Chef Mark Peel, from Campanile fame, has opened a new, gorgeously slick cocktail lounge that smacks of an old time Supper Club complete with sexy waitresses donning big flowers behind their ears and vintage black dresses. He nailed it! This place is smooth…… creamy walls, sinewy brass railing sectioning off areas and crystal chandeliers that reflect in the palm-frond mirror grates that grace the room. The lighting is perfect so moi was even more impressed.
We are approached by a darling waitress with an English accent who pointed out that there was a lovely cocktail menu. Hmmmm…. what to have. My dinner partner ordered one of the fancy drinks, The Gin Gin Mule, which he thought was interesting but too sweet, while I went more classic. Here comes the PITFALL….. it took 25 minutes for the drinks to arrive! Geez. Our waitress quickly tried to smooth things over with a VERY sweet little libation while we waited for the ones we ordered. What? They can bring a drink we DIDN”T order in 2 seconds flat, but can’t bring the one we DID order for 25 minutes? Really? We still were kept waiting so she brought us the Deviled Eggs, which were quite tasty. Finally, our drinks arrived.
On to the Menu: I think what Mark is trying to do here is bring back a bit of nostalgia to the LA Restaurant Scene, and boy do they need that. But, as yummy as the menu sounds, we were a bit disappointed overall, and I will get to the last part of “over-all” in a minute. We ordered small plates from the Bar Menu so we could get a sampling of a few dishes. We started with the Artichokes Trastevere with a Cynar Aioli. (Cynar is an Artichoke-based Italian liqueur that is rumored to relieve stress)… okay. The large Artichoke hearts are breaded, deep fried and served with the Aioli. I thought they were pretty good while my other half said “Eh!” On to the Saffron-Scented Shrimp, a dandy-looking Shrimp Cocktail with a Seville Orange Remoulade that just fell short. I don’t know what it is these days, but whenever I order Shrimp, it comes tasting watery, flat and just plain boring. Our next dish hit the SPOT…. oh boy… Duck Sliders!!!! We both could have stuck our faces into these baby’s! Man are they good! The BEST sliders I have ever had…. thin slices of succulent duck in an Orange Gastrique that just melt in your mouth. Our last dish was kind of Spanish-Tapas-like: Sauteed Fennel Pork Sausages with Potatoes, Onions, Peppers in a Rouille (garlic, breadcrumbs, saffron and chili peppers made into a paste… always served with Bouillabaise and sometimes called “French Rust”). This reminded me of Spain and the little bars and tapas places who served this kind of food. I loved it.
So here we come to the “over-all” portion of this review. When we sat down, we both remarked how beautiful this restaurant is, how mellow it seemed and that the combination of the great interior, good lighting and ambiance provoked thoughts of finally finding a drop dead beautiful restaurant, led by a drop dead wonderful chef that we would come back to time and time again. THEN: IT GOT SO LOUD THAT WE COULD NOT HEAR ONE ANOTHER WHEN WE WERE SITTING 6 INCHES APART!!!!!!!! Now, don’t get me wrong…I LOVE noise in a restaurant, it makes me feel alive, fun and “with it”, but this was beyond, really. I’ve been to Mozza Pizzaria (very loud), Cecconi’s (pretty darn loud), Church and State (yes, loud), but nothing can compare to the noise level at Tar Pit… it was deafening. Now, I ask you, WHY? Do restaurants HAVE to be that loud? Just a little loud is just fine, but when you honestly can’t hear the person next to you I think it is time to tone it down just a bit. The music was blaring and what started out to be Sinatra-like sounds became just plain loud and completely annoying.
I loved this restaurant, don’t get me wrong, but my dinner partners said they would not come back because of the noise level. I can’t give you a recipe for noise, but I will give you my recipe for Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus but before I do that…. go and try Tar Pit and let me know if I’m becoming an old, cranky lady or is it too LOUD???? And, try the drinks… they are stellar.
Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus
24 large prawns, shelled and cleaned
1 cup Caravella Limoncello
1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
48 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and washed, then tossed in a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper
1. Mix together the Caravella Limoncello, rosemary, salt, pepper and white wine. Place prawns in a large ziplock bag, pour in the marinade and chill for several hours or overnight.
2. Drain the shrimp and with a sharp knife, pierce each prawn down the center, being careful not to split it along the entire length.
3. Carefully thread 2 asparagus spears in the hole and place on a sheet pan. Brush with a bit of the marinade.
4. Prepare the grill and grill prawns until just cooked and asparagus is tender.
Makes 24 Appetizers Serve with Limoncello Pomatini’s (recipe follows) or a crisp white wine.
1 ½ ozs. Vanilla vodka
½ ozs. Caravella Limoncello
1-2 ozs. Pomegranate juice
1 splash of Lime juice
Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy!!