My Sister’s Birthday Dinner at Fifty Seven in Downtown Los Angeles
My little sister is a bigger “foodie ” than I am, so for her birthday we decided to take her to the hot spot restaurant downtown. We tried to get a reservation at Alma, but we were denied (and they won’t take a reservation for a party larger than four people). You might think that’s unfortunate, but I don’t like restaurants where the chef cooks what he likes and serves it to you without a choice. You eat what he serves, that’s it. No thank you.
So, we made a reservation for six at FIFTY SEVEN in the industrial arts loft neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles, which is now gentrifying as fast as it can. I wasn’t driving and we took the surface street route through the Skid Row neighborhood, which has moved east now that 5th Street has been rehabilitated. It’s a strange feeling when you’re going for an expensive luxury meal and there are people living on the streets and tent encampments line the sidewalks for entire city blocks just a short distance away.
Welcome to Fifty Seven. There’s street parking and they have valet parking available.
It’s INDUSTRIAL! Enter on the alley through the tall glass doors. It’s a beautiful space with wood floors, red brick walls, metal railings, retro wall sconces, exposed ceiling and stainless trim and duct work.
There’s a huge rectangular bar, and you walk up a ramp past the open kitchen, to the raised dining area upstairs.
The raised dining area is a little too “close quarters” and the aisle between the seats is only wide enough for one person. And of course it’s LOUD! The hard wood and brick with the low ceiling over the dining area amplifies the sound to a level that make conversation difficult. Also, there’s music playing in the bar area and there’s a performance space downstairs. Did you hear me, it’s LOUD!
The chair was tiny and the back was just too short, there’s no way to hang a jacket properly, and it’s hard to sit in for a long time (a warning for people with bad backs). The meal, if properly done takes about 3 hours. That’s a long time in that chair.
We started with still and sparkling water, a Marsannay 2009 Burgundy wine, and the Chef sent us a complimentary order of deviled eggs to get the birthday party off to a good start.
We ordered a few shared plates for the table, all of which were excellent, and everyone decided to take advantage of the Prix Fixe Menu (Great Deal! See Below.).
The Marsannay 2009 was a really good wine choice.
The restaurant concept its to have a Chef in Residence, and then change that chef every six months or so. The current Chef in Residence is David Nayfeld.
From the Fifty Seven website: “Nayfeld’s cuisine can best be classified as Progressive American, harmoniously combining flavor palettes from around the world with a broad range of techniques to create food that is refined, distinctive and satisfying – all while using ingredients that are grown, harvested, and foraged wild from the land that surrounds us….in Europe, David worked with such distinguished chefs as Mauro Colagreco, Albert & Ferran Adria, Philip Rochat, David Toutain, Clare Smyth, Gregory Merchand and Jacques Genin. In New York, he spent more than three years at Eleven Madison Park, where he served as the senior sous chef. While there, the restaurant received three Michelin stars, six James Beard awards, and four stars from the New York Times”
THE SHARED PLATES:
Deviled eggs (compliments of the Chef), Fried Chicken, Pickled Garden & Veal Liver.
The deviled eggs with stuff inside were an excellent beginning to an awesome meal. We chose two orders of the Fried Chicken shared plate and it was perfectly cooked. The skin was crunchy and flaky, the inside was warm and juicy. It was served with pickled veggies and a brown mustard sauce. WINNER WINNER! Fried Chicken to start your dinner!
We had to order a Pickled Garden shared plate, just based on the name. It was exactly what it sounds like, a combination of pickled vegetables. Each had a distinctive taste, different than you might expect. My mother said about the pickled cucumber (dill pickle) piece she tasted, “That’s the best pickle I’ve ever tasted.” I enjoyed the pickled carrots and pickle, they were tasty and not a typical appetizer, but I wasn’t quite that enthused about this dish.
Now the Veal Liver is a different story. Winner! Winner! The Veal Liver was truly excellent! The smell and taste brought back memories of my Great Grandmother’s chopped liver, and the texture was similar to a fine foie gras. It was served with an onion jam and toasted rye bread. I spread a big chunk on the warm bread and topped it with the jam. It was a really great combination of flavors with a taste that took me right back to my childhood!
