If my Dad were an animal, he would be an elephant. He is wise, strong, loyal, loves peanuts, and most importantly, Dad remembers everything. Ev. Ry. Thing. (He really does like peanuts, too.) Sure, he’s a little forgetful, but I am quite convinced that it’s all a grandfatherly sham. I know he files away every single thing in his elephant ROM and is more than able to recall anything at the click of a mouse-button, but strategically uses the “forgetful in my old age” excuse when it’s convenient. “Dad, remember you already told us about the origin of the pretzel...?” No, he doesn’t remember, and launches into the same lecture for the 99th time, with enthusiasm as if he’d never spoken a world of it to us before, while my sisters and I kick each other under the table like we’ve done for the last 25 years. “Dad, remember that guy I was talking about...?” No, refresh his memory. And yet, when my sisters and I wish he would forget about all the mistakes we’ve made, it’s like they are blinking in vivid technicolor on his brain. He hasn’t forgotten, and he makes sure we haven’t forgotten either. Ever.
One of the things that my Dad will never let me forget has to do with “German.”
My brilliant father knows, along with about five other languages not including English and Korean, German. Now if my Dad believes that everything comes from China, he also believes that Germany is awesome. He never uses the word “awesome,” and trust me, if ever the word were uttered from his mouth, I’d write about it in an instant, but I sense his deep respect for all things German from the gazillion times he mentions spätzle. “Dad, remember you told us about the German interpretation of pasta last time...?” Of course he doesn’t remember. And that’s an “ä” with an umlaut, kids. ;)
Understanding that it’s a little late to teach us, his children, the German language, I think he was set on at least teaching us some of the culture through the food. He wanted us to be little women of the world, well-educated and informed about the diversity of the planet, including Germany. He talked about spätzle, and finally said that he found a restaurant in Los Angeles that serves authentic German spätzle, and Sarah, would you please arrange for us to have dinner there so I can educate you? That was more than a year ago.
When I told Dad that Knoll’s Black Forest Inn had closed, and thus we wouldn’t be able to experience true German cuisine, including his beloved spätzle, he was disappointed. But more than just being disappointed in the fact that he wouldn’t be able to teach us about wienerschnitzel and sauerbraten, I think he was a little annoyed that I had never gotten myself together enough to actually make a reservation and get our family to eat there. Now, whenever the subject of German food comes up, he looks right at me and my sisters and says “Oh yeah, you were supposed to arrange for us to eat German food, but now we’ll never get to educate ourselves.” Or something to that effect. My Dad will never ever never never never ever let me forget that I was too disorganized to arrange for a Germanic food lesson before Knoll’s Black Forest Inn closed.
So the new Wilshire restaurant already had a strike against it from me because Wilshire is the restaurant that took over the space that used to be the old Knoll’s Black Forest Inn. Wilshire is the reason that I will never hear the end of spätzle from my Dad. I guess I didn't make it to Knoll's but at least I can try Wilshire.
We went to Wilshire for dinner without a reservation, and thankfully, rather, quite surprisingly, the sleek, chic host who looks like his name is “Sebastian” didn’t treat us like dirt. (I have no idea what his or any of the staff’s names are, I just name the way they look to me.) Many times I have gone into restaurants without a reservation and been met with a look of disdain and curt words about seeing what she “could do.” Sebastian kindly suggested either the front or back bar. The front was crowded with beautiful people, so we headed out back.
We passed by the indoor dining room, which was fairly small, but intimately sexy with leather booths and low lighting, then weaved through the maze of tables on the patio in the back. The majority of Wilshire’s seating is on the patio that’s enclosed by the wall of the building as well as large sheets of semi-sheer fabric stretched from tree to tree, creating an almost harem tent-like feel. If the indoor dining room is cozy-sexy, the patio dining area is openly hot. Literally. In case you plan to design a restaurant sometime soon, flames and fireplaces are the new “it” restaurant decor of the decade. Wilshire’s patio is surrounded by flames in stylized fireplaces, tiny votive candles, even as part of a waterfall-type sculpture on the building’s wall that faces the patio. The restaurant’s wavy “W” logo, which looks a bit cartoonish, is incorporated into the waterfall. The whole thing looks somewhat cheesy, but it must work for some.
The tiny back bar is sunken slightly from the main patio dining. There are a few small tables, a long narrow bar-style “table” attached to one wall, and then the actual bar at the furthest reaches of the entire place. It was crowded with trendy leather jackets and extra long skinny scarfed women who were just as extra long and skinny.
