The Four Seasons Hotel is known for its celebrity clientele, its lush, tropical landscaping and commitment to total luxury. Its Gardens restaurant is a welcome respite from the bustle of the city and the perfect place to impress out-of-town clients with the quintessential Los Angeles experience.
Just outside Beverly Hills and nearly hidden from view by towering foliage, a visit to the Four Seasons is a memorable occasion from the moment you are ushered in by the formal-yet-welcoming doorman. The lobby is glitzy and over-the-top with cream and gold motifs accented by enormous floral arrangements. Though the Gardens has a direct entrance from the drive, using it would mean bypassing the lovely Windows Lounge with its dark paneling and grand piano.
Executive Chef Ashley James presides over the ornate dining room. He cooks distinctly Californian fare. Though James has worked in Bordeaux, France, his menu has Asian and Latin American touches, owing perhaps to his stints at Maxim's de Paris in Singapore and Four Seasons Buenos Aires. Most dishes combine sweet and savory, and many are garnished with berries, tamarind and an assortment of tropical fruits. However, James keeps it from getting too experimental by sticking to such comfort foods as fish and chips and crab cakes and adding his distinguishing flair. The Four Seasons, after all, is a home away from home for its hotel guests.
One of James' signature dishes is the banana lemongrass coconut soup with a touch of cumin. It is a nice twist on a traditional Thai offering, with a stalk of lemongrass skewering two plump shrimp over the bowl. Though my dining partner loved it, the unripened banana turned me off a bit because of its tartness. More conventional is the Dungeness crab cake set atop roasted corn and an ancho chile remoulade. Though I am wary of the accompanying citrus wedges thrown into the mix, the dish works as a whole; the citrus helps cut the spiciness of the chile.
The menu also offers a section of healthier fare after all, this is Los Angeles. It is the unappetizingly named "antioxidant vegetable salad" that captures our hearts. It is chock full of black beans, sunflower seeds, roasted corn, and tomato with an imperceptibly light lemon vinaigrette. I have never enjoyed healthy eating so much. The goji berries are pushed aside, but it is still the most satisfying salad I have had in a long time.
The entrees we sampled are comparatively straightforward with varying results. While both the steak frites and fish and chips are passable, we agree that either can be found elsewhere, and better. The most interesting part of the fish and chips is its authentic presentation atop newspaper. The fried potatoes served with both are mealy and slightly disappointing.
More interesting is the goat cheese and tomato raviolis served with an arugula and fennel salad. Though the pomodoro sauce doesn't have much depth, the fresh basil leaves provide some added flavor. Also recommended is the baked striped bass, served with creamed spinach and topped with a mess of crunchy fried shoestring potatoes. The contrast in textures is much appreciated and the hearty dish is perfect for the cold, rainy day we visit.
Unfortunately, the desserts seem like an afterthought for a menu that could reasonably be classified as inventive. When the dessert tray was presented on our first visit, nothing looked all that interesting and we choose the cheesecake more out of duty than desire. It was fine, but it did not even approach noteworthy. On our second visit we were tempted by the vanilla custard. It had a perfect quivering texture, and was garnished with fig and dark chocolate shavings.
Gardens restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel is testament to the fact that everything tastes better in a beautiful setting with superlative service. Though the food is interesting and good, it is hardly outstanding. Still, it is worthy of a visit out-of-town clients will be talking about the A-list sightings and royal treatment long after their flights depart from LAX.
Reviewer Lindsey Styrwoll can be reached at L_Styrwoll@yahoo.com.
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