Chef Simon Dolinky, with Midwest agricultural sensibilities, creates truly fresh fare.
Fresh. Seasonal. Organic. Three of the most overused gastronomic buzzwords of the last two decades. On every corner — from coffeehouses to cafes — we see this “new” culinary trend. Even fast-food chains seem to be getting in on the act. But what constitutes fresh is often debatable — that is, unless you happen to be enjoying dinner at Blvd 16 in the Hotel Palomar. Truly fresh and organic fare dominates the menu at this hidden gem in Westwood, with dinner selections changing to take advantage of current seasonal offerings.
Award-winning executive chef Simon Dolinky should take great pride in bringing his Midwest agricultural sensibilities to this West Coast restaurant. Growing up in Wisconsin, near the Madison Green Market, Dolinky was inspired by the quality produce grown by local farmers. He trained as a chef in Spain and then returned to take on various positions at top restaurants throughout the United States. In all instances, his goal was to craft dishes with “ingredients from farms, fisheries and ranches that embrace sustainable and eco-conscious practices.” He continues his mission at Blvd 16, using local, sustainable, and organic products whenever possible.
Along with my friend Kathi, a restaurateur and sommelier from Kansas City, I decided to check out the buzz we’d been hearing about this new venture owned by Kimpton Hotels & Resorts. As the valet ushered us into the hotel lobby, we noted the contemporary yet comfortable surroundings: dark woods and earth tones set off by modern glass fixtures, metals, and organic accents. This inviting theme was echoed in the dining room. Upon entering, I remarked that the lights were dimmed too low. After being seated, however, the candlelight was more than enough to read the menu by and added a charming intimacy to the room. We had a cozy table near the back of the 120-seat restaurant, which effectively positioned us for people watching.
The majority of guests was gathered around the polished marble bar or adjoining cocktail tables, sipping specialty martinis and enjoying offerings from the 125-label wine list. The rest were scattered at tables around the room, mostly in groups of two and four. In our immediate view was a single gentleman with the tell-tale look of a weary business traveler, relaxing with a glass of wine before heading up to his room. In the corner, a young couple — aware only of themselves — fed each other loving bites of their respective meals.
Our server, Marshall, cheerfully welcomed us before adeptly leading us through each of the menus, from specialty drinks and wines to seasonal fare and mainstay selections. Kathi and I gladly gave up control and accepted him as our guide on this culinary adventure.
We each started with a different specialty martini, both recommended by Marshall. I chose the Lady in Red, a refreshing blend of muddled strawberries, elderflower liqueur, and Ketel One Citroen vodka. Kathi opted for the Blvd 16, crafted with tarragon-infused vodka, Lilet, fresh-squeezed citrus, and Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur.
Next was the task of charting the rest of our meal. When Marshall described the slow roasted Duroc pork tenderloin as a Kobe beef equivalent of the pork family, I was sold. Kathi, however, waffled between the house-made pappardelle pasta with English pea ragout and the char-grilled lamb T-bone.She finally settled for the lamb, at Marshall’s recommendation.
For the leafy greens course, I decided on a house salad of market greens with Meyer lemon-champagne vinaigrette, golden raisins, and sunflower seeds. Kathi chose the organic roasted beets with watercress, orange vinaigrette, and crunchy chickpeas. As we yielded our menus to Marshall, the cocktails arrived.
When the greens hit our table, we marveled at their composure and flavor profiles. Between salad and the main course, we were offered the wine list. Kathi commented on its predictability. I agreed, but attested to its overall approachability. Not everyone boasts extensive wine training. We left the decision to our server, who chose a very nice bottle of Ridge Zinfandel. Although we both tend to favor more avant-garde wine and food pairings, Kathi and I were quite content with the selection.
My Duroc pork arrived dressed with brown butter peaches, braised black kale, sweet ham broth, and black pepper spatzle. As I dug in, Kathi was still examining her lamb T-bones with minted summer bean salad, caramelized onion-faro salad, and garlic lamb jus. One of the T-bones was slightly over-cooked and she contemplated sending it back. That is, until she tasted it. The flavors were spot-on. There were no competing components and the resulting taste combinations were surprisingly light and defined.
It wasn’t until I was enjoying a decadent chocolate terrine for dessert, that I noticed we were missing the salt and pepper vessels that sat on the tables around us. Kathi insisted that they had been there throughout the savory portion of our meal but were cleared before dessert was presented. With a surprised sigh, I exclaimed, “I guess you don’t miss what you don’t need.”