt and topped with a demiscoop of (what I’d surmise was housemade) brown sugar ice cream. By this time, I’d tired of Sazeracs, and switched to the restaurants Black Manhattan, possibly inspired by the films of Michael Powell. What makes this Manhattan different, my different-and much more forthcoming-bartender informed me is that it is made with Averna Amaro rather than sweet Vermouth, which gives it its ombre hue and notes of Sicilian herbs. The Black Manhattan is Luxardo cherry, the golden child of modern mixologists, and dauphin to the Maraschino. Its bitterness complimented the sweetness of the butterscotch perfectly.
In short, I’d happily return to Wood and Vine. I saw people devouring buttery mussels with crusty bread, and have heard that their chicken and waffle puts the famed Roscoe to shame. Emma would enjoy it, Thistle would enjoy it, and so would you.