We all enjoyed the shared plates and the wine, which were served at a very nice pace. Our waiter was attentive and took our order in a timely fashion. The servers brought the food out and presented it properly, again in a timely fashion.
The tabletop was a little small for all the food plates, silverware, and wine glasses. I ordered a coke and an extra glass of ice, and I received only a flat “bar coke” which I sent back. Again, it was a little close quarters at the table with six people. The narrow aisle, the waiters taking orders, the servers trying to serve and bus dishes, and the hostesses trying to seat incoming parties. Not for people who can’t handle being close to other people.
We were given a short break in service, then they brought us bread course: Rye and Brioche Buns with “House Made” Butter. The rolls were baked to perfection. The brioche bun was topped with salt and anise (I think) and the butter was smooth, creamy and a little bit better than store bought.
HERE’S THE GREAT DEAL!
CHEF’S PRIX FIXE MENU! CHOICE OF STARTER, MAIN, & DESSERT FOR $48!
I chose the Vegetable A La Grecque, the Heritage Pork, and the Chocolate Dessert for my meal. Other choices at the table were the Brassica salad and the Jerusalem Artichoke starter plates, and the Muscovy Duck and Halibut “main” entree courses, and the Cherry dessert. I tried a little taste of everything except the halibut (which got a positive review from my step-brother).
The three starter courses were good. My vegetable plate was similar to the pickled garden, and the pickled vegetables on the fried chicken shared plates. The brassica was probably the best of the three, although the Jerusalem artichokes were very well received.
The restaurant started getting busy, the bar filled up, the noise level rose, five very muscular men from West Hollywood were seated at the table next to us (and they all pulled out their phones and started texting), and they brought us the “main” entree course.
The Heritage Pork was beautiful. It was perfectly cooked and the spaetzel mixture was a great complement to the meat. I enjoyed it, but was getting full and wanted to have dessert, so I had most of it packed “to go”.
The Muscovy Duck for Two was presented to the table for our approval and they requested we name it. I wasn’t having any part of it and just wanted to get a good picture. Alas, the sun had set and the light level inside had dimmed, so this is the best shot:
NOTE: There’s a $45 upcharge for the Duck on the Prix Fixe Menu! (but it is for 2 people)
The duck was returned to the kitchen and returned to the table as a plated dish. Again, it was perfectly cooked, tangy and delicious, and complemented by a duck confit.
Dessert: Cherry, Chocolate, Lemon or Strawberry? I’ll have CHOCOLATE!
And the Chocolate was terrific! It was a dark and rich chocolate-covered-creamy-mocha mousse on a cookie crust with an edible gold leaf flourish, served with salted caramel ice cream, crunchy and crispy wild rice, and a little splash of Laphroig 10 year old Scotch . I enjoyed it completely!
The Cherry was also yummy. It was a tart cherry served in a warm cobbler with whipped cream. It was a little too tart for my taste (slightly reminiscent of the Swanson hungry man cranberry sauce from the frozen turkey dinner) but it too was a great dessert.
My sister got a candle in her cherry cobbler, but they didn’t make a overt show of her birthday. The other table next to us (not the guys from WeHo) was also having a birthday party, so it’s a great place for a small party and a special occasion.
Everyone in my party really enjoyed the meal. The service was good and timely, although it did slip a little as the restaurant got busy and that’s all I’m going to say about that. The Chef came out during the meal and visited our table twice, so we got to meet David and have a little conversation. Because I didn’t eat a lot of the pork, he wanted to make sure I enjoyed it and even offered to get me a different entree. I expressed my admiration for his cooking, and the pork, and declined another plate. It was a great moment and made the meal even more personal. We discussed the concept and he told us he was looking for a permanent space to open a new restaurant.
The meal was great! It was an expensive dining experience, but you get what you pay for. I would definitely go back, and I suggest you put this on your list of restaurants to try while Chef David is still in residence.
Fifty Seven – 712 S. Sante Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021 http://www.fiftysevenla.com
UPDATED JANUARY 13, 2017: Fifty-Seven CLOSED in September 2014!
The space is currently For Lease in the Arts District next to Bestia Italiano:
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