I was worried that my older brother would judge me for my kitchen cabinets that refuse to close no matter how hard I slam them, or wiggle his nose in disgust at my bathroom sink that is impossible to get sparkling clean.
And I was worried about my bacon-wrapped dates – were they too big? Too crispy? Had I stuffed them with too much cheese? Not enough cheese?
It was a lot of pressure having my parents and older brother over to my apartment on Friday night for wine and appetizers. I wanted everything to be perfect for my perfect sibling’s birthday celebration -- I wanted it to be the type of evening that becomes an instant memory in the scrapbook of our minds.
Yet even with all my excessive fretting about the occasion – my hemming and hawing about what cheese to buy at Whole Foods, and my neurotic cleaning session with the Swiffer – there was one thing I wasn’t concerned about.
We were going to Hatfield’s, Quinn and Karen Hatfield’s critically acclaimed Cal-French restaurant that reopened at its new location on Melrose Avenue in February. There was no reason for me to worry about that part of the evening. I knew everything would be lovely – just as it was when my mother and I visited the first location on Beverly Blvd. four years ago. I also knew everything would be good – maybe not awe-inspiring or transformative, but perfectly satisfying with a thoughtful preparation and precise execution.
An amuse bouche of house-cured salmon over celery root slaw was a pleasant way to begin the meal. Even my mother who doesn’t eat raw fish found the salty salmon juxtaposed against the tangy slaw to be an enjoyable combination. My brother, father and I were all a little disappointed when she scooped up her last bite – none of us would be calling dibs on her leftovers.
The salted warm bread roll was just as addictive to our palates. Despite massacring three bacon-wrapped dates, Midnight Moon goat cheese and lemon almonds prior to our arrival at the at-capacity restaurant, I couldn’t stop myself from finishing my roll. And then requesting another when the bread server came by our table again.
The beloved “Croque Madame” – perhaps Hatfield’s most famous dish – was nothing like how I imagined it when I read the description, but was nonetheless utterly satisfying with its familiar flavors. While the croque ($16) flips the classic sandwich on its head with the inclusion of yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, a sunny side up quail egg on grilled brioche, my overall impression was that it tasted exactly like grilled cheese. I did find myself wishing that quail eggs could be closer to the size of chicken eggs (that buttery brioche was begging for more yolk), but I was still inclined to believe that it was one of the tastiest “grilled cheese” sandwiches I’d ever had – a coup considering the dish does not actually contain any cheese.
Entrees were, as expected, also very well-executed. My Pistachio & Mint Crusted Lamb with roasted heirloom root vegetables, fava beans, and potato chive puree ($36) was sous vide to the perfect rosy shade of pink. The tender slivers of farmers market fresh carrots added a welcome earthiness to the plate and paired well with the velvety potato chive puree. The flavor profiles were all lovely, but I did find myself craving a more pronounced application of the mint and pistachio. In my mind it was still a successful dish, but I was slightly more enamored by the more colorful flavors in my mom’s Loup De Mer ($26) with haricot vert, red onion soubise, fried caper, and almond dried apricot crunch.
To finish, we all opted to take advantage of Pastry Chef Karen Hatfield’s impeccable desserts. I selected the Cinnamon Swirl Brioche Pudding with pear confit, maple syrup ice cream and a cinnamon toast chip ($11) – essentially a cinnamon roll in bread pudding form, and my brother and mother chose the Chocolate Souffle ($11). Our prim and attentive server was also kind enough to bring out an order of the Banana Cream Dacquoise ($11) with pecan toffee and bitter chocolate sorbet ($11) because she knew I’d had trouble deciding between the bread pudding and the cream puff-esque offering. While our server cited the Banana Cream Dacquoise as her favorite dessert on the menu, my heart could not be budged away from the bread pudding. I had trouble letting my brother try a bite.
As is custom at Hatfield’s, a tray of chocolate-hazelnut pralines appeared with our bill – a final sweet note to our special evening. It was a nice touch and a casual reminder that even in its hipper location, the restaurant is the ideal place to go for a reliably enjoyable fine dining experience.
But truth be told, sometimes I like working myself up into a neurotic frenzy about things like my faulty kitchen cabinets, the contents of my bacon-wrapped dates and a suspect batch of blondies. It makes is all the more fun and exciting when something turns out to be amazingly delicious – just like the absurdly thick blondies that actually weren’t all that absurd at all.
6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, California 90038