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Dining: A Handsome Patina

Robert Wemischner

Tempo is a word that comes to mind when savoring a meal in the building where the Los Angeles Philharmonic resides. Timing is as crucial to fine dining as it is to music, and the beige-suited servers at Patina, the city’s new temple of gastronomy, seem to know instinctively when to appear and when to vanish. Patina is an intimate theater-within-a-theater, where the performance involves blending California cuisine with European and Asian notes to yield a coherent whole. The show is best viewed from the Chef’s Table, where as many as 12 diners can watch Executive Chef Theo Schoenegger and his assistants practice their craft in the bustling kitchen behind a pane of one-way glass.

The restaurant lies beneath a silvery petal of the titanium-clad flower that envelops the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry creation. The architect was hailed when the building opened in October 2003 for providing Los Angeles with a landmark that is as striking and as memorable as the Hollywood sign. Still, the site posed special design challenges for the Patina Group, the restaurant company founded by chef Joachim Splichal; because of its location within a symphony hall, the restaurant had to be acoustically isolated from the rest of the structure. To prevent concert music from seeping in, architect Hagy Belzberg placed the restaurant’s floors on cushions reminiscent of giant hockey pucks. Consequently, Patina floats free of the main building. Its interior walls are also padded with neoprene sheets to absorb the chatter of patrons.

Allusions to the neighboring concert hall are woven into the restaurant’s decor. The undulating ceiling and sensually curved booths subtly recall the patterns of musical rhythms. But Splichal insists that none of this upstages the menu. “I don’t like spaces where design takes over the whole experience,” he says. “What’s most important is to create a comfort level for diners within a setting that is understated, sophisticated, and elegant.” Splichal has succeeded on this score. He made the bold decision to move Patina, the company’s flagship restaurant, from its original Melrose Avenue location to the downtown address, and L.A.’s notoriously fickle food connoisseurs have followed, invigorating the area’s nightlife scene.

Splichal presents diners with innovative dishes that avoid bizarre fusions of ingredients and odd culinary combinations. The menu changes daily, but a recent meal included appetizers of osetra caviar with blini and a lemony crème fraîche, as well as a risotto with Parmesan foam and white truffles. The main course consisted of côte de boeuf with aged balsamico, carved tableside and served with a mushroom ragout, twice-baked potatoes, and white and green asparagus.

Sommelier Eric Espuny (who has previously worked at Manhattan’s Lutèce and Le Bernardin) selects the accompaniment from a list of 1,500 bottles, and master fromager Andrew Steiner steers customers through the later stages of the meal with a smidgen of perfectly ripened Rouelle Cendre goat cheese, Spanish blue, or Epoisses from Burgundy. Dessert choices are plentiful, but the chocolate quartet delivers the perfect coda to the meal. Wunderkind pastry chef Tomas Gerard salutes the swirling shapes of Gehry’s concert hall by placing thin arcs of chocolate atop a stack of fudgy treats that includes a ganache, a milk chocolate mousse, and a chocolate shortbread crowned with the creamiest oval of dark chocolate sorbet. After finishing this delicious foursome, and perhaps following it with a digestif of Cossart Gordon 1845 Bual Solera Madeira, you will be eager to book a return engagement at Patina.

Patina, 213.972.3331, www.patinagroup.com

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