What makes an exceptional dining experience?
I had just visited Floyd’s Barbershop on Cahuenga. I remember the sun fading in and out of the clouds, causing a brisk but rather pleasant day—ideal for exploring the city by foot. It was nearing late afternoon and I had decided to make my way toward The Grove in Fairfax, because the new films of the week would be starting their Thursday evening showings soon. So, after a quick glance at my phone, I decided on a movie and began to walk.
Once I hit Melrose, I remember feeling a slight rumbling in my stomach, signaling there would need to be food in my future, if I were to ever make it through the movie without purchasing a large tub of popcorn. I had recently sworn off snack foods, so I needed to find an alternative solution to satisfy my hunger. That’s when I remembered I’d soon be passing Wolf, a new dining establishment created by former Top Chef contestant, Marcel Vigneron. Having been a huge fan ever since finding myself watching his season with an almost religious fervor, I knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to dine on his delectable dishes.
A few blocks later and I found myself standing in front of the oversized, rich mahogany doors that adorn the intimate and upscale space. Nestled in, adjacent to its soon-to-open sister property, Beefsteak, I immediately felt as if I were far too underdressed to enter the establishment. I timidly approached the hostess, who was currently addressing another customer on the phone. She glanced at me during a break in the conversation and I asked if it was OK for me to go in, being dressed as casually as I was and without a reservation. She smiled and nodded in unison, while giving me a thumbs-up for good measure. I returned the gesture and made my way through the doors.
Upon entering, I once again felt a little self-conscious about my attire. Lit by small table candles and a few decorative overhead lights, the space was upscale and accommodating all at once. As I walked toward the back bar, I saw table after table prepped and ready for the impending dinner service. Menus were placed at perfect angles and cutlery-filled napkins were set neatly at each table’s corner. Clearly, this is a staff that takes great pride in presentation—a theme that would resonate throughout the evening.
Once I reached the bar, I was greeted with a smile by the bartender, as I pulled out my seat and set my newly-purchased Target backpack on the ground; taking great care to hide it as much as possible. I was presented with a menu, but it didn’t take long to place my order. I started with a drink known as, “Ode to the Cove,” because rum is always my go-to spirit of choice. As I watched the bartender whip up my drink, another patron approached the bar and sat a seat away to my right. After being greeted, it was instantly apparent this man originated from Australia.
I received my drink, which offered just the right amount of sweetness and astringency to make for a smile-inducing introduction of what was to come. As I sipped away, trying not to down this beverage at my usual pace, I listened in as the bartender and my fellow patron began to discuss some rather interesting topics about his home country. It was revealed that the bartender actually performed on stage several years back, portraying an Aussie character. And just as he was attempting—successfully in my opinion—to remember some of the dialect, my appetizer arrived and I quickly entered a world of my own.
Placed before me was an artist’s vision of Burnt Carrots with coconut, passion fruit, tarragon, macadamia and lime. My mouth began to water almost instantly. I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath, before I could even muster the strength to reach for my utensils. If this was course one, I couldn’t even imagine where the meal would go from here. I took my time to craft a perfect bite, each and every time. For such a thoughtful dish, I knew I had to marry the individual flavors together to truly understand the vision behind it. It was astounding. Plain and simple.
Once finished, the bartender and I began to chat about a few of my tattoos, as I could hear more and more people entering the establishment behind me. Clearly, others had a similar idea of what to do with their evening. I can’t blame them, because in that moment, I knew the right decision had been made. But, before I could produce another thought, my next two dishes were presented to me.
Braised Beef Cheek with Jerusalem artichoke, turmeric peppercorn sauce and baby chicory. And to its side, a surprising large portion of Brussels Sprouts and Tokyo turnips, bathed in fish caramel and lime. Not only was this course crafted as beautifully as the last, but the care that went into preparing and cooking these items were on full display. The deep aromas danced around in my senses, before I even took my first bite. Then, taking a moment to collect myself after being floored by these decadent plates, I finally dug in and indulged in their glory.
Everything was cooked to perfection and the seasoning was absolutely ideal. The chefs in the kitchen were able to achieve something in these dishes that you often have a hard time coming across, even in a city like LA—Authenticity. From the moment the first morsel touched my lips, I could sense the love and dedication that went into making it. These weren’t just some ingredients slapped on a menu in hopes of charging higher prices and attracting lucrative clientele. This was an item that clearly resonated with the Chef. It was a dish he knew would excite the palate and offer an experience that would leave you satisfied in every sense of the word.
Although my main course didn’t last as long as I would’ve liked (I’m a bit of a glutton, so I only have myself to blame), I couldn’t find a single flaw in anything that took place on this evening. Then again, I knew I couldn’t end my time at Wolf Dining LA without tasting one of their desserts. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, because shortly after my plates were removed, my final course took its place before me.
Banana Bundt with burnt honey ganache, habanero hibiscus ice cream and toasted coconut—I don’t even think my words could do this dish justice. Another elegant addition to the evening, it was rich, succulent and offered a dizzying display of craftsmanship. The spice of the ice cream, when combined with the subtle sweetness of the bundt, created a heavenly bite that offered you a mouthful of pure bliss and unadulterated happiness.
Upon finishing my meal, I turned to exit and noticed the restaurant was quite full now. Everyone was dressed to the nines; a mix of chinos, button downs and cocktail dresses. Yet, none of that mattered to me and I don’t think it did to anyone else in the room. I knew that as I threw on my backpack, adjusted my studded belt and draped my hood over my head, I was just another satisfied customer—the same category each of these individuals would soon fall into. After a meal like that, nothing else really mattered to me in that moment anyway. I was flying high on a cloud of cuisine that offered me a joy I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
This wasn’t just another meal for me to enjoy. Wolf Dining LA offered me an experience that transcended the ordinary and created something all its own. My only question now is, “When can I try their brunch?”