Since Sebastian had apologized for what could be a 45-minute wait, we ordered drinks, took a small table against the divider, and ordered from Wilshire’s bar menu, which is offered to trendy bar flies through the night. Saving most of our appetite for dinner, we ordered truffled potato chips with parmesan to accompany our cocktails. The potato chips were supremely salty (is that trick to get people thristy for more dirnks?), thick and crunchy like kettle-cooked chips, but that’s why I felt a little shammed. We just paid $7 for a bowl of chips that taste like the chips at the market which cost $2 for an entire bag. Certainly $7 paid for the “truffled” but I didn’t get the truffle.
For such a large restaurant that was positively buzzing, it was nice that Sebastian came all the way to the back bar and asked for us by name with an appended “daaah-ling,” to show us to our table. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting pagers that some of the nasty ass restaurants use to “alert” their customers that a table is ready, but it was a nice touch that Sebastian remembered who we were. We followed him back up to the patio and sat down at a small table against a a wall-
slash-fence. I got to face the cartoon waterfall wall.
Wilshire has a decent wine list, but I can’t get into the details partially because I’m not a wine nerd, but mostly because I was absolutely tickled to see Moraga under the domestics. Too bad that it was $180. Nonetheless, it was nice to see that Wilshire, whose theme is organic and local, included a wine on its list that is truly local. (Someday, I’ll actually get to taste Moraga.)
There are about a half-dozen starters, most of which are salads. There is a corn and fingerling potato soup, a crispy poached organic egg with baby purple artichokes, black eyed peas, and bacon, and of course, no LA restaurant ever gets by without some sort of raw fish, as a tartar, with Asian flavors. Our salad of beets that reminded us how local they were by indicating "McGrath” was pretty. Though I hate to use such a hackneyed term for describing beets, they looked like tiny, sparkling jewels – rubies and yellow diamonds. They were sweet, but they were also the best thing on the plate by a a very wide margin. The roasted hazelnuts were a weird combination with the beets, and I didn’t taste much of the honey nor the blossom of the honey blossom vinaigrette. ;)
Every item listed under the Main Courses sounded good, even something as mundane as a chicken breast – roasted and served with swiss chard, chanterelles, and its natural jus. The braised boneless beef shortribs with roasted cippollini onions, artichoke mashed potatoes and gremolata certainly stood out on the menu, but I can’t order that, how do you epxect me to fit into this outfit?! The roasted halibut was pristine white, tiny, and like the Westside waifs not quite dressed for a crisp night on the patio, glamorously wrapped up in a perfectly pink shawl of jamón Serrano. The halibut was tender and flaky, but lacked a bit in flavor, which is normal for fish by itself, but even the addition of salty Serrano ham and sauce, it wasn’t enough for me to open my eyes wide with delicious amazement.
Most of the desserts are a glamorous city cousin of American home-style desserts. Ours was some sort of peach cobbler-type of thing. It was nicely presented, but again, it didn’t make me sit up and take notice.
Since dinner, I’ve gone back to Wilshire for drinks-only in the bar a few times. It’s always crowded, though not uncomfortably so, and the crowd itself is trendy, but again, not uncomfortably so. It seems a bit more mature, like the Sunset crowd that has graduated to something slightly more laid back. Of course, Wilshire still charges Sunset prices. A martini costs $12.
Wilshire isn’t bad – the food is good, but seems slightly over-priced for what it is. The service was all over the map. Sometimes it was outstanding, like our host Sebastian, but sometimes it was slow, then rushed, sometimes knowledgeable and helpful, then unclear and apathetic. I won’t say much more about the service since we were there within the first few weeks of its opening and by now, they’ve hopefully gotten themselves together into a smooth operation, as sleek as the decor.
The restaurant itself is well-designed (except for the cartoon “W”) and, I can only imagine since I had never gotten the chance to experience all the Teutonic glory of the old Knoll’s Black Forest, that it has been transformed well from an old, crusty, dark Germanic chalet of sorts to this LA garden scene. Though I doubt I’ll go back there to eat, it’s likely that’s I’ll stop in every once in a while for a drink with friends. You know, just so that I never forget.
Thank God, my Dad never knew about Röckenwagner (which closed its doors on January 14).
2454 Wilshire Boulevard (between 24th and 25th Streets)
Santa Monica, CA 90403