The Riviera Resort and Spa is still connected to Old Hollywood’s storied past, if only tentatively. Once a playground of the rich and famous, the Riviera has reinvented itself with renovations and the addition of a spa. It still attracts Hollywood’s fast-track, however – Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton have both gotten away from L.A. by lounging around the Riviera’s amoeba-shaped pool.
True to its name, Circa 59, the Riviera’s restaurant, maintains a connection with the resort’s past. Perhaps not so much in the decor – high-backed wing chairs, chandeliers that look as though they were designed by H.R. Giger – but in the black & white photos of Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch (doing her lounge act, no less).
But the restaurant has modern touches like locally-sourced food, exotic flavour combinations and a varied menu suited towards contemporary (read: pickier) tastes.
Featured among the appetizers are such delicacies as lobster ginger dumplings, chorizo-stuffed medjool dates and seared scallops with a fava bean and potato sauce (pictured above). We were most impressed with the dumplings (five of them, with a spicy Japanese dressing) and the oysters (komomoro), which my photog described as “the best oysters I ever had” – though she’s from Siberia, where oysters are not available on every street corner, and I suspect that may have had as much to do with the ponzu/spring tomato gazpacho topping as the actual slimy dollops themselves. We would feast on these items another couple of times during Happy Hour (half-price appies) as the Sidebar, located next to the restaurant and with a view of the pool.
Following our first order of appetizers, the chef de cuisine came out from the kitchen to see who was being so demanding. Ruben Barragan’s former employer was Chicago’s Wit Hotel, where he worked along with Circa 59 executive chef Bradley Manchester, and he explained that much if not all of the food at Circa 59 is locally sourced and inspired.
Barragan did my waistline no favours by encouraging us to try other selections. We continued with the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, a sinfully candy-like flavour combination that immediately took me back to last year’s Burning Man and the less sophisticated delicacy known as “bacon-wrapped Fudgee-Os”. We also enjoyed the seared scallops with a fava bean and potato sauce (pictured above). The spot prawns were grainy and dry, too much so for my tastes; I maintain (as far as that goes) that they are a hardcore foodie’s food.
And then the entrees…
I’m not much of a carnivore but the rib eye was probably as good as any I’ve had; just the right amount of rare, juicy, delectable, with a chantrelle mushroom topping and foi gras red wine sauce. (To interject with a brief wine mention: I was happy to encounter my old friend the Chalk Hill Chardonnay, a personal fave since a California wine-tasting a few months ago, and a wine which went well with the…)
Halibut. Seared, herb-encrusted, and with a red-pepper sauce, but with the mouth-watering rib-eye taste still fresh in our craws, hard to appreciate.
Not so with the butterfish (an out-of-season halibut). Two small but juicy slabs served with sides of a campari tomato so delicious it almost caused a death duel between myself and the photographer, with a salsa verde and roasted artichoke hearts on the side.
About the desserts, well, the less said the better – not because the chocolate carmel tart with a scoop of hazelnut ice creamy (which looked like it came out of the artist Mondrian’s kitchen) and the sticky toffee pudding weren’t fantastic but because even recalling their names I am filled with longing.