The Hungry Cat: Doubling Down on Beignets at dineLA Lunch
1535 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323 462 2155
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Date of Visit: February 1, 2011
The flagship seafood restaurant from David Lentz and Suzanne Goin resides at the corner of Sunset & Vine, tucked away behind a Borders book shop. It had been about a year since my last visit to The Hungry Cat, and it was the tantalizing dineLA Restaurant Week menu that drew me in, offering three courses for $22. It turned out to be a great value.
There isn’t much to indicate the restaurant is a seafood destination. There’s no sign out front and minimal oceanic imagery indoors, aside from a wall mounted fish, and of course the crustacean and bivalve-filled raw bar. Sit on the hedge-lined patio or pass by The Hungry Cat’s glass front to find cushioned banquettes and a pair of stainless steel counters.
Blackboards tout daily specials like Florida stone crab claws, Watch Hill oysters from Rhode Island, cherry stone clams and Whiskey Barrel Cider cocktail. The Hungry Cat was one of the first L.A. restaurants to take market cocktails seriously, and they continue to fill metal buckets with fresh fruits like limes and apples. During my visit, they also stocked three kinds of grapefruit – ruby red and both yellow and orange oro blanco – all cocktail friendly.
Beignets are typically synonymous with dessert, but my meal started with somewhat surprising salmon beignets. They folded scallions and Fresno chilies into the batter and applied it judiciously to the rosy fish before frying to a puffy finish. The beignets appeared on horseradish creme fraiche with a central thatch of arugula, shaved red onion and lemon zest.
A meaty fillet of slightly over-grilled albacore was the centerpiece of an entree that co-starred farro verde, which my knowledgeable waiter identified as young grains picked before the sugar content rises too high. The plate also held a medley of roasted root vegetables – sweet cippolini onions, multi-colored carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes. That final root vegetable also appeared as a puree. Combined with slightly bitter broccolini and tangy Meyer lemon agrodolce, this was a satisfying, well balanced dish.
The exclamation mark was my meal’s second plate of beignets (the first being the salmon starter). The cluster of fluffy fritters appeared with bits of candied bacon, crunchy shards of almond brittle, a dusting of powdered sugar and a base of caramel sauce. The dessert’s pumpkin flavor probably wasn’t pronounced enough, and the caramel was a little thin – more reminiscent of maple syrup than caramel – but really, it was still strong, with varied texture and flavor. And of course a little candied bacon never hurt anything.
This meal was indicative of the quality level that’s usually available at The Hungry Cat, but isn’t necessarily representative of the relative value. A three-course meal would definitely cost more than $22, but that’s okay. dineLA Restaurant Week brings out the best in certain restaurants, and this was definitely a case where the Cat over-delivered.