For celebrity chef Chris Santos, life is too short for boring food. Santos, a judge on the popular cooking show “Chopped” and the executive chef and founder of Beauty & Essex in New York, Las Vegas and Hollywood’s Dream Hotel complex, was in town recently to reveal his new seasonal menu, fittingly titled “A Taste of Beauty.”
Santos’ dishes are never dull. They’re creative, vibrant and flavorful, starting with his grilled cheese, smoked bacon and cream of tomato soup dumplings and ending with a Ferris wheel filled with a variety of desserts.
The entrance to the 10,000 square foot restaurant is deceiving. Guests walk under a Beauty & Essex sign into a collector pawn-inspired retail shop. Glass cases display vintage jewelry, and colorful custom guitars hang on the walls along with unique art. Beyond this room is a secret door that opens into a grand reception area with a sweeping spiral staircase.
Designed by Rockwell Group as a club/restaurant, one wall in this area offers curio shelves filled with petite ballerina figurines. Before entering the main dining room, there is a glass case displaying an exquisite diamond and stone necklace. It’s similar to one you might seek out in a high-end jewelry shop on Rodeo Drive.
As my husband and I followed the host into the peacock theme main dining room, I admired the walls decorated with faint outlines of peacocks, and their beautiful feathers strategically placed along the tops of the semi-circular booths. Since we arrived before sundown, this double-height room was bathed in natural light from an enormous oval skylight in the center.
Noticing all of the servers and managers were wearing a blue puzzle piece lapel pin, I learned that Beauty & Essex, part of TAO Group, offered a TAO Cares “blue” menu to support World Autism Awareness Month in April. They donated 10% of the proceeds from the sale of items on this menu to Autism Speaks and Eden II Programs.
Since the ‘Light It Up Bramble’ cocktail was featured on this special menu, I ordered the refreshing lavender blue drink, made with vodka, blueberry jam, fresh lemon, and simple syrup. My husband chose a restaurant favorite, The Beauty Elixir, made with London dry gin, fresh lemon juice, a lemony simple syrup, strawberry puree and sparking rose’ wine. This pretty pink drink had a garnish of sliced cucumber floating on top.
Besides eye-catching drinks, Santos makes some of the most innovative comfort dishes including one-of-a-kind grilled cheese, smoked bacon and tomato soup dumplings. Four bright red spoons held round wontons individually filled with different cheese, bacon and creamy Roma tomato soup, before hand pinched into dumplings.
Next the avocado toast arrived on three pieces of thick, dense and crunchy bread. There was a drizzle of espelette, a popular Basque region red pepper made into a sauce, that was drizzled on top of the chunky guacamole and flash-fried kale leaves.
Another table favorite were the small and crunchy taco shaped wontons filled with chunky red tuna, chopped radish and cilantro. There was an aioli made with a soy sauce-based wasabi and seaweed and dusting of black and white sesame seeds on top.
We ordered two of the salads on the menu, starting with the burrata beet fruit salad. It arrived with quartered red and yellow roasted beets next to a sphere of soft, white and creamy burrata cheese. Dark purple farmers market blackberries offered sweetness, while the blistered shiso pepper pesto puree gave this dish an earthy essence.
The black tea smoked duck salad could be a meal with eight perfectly cooked duck breast medallions next to Satsuma citrus slices and chopped almonds. A poached egg on top bathed the micro greens with a silky glaze when pierced with my fork.
For entrees we ordered the half roast chicken cut into various pieces and placed on a plate. This was another visually striking dish as one side of the plate was layered in a bright orange carrot puree, and the other half had a thick swirl of green onion chimichurri. Dipping piece of chicken into each puree offered a balance of sweetness with a zest of heat.
One of my favorite dishes were three large seared scallops on a bed of jasmine rice with yellow lentils. These were topped with a garlicky mojo sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
For side dishes we selected the Spanish tapa favorite – patatas bravo. The plate was filled with little roasted Yukon gold potatoes mixed with guajillo chile and a chive glaze. We also enjoyed plump asparagus spheres heightened with white soy, chili oil, and toasted garlic.
The ambiance around the dining room grew more festive as the Pantages pre-theatre guests finished their meals, and tables filled with diners celebrating birthdays, bachelorette parties, and romantic dates. That’s when we noticed the Blue Wonder Wheel desserts being paraded through the room. It takes two hands to carry the metal ferris wheel with small bright white lights. Each wheel had eight bucket style holders overflowing with blueberry rice crispy treats, crunchy nut brittle, caramel popcorn, Twix tarts, and sugared donuts holes.
Before leaving, the assistant manager Mars Robbins invited me upstairs for a tour of the various indoor and outdoor lounges, bars and dining rooms. Beauty & Essex offers an old Hollywood feel, especially in the Pearl Lounge with a dramatic sway of hundreds of pearl strings. In the corner is a DJ spinning club music, and beyond is an art deco Locket Room displaying one-of-a-kind locket necklaces hanging on gold chains. There is also an outdoor lounge overlooking an outdoor dining patio below. This is a popular overflow area during warm spring and summer nights.
Beauty & Essex offers a tantalizing atmosphere and beautiful comfort food heightened to a new level.
Open for dinner Tuesday – Wednesday: 6 to 11p.m., Thursday and Friday 6 to 12 a.m. Closed on Mondays. $$$ 1615 Cahuenga Blvd. (323)676-8880.
This review was featured also in the Beverly Press on May 9, 2019