Los Angeles fine dining used to mean Cal-French food — Pacific ingredients elevated by classic European technique. For decades, the address that mattered was 6703 Melrose in Hancock Park, first as Citrus (which opened in 1987), then as Alex a decade and a half later, and finally as Hatfield’s. In 2014, when Quinn and Karen Hatfield closed their restaurant after eight years to open more casual spots, director Jon Favreau used the location for his self-starring Chef as a stand-in for a joyless haute cuisine palace the title character departs to open a food truck. Tastes had changed.
Now the address — and the cuisine it helped pioneer — is back with three-month-old Auburn, chef Eric Bost’s noble attempt to bring the subtle restraint of high-end Cal-French back from the dead in an era dominated by brasher, looser places. Even the interior is understated: a warm-minimalist mood hovering between stunning and dull.
Bost’s chief innovation is a choose-your-own-adventure tasting menu, beginning at four courses ($75) and running to nine ($150). This concept, in which any of a dozen rotating dishes can be selected, will please those who value freedom as well as those who might be relieved to avoid, say, the stinky-cheese dish. (Which you shouldn’t, by the way — the sunchokes with Époisses, an intense soft French number, is a winner.) A la carte dining is available only at the already-a-scene bar, where the must-order dish is charred mushrooms atop preserved persimmon.
Bost, who trained under Alain Ducasse in Paris before spending a decade with the Guy Savoy empire, was most recently executive chef at Republique, which like Auburn and an ever-increasing number of other top L.A. restaurants (Bavel) is backed by the investor-operator group Sprout. This means a seasoned support structure that translates to an out-of-the-gate smooth, unfussy service.
Auburn’s long-term success will rest on whether Bost’s restrained cooking can excite diners used to bolder tastes. His yellowtail sashimi belly is a precise, lovely composition with green strawberries, celery and citrus fern that, viewed one way, is delicate and ethereal, and another, so ghostly it may slip your mind by the time you get the check. Perhaps the most memorable item is pastry chef Dyan Ng’s country boule with avocado butter.
The kitchen has momentary imperfections, like a slightly overcooked halibut. But in dish after dish — white asparagus and trotters, duck with cherries or, for dessert, solidified rings of yogurt in a mushroom caramel sauce — the execution meets Bost’s vision, a revitalization of the recent past.
6703 Melrose Ave.; (323) 486-6703, full bar; dinner only; closed Mon.
Recommended: Morel mushrooms, Sonoma duck, white asparagus
Prix Fixe: $75-$150
Best Table: Any of the seats in the main room ringing the evergreen tree
This review is based on multiple visits. Reservations are made under another name. Meals are covered by THR.
This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.