Trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, chef Andrew Vaughan was working at the luxury Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit. In just a matter of hours, Andrew’s home, life, and job as a chef vanished. His family lost everything and Andrew moved into the convention center. A few days later, FEMA offered to give him a plane ticket to any city in the United States. He chose Los Angeles, where he could explore the culinary world on the West Coast and avoid hurricanes.
A friend offered him a place to live while he volunteered at the award-winning Lucques on Melrose. Owner/Chef Suzanne Goin introduced him to our city. Months later he landed a job to help open the new SimonLA at the Sofitel across the street from the iconic Beverly Center. His talent was immediately noticed by the executive chef for whom the restaurant is named, Kerry Simon, and within a month Andrew became the Sous-Chef. Today, he is the Executive Sous-Chef and prepares an innovative menu that leaves patrons smiling and wanting more.
You can often tell a lot about a restaurant by its bread basket. At SimonLA, diners receive a basket filled with blue cheese crackers, herb and Parmesan cheese cracker bread, corn bread, pretzel bread, and buttermilk biscuits, very creative and tasty. I could hear my mother saying “Don’t fill up on the bread,” as I took a bite from each one.
We started with a gorgeous Farmer’s Market apricot salad with sweet gem lettuce (blend of romaine and bib), caramelized walnuts, bright orange sunburst tomatoes, and sweet apricots dressed with homemade Point Reyes blue cheese dressing. Next arrived a deeply delicious sushi-grade, blue fin tuna dynamite roll with lump of crab.
For an entrée, our waitress, Christy, recommended the bamboo steamed fish with lemon grass, ginger, kaffir lime and bok choy. I opted for the grilled swordfish with little roasted heirloom potatoes, Chinese broccoli, cashews, and a kumquat sambal. My husband selected the tender filet mignon with toasted garlic, rapini (similar to a broccoli) and fragrant olive oil poached tomatoes.
The two sides we selected were the cauliflower gratin and truffled macaroni and cheese. This is not a kid’s mac-n-cheese. Instead it’s a sophisticated adult version with loads of garlic.
For dessert, Christy brought out the cutest homemade s’more. The delicious chocolate ice cream bon-bon was the face of this dessert, with a burnt-to-perfection marshmallow hat and a thin graham cracker wafer as the brim.
Next, she brought a plate of freshly spun, pink cotton candy. I had to grab a handful to reminisce about summer evenings at the county fair. I declined the junk food platter that was delivered to guests in the next booth. It was filled with freshly made snowballs, ding dongs, caramel popcorn, rice crispy treats, cotton candy, and ice cream. We will save that for another time when we visit with a larger group. SimonLA, at the Hotel Sofitel, 8555 Beverly Blvd. (310)358-3979. http://www.simonlarestaurant