Terry Brewer and Parker Martin may be first time restauranteurs, but no customer will notice even on the first day of official grand opening.
From the wall texture emulating patterns of distant spot lights, to the water vessel etched with First & Hope’s insignia, to the muted retro chic decor accompanied by servers in crisp waistcoats and waitresses in designer cocktail dresses, no detail was unscrutinized in this eye-popping restaurant situated in a pedestrian-bare corner immediately “behind” the Disney Concert Hall. No surface texture is duplicated between the floor (textured porcelain to prevent waitresses in high heels from falling), the back of the banquets, the actual seat, the back pillow, the upholestry of the chair, the napkin, and the place mat. Here, before even sitting, is a classic case of perception overload, but it’s all cool, very cool. Topping all that off is bar lighting that rotates between fuscia and cool blue.
The chef, Shelly Cooper (via Florida and S. Carolina), last worked as an executive chef of a country club, in a is deeply entrenched in Southern “local” cooking. This translates to fried chicken, fried oysters, fried green tomatoes, grits, pot pies, and, way from the left field, a dish called “duck, duck, goose”. There is no pun un-used on the menu which is full of low-brow, high-brow mashups (think “Mac & cheese Flight”, “Praise the Lard”).
While there may have been a public complaint about the small portion (skip the popcorn shrimp – singular), and the oily food, it’s hard not to fall for corn meal fried green tomatoes served with a side of “Goddess Sauce” – sour cream whipped with taragon, thyme and many other spices, as well the Pimento cheese (chef last worked in S. Carolina) amuse served with home-made crackers. The house is so obviously proud of every dish being produced on plant that even the menu indicates this fact. Beyond all that, First & Hope has a very strong online “presence”, as seen by the barrage of shillers on both Eater LA, Grubstreet, Yelp, and even Urbanspoon.
The kitchen, during soft opening, has been accommodating, and rightfully so at the prices being commanded by the dishes. For the fantastic buttermilk fried chicken served in a metal “picnic” basket, I was able to sub in the delicious apple/fennel salad (you know, because the carbs in the potato salad is bad!). Sides were served as apps, apps were served as mains, people split a “big” for 2, etc.
First & Hope really deserves accolades for the actual existence of bones in the de-spined trout with lump crab spilling out ala Queen Alien birthing from Ripley. The entire fish, head and tail on, is deboned, then reassembled, belly prostrate, to evoke a still swimming wish, again, spilling out the guts of lump crab like volcano. As one digs further into the fish, it’s inevitable to find tiny bones that escaped the poissonnier’s tweezer. The entire experience brings sanity back to seafood, unlike the uber manipulated fish dishes of say, Water Grill.
Not sure how many diners are ordering this, but I find it inspiring.
Every supper starts off with pimento cheese and house made crackers. As Angelenos, this may not seem a great bread service at first, but as every Columbian knows, pimento cheese is the only cheese that matters. Same cheese seems to be used in the burger as well, and … well, let’s save the burger dissection for another day.
Then there’s the ridiculous mac & cheese flight (3 varietals) served on a weighty granite slat. Akin to cube, cheese type (but not origin) is scribbled onto the slate via chalk. Except here, in front of the drawn cheese descriptions, there is more cheese, and more accoutrement! The slate of 3 ramekins represents the marriage of Cube’s cheese bar and Cube’s mac & cheese. Life may not get better. The current selection, from left to right: “Marin Triple Cream Brie, Lasagnette & California Almond, Cypress Grove Goat Cheese, Mini Shells & Popped Corn, Porter Beer Cheese, Corkscrew Pasta, Rye Croutons”. For the triple cream brie, a Californian honey of beyond floral quality was matched, and the crushed, salty, rye crouton on top of porter beer cheese presented a contrasting texture versus the thick yeasty mac. Best order of operation for this dish definitely goes from left to right.
Clearly this kitchen is still reaching for that smooth rhythm; one day the fried chicken lacked sodium, another it was over-brined. The burger’s bun (produced in-house, natch) is crumbly – not dry, just crumply – and caused a very expensive disaster. Random logs in the sweet potato stack were undercooked. For the philharmonic-loving set though, this is instantly the best alternative. For the rest of the town who hates $5 parking (street parking during event days is non-existent), patiently wait for the kitchen to marry the built-out, for there are gems to be had, oil be damned.
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