Tesse: Dining Review
The Hollywood Reporter kicks off a new monthly column with an appraisal of Bill Chait's brashly ambitious bistro on L.A.'s Sunset Strip.
Editor's note: Today, The Hollywood Reporter kicks off a new monthly dining review column. Senior writer Gary Baum will review one restaurant per month, based on multiple visits with reservations made under another name. All meals are paid for by THR.
"Bone luge!" bellows wine director Jordan Ogron, announcing his theatrical presentation of Madeira poured down a halfpipe of bone directly into a customer's mouth. The marrow itself has already been scraped out, tossed tableside into a bowl of superior bucatini with duck prosciutto. The decadent guzzle is a small upcharge, of course, but given the number of times Ogron shouts across Tesse's already loud dining room, it's clearly a popular one — even among those not inclined toward self-spectacle. Then again, when seated along a banquette here between a quartet of glamazons debating contouring techniques and a pair of studio suits swapping stories about their favorite gifts from colleagues in foreign sales, perhaps the best thing to do is merrily join in.
To be fair, the rest of the moments at Tesse — the 125-seat, predominantly French bistro that is the most ambitious dining option to arrive on the Sunset Strip in years — aren't so ridiculous. That's because the primary force driving it is Bill Chait, the celebrated operator behind Bestia, Republique and the Academy Museum's forthcoming restaurant on Wilshire at Fairfax. He brought in chef Raphael Francois, whose long, Michelin-starred CV includes stretches at the Hotel de Crillon and Four Seasons Hotel Georges V in Paris, as well as a stint in NYC running the late Le Cirque.
The peacocking of the Madeira service aside, Ogron has compiled a quietly astute, ranging wine list, much of which is available in half-pours to encourage exploration. (The offerings are also for sale in the connected wine shop, Boutellier.) Meanwhile, when chef Francois leans in to his classic technique, it's faultless: precise vegetable "beignets"; a creamy beef tartare on a disc of Grana Padano Parmesan; a passel of arguably the best in-house saucisse in town — the lobster sausage in particular a showcase of airy delicacy.
At least in the early going, though, Francois appears to be spending quite a bit of time out front, working the floor. Perhaps this is a factor in some intelligently conceived dishes that fall victim to ill finesse, like a too-salty assemblage of asparagus with hollandaise, prosciutto and chanterelles, a stringy lamb confit, or an overly dressed baby gem salad.
So beware Tesse's cocksure start, and avoid the seating in which strangers find themselves sharing intimate loveseats, the latest low in enforced communal dining. But don't blanch; maybe just wait the place out a bit. Beyond the brashness, there's a sense of serious purpose here — and a promise of improved performance.
8500 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 360-3866
Full bar; 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily
Recommended: Vegetable “beignets” ($16); lobster sausage ($21); black forest cake ($14)
Best table: One of three booths with a clear view of the open kitchen
This story first appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.