Audrey: Dining Review

Photographed by Victoria Wall Harris
Designed by architect Michael Maltzan, Audrey's indoor-outdoor dining room, photographed March 26, features a tile installation from Cuban-American artist Jorge Pardo. (Inset: Bone-in ribeye with shishito peppers)
The Hammer's new restaurant is, in the early going, still too artless.

The Hollywood Reporter checks out the new restaurant at L.A.'s Hammer Museum that strives to be a destination in its own right.

Today's museum restaurants no longer are content merely to serve gallery visitors. Their goal is to burnish the institutions' brands, often by catering to customers with zero plans to visit the collection. Danny Meyer has made a specialty of this at the Whitney and MoMA in New York, while Patina's Joachim Splichal did the same with Ray's at LACMA.

Now comes Audrey at the Hammer (named after a major benefactor, Audrey Irmas), which debuted two months ago steps away from its Billy Wilder Theater. The indoor-outdoor restaurant sprawls across the contemporary art institution's midcentury plaza — the one used for its star-studded annual gala.

At Audrey's helm is Lisa Giffen. Her résumé includes some of the most acclaimed kitchens in Manhattan (Blue Hill New York, Daniel, Prune). Most recently, she was the executive chef at Soho House's Malibu outpost. Running the show is restaurateur Soa Davies Forrest, who handled dining operations for Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and André Balazs' hotel group, including Chateau Marmont.

Audrey shows glimmers of being the place that Westwood so sorely needs: refined, clever, original. There's an unassuming, reliably well-executed cocktail program. Each al fresco seat thoughtfully features wool throw blankets for chilly nights. As for the food itself, there are a few hits — a hand-cut tagliatelle with a mushroom Bolognese; a bright, briny citrus salad studded with olives and pecans; the steak frites featuring a grass-fed ribeye cap and perfect fries. A revelatory celery root soup calls to mind a kind of aerated clam chowder minus the bivalves.

But mainly the impression is one of imprecision (a chicken salad sandwich almost works, if it weren't so short on its Green Goddess dressing) and blandness, whether in the massive but uninspired grilled cheese, the dull black cod or the flavorless grain bowl. It's possible that some of this is strategy, an attempt to broadly appeal to a wide spectrum of patrons. But that's being optimistic.

Unfortunately, the service doesn't make up for it: The waitstaff is often disinterested, delivering dishes without any context. Food arrives coursed out at the convenience of the kitchen, meaning that there can be an overwhelming pileup all at once.

Audrey is supposed to be the signature new offering of an on-the-rise institution that sees itself as one of the most rigorous, idiosyncratic museums in the world. Giffen and Forrest were clearly brought in to stand out. So far, that ambition is not yet on exhibit.

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; 310-443-7037
Full bar; closed Mondays

Recommended: Celery root soup ($13), all the peas ($8), steak frites ($29), tagliatelle ($19)
Best Table: One of the booths looking out onto the plaza

This review is based on multiple visits. Reservations are made under another name. Meals are covered by THR.

This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.