When AEG announced plans for L.A. LIVE, their $2.5 billion mixed-use development in downtown L.A., they started with the square, since that was the first section to open. However, it wasn’t long before people turned their attention skyward, to the showpiece of the development: the Ritz-Carlton residences and hotel. Other Ritz-Carltons house vaunted chefs like Ron Siegel and Dean Fearing. Surely the high-end hoteliers would recruit a chef who could hold their own with these other big names. More than a year passed before Ritz-Carlton revealed their star chef would be L.A.’s own Wolfgang Puck. The walking (cooking) legend has become so ubiquitous that some Angelenos have started to take him for granted. Sure he’s contributed historic restaurants like Spago and Chinois on Main, but how much could he possibly have left in the tank, and what would even motivate him to create another triumph at this point? I was invited to try WP24, his high-end Chinese restaurant on the 24th floor of the Ritz. My doubts were all for naught, since Chef de Cuisine David McIntyre presided over the best meal I’ve ever eaten at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, and some of the best high-end Chinese food in the U.S.
Manhattan-based ICRAVE (Geisha House, Sushi Samba Strip, Abe & Arthur’s) designed the sprawling space, which features a bar that’s located more than block away from the dining room. WP24 houses three distinct environments, none more spectacular than the central lounge, which hosts molded wood walls and cage-like “rooms.”
We ate in the dining room, which features skyscraper shaped metal column lanterns, a grey and black color scheme, mirrored walls and drop down drapes. Really though, it’s all about the views, with 180 degree windows allowing views of downtown and distant mountains.
There aren’t many Chinese restaurants that serve an Amuse Bouche, but that’s just what we received, in the form of golden triangles of shrimp toast served with sweet chile dipping sauce. I hadn’t eaten a piece of shrimp toast since Hunan restaurant…in suburban New Jersey…in the ’80s. Then again, if every piece of shrimp toast was made from Santa Barbara spot prawns, there never would have been a 25-year lag.
WP24’s menu was a knockout, with more than a dozen dishes that looked intriguing. The two of us clearly weren’t going to make much headway, so we had to make some strategic choices. I wasn’t as interested in the dim sum or “Hot & Sour” Soup, since that kind of thing is readily available in the San Gabriel Valley, so we dug deeper.
Still, we did eat a couple dim sum items, since the chef sent them out. Maine lobster and prawn spring rolls (normally $16) featured thin, shattering sheathes and 10 Spice Honey dipping sauce. We turned the rolls sideways and could see there was no filler, which was welcome. No need to mess with pristine seafood.
Curried filet mignon puffs wouldn’t have been my first (or tenth) choice, but they turned out to be satisfying, with flaky sesame-studded pastry crusts and minced beef that delivered a lingering hit of curry spice. One of the aspects that I enjoyed about the meal was that McIntyre (and Puck) weren’t willing to sacrifice spice.
Steamed Baby Bao Buns ($18) featured fluffy clam shell buns filled with melting slabs of sautéed duck liver, sweet bean paste, sour ume and crunchy scallions. This was richer than any option you’d find on a dim sum cart in San Gabriel Valley, and that bothered me to some extent, though it tasted good.
Hong Kong soft noodles ($12) were seemingly simple but absolutely addictive, tossed with flowering chives, crunchy sprouts, scallions and an array of field mushrooms – wild shitake and maitake, erengi and honshimeji.
Hunan Spicy Eggplant ($12) is available at any number of SGV Chinese restaurants with caramelized garlic in a sticky, spicy and sour sauce, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find them with WP24’s Japanese twist. Puck and McIntyre added roasted Shishito peppers, which contributed an interesting textural contrast.
Our waiter presented “Angry Lobster” ($50) in the shell, then pulled the meat from the shell at a central flower-topped table. WP24 offers a side of ceremony with a number of dishes. It makes sense with the lobster and with Peking duck. With other dishes, less so. This was a very good dish, even better than Chinois on Main’s signature lobster with curry and crispy spinach. Here, the sweet meat was lavished with a spicy but not scorching Szechuan chile sauce that incorporated scallions, cilantro, black bean dust, Calamansi lime and fried garlic.
Singapore Style Softshell Chile Crabs ($38) was another dish that received the show-and-snatch treatment. In this case, even in full form, the fried crabs weren’t very photogenic, so that probably wasn’t necessary. The dish featured crispy legs, juicy bodies and a chunky, pungent kimchi-like sauce packed with sweet pulled Maryland bay crab meat, Fresno chilies, fried garlic, scallions, shallots, cilantro, onion, pickled ginger and more. We received a quartet of deep-fried mini bao, which were supple, golden brown and did a good job of soaking up the sauce.
Pastry chef Sally Camacho contributed a corn financier ($14), a moist cake topped with blueberry sauce, plated with a streak of sweet white corn pudding, plump Pudwell Farm blueberries. Introducing Indian garam masala spices, in the popcorn and along the cornmeal tuile, worked well, adding punch and balancing sweetness. The last element was a scoop of pandan ice cream, made with an aromatic green leaf I encountered a lot in Thailand.
It might seem inconsequential, but the aspect of our dining experience that ended up bothering me wasn’t the food, service or decor. It was the chopsticks. Why would a stylish restaurant that serves such exquisite food and charges over $50 for certain entrees use disposable chopsticks? That just doesn’t fit with the rest of the concept.
Chopsticks aside, WP24 was so satisfying that as we shared a pot of Darjeeling from Art of Tea ($7), we were already plotting our next meal. Will it be Crispy Suckling Pig, Lacquered Carpenter Ranch Squab or Szechuan Style American Kobe Steak from Snake River Farms? The best play is probably just to bring a bigger group and order everything.
Note: This meal was hosted by WP24.