When we ordered the roasted Kurobuta pork rack, I specified “rosy, medium-rare, not brown.” “That’s how the chef cooks it,” the waitress answered, with the grin of someone who’s just shared a juicy secret with her BFF. “You’ve got a chef who knows how to cook, then,” I said. The pork, sliced off the bone, was rosy-pink, tender, and succulent — pure, great pork flavor. (Kurobuta has a Japanese name, but it’s actually an English-American heritage breed, the Berkshire hog. No problem eating it as rare as you like — there’s no more trichinosis in commercial hogs, and farms raising slow-growing heritage breeds aren’t so stupid as to subject their precious piggies to industrial-farm filth. Here the pork arrives from Snake River Farms in Idaho, also a major purveyor of American Kobe beef.) The accompaniments were dreamy Parmesan polenta, roasted baby turnips, caramelized apples, horseradish, and natural juice. Frankly, I was so taken with the luxurious meat that I mainly noticed the perfect harmony rather than individual garnishes.
Other choices include organic chicken, Alaskan halibut with chanterelles (carefully cooked until barely done, the chef says), diver scallops, braised lamb shank, and a couple of steaks, including a $44 “28-day-aged bone-in New York.” Unfortunately, turns out those 28 days are spent swathed in Cryovac, not in a dry-aging meat locker, so the meat will likely be tender but not profound.
Curious, we tried a couple of side dishes. Parmesan french fries weren’t that special. Ricotta-herb gnocchi Bolognese were tasty but a bit doughy, and the sauce was nice but ordinary. If you’ve got a little one in tow, there’s no kiddie menu, but mac and cheese is among the available sides.
The bar offers interesting cocktails to start with. Jim’s Yuzu Crush (tequila with tart yuzu juice, ginger, lemongrass, and lime juice) was crisp and clean, resembling a serious margarita made without junky simple syrup. My strawberry-basil caipirinha — well, I’ll stick with regular caipirinhas, hold the strawbs. Yoda’s Spiced Pear (spiced rum, pear, blood orange, and Cointreau) was pleasant and mellow, like Yoda, but the Yuzu Crush outshone it.
During the meal, we drank various wines offered by the glass, in generous pours. (I liked the Côte du Rhône Villages with the Kurobuta pork.) The more thrilling wines, alas, are by the bottle only, and steeper than those by the glass, but there are plenty of affordable bottles if you are middle income by John McCain standards. One positive aspect to ordering wine is the eye-candy sommelier, Joe Weaver, who comes to pour them (and advise you if you want) — with his dark hair and pale skin, he’d be perfectly cast as Heathcliff, or as a romantic Anne Rice vampire.
We didn’t think we had enough appetite left for dessert, but pastry chef Regan Briggs (formerly of the L.A. Four Seasons) offers desserts too smart to resist. We split her lemon-ricotta tart and demolished it. Totally. Don’t ask for details, it was all a dream: crisp round shell, tender-tart custard, a loud blast of citrus — then, whoosh!, gone to the last crumb. Judging by just one sweet is probably premature, but this pastry chef may even rival Jack Fisher (EOS) and James Foran (Market). The espresso was good, too.
Crescent Heights is not a “budget restaurant.” Planned and constructed over two years in a neighborhood of high-priced condos (that are no longer selling well), it has opened at a time so financially drastic that our best higher-end restaurants like Blanca and Marine Room are cutting prices. The bill here is likely to run about $100 a person for two courses and shared dessert, including tip, tax, and modest beverages. (Once the restaurant gets more established, the chef-owner plans to offer lower-price options, such as a Monday bargain prix-fixe and/or half-price wine nights.) But where I sometimes resent restaurant prices, if the food costs more than it’s worth, this time they seem reasonably justified by the quality of ingredients and the care at all levels of the operation. The cooking, service, and atmosphere offer a feel-good evening in fraught times. The food isn’t wildly original or venturesome (that’s why only four stars) but it is solidly excellent. With the holidays (and kinfolk from the cold states) coming, this could easily become at least a special-occasion favorite, to enjoy American cuisine at its most satisfying. Even Alaska-Wolf Barbie (remember her from before November 4, when she was a Somebody?) would be captivated. And if you work downtown — lucky you! They do lunch!
ABOUT THE CHEF
David McIntyre, from L.A., was majoring in business and psychology at University of Washington when he came home for summer break and snagged a temp kitchen job at Joachim Splichal’s famed Patina (his parents were investors in the restaurant) and realized that he wanted to spend his life behind a stove, not a desk. He went back to school and got his degree anyway — “I didn’t want to go to culinary school until I was certain this was what I wanted to do,” he says. After college he returned to Patina for about a year, then took time off to travel in Europe, knowing by then that his future lay in the kitchen. “Then I started with Spago and have been there almost ever since, until now.” He worked his way up to becoming Spago’s sous-chef and kitchen manager, responsible for ordering vast quantities of foodstuffs from numerous purveyors — connections he has maintained in obtaining top raw ingredients for Crescent Heights. After that, he helped open Cut, Puck’s steakhouse in L.A.
His wife’s sister lives in San Diego, and after a skiing accident, he and his wife-partner Mariah crashed with her while he recuperated. They fell in love with the mellower local vibe and decided to move here permanently and open a restaurant of their own. It took two years — lining up investors, designing and building the restaurant — until Crescent Heights Kitchen opened. “I wanted the food to be California Modern, using local and seasonal ingredients. I’ve never wanted to do something overplayed. I like to do a few ingredients on the plates and have them really shine. I’ll roast my artichokes, and I want them to be the best artichokes you’ve ever eaten. I like simple food. Most of our sauces are pretty much natural. We roast the bones with shallots, garlic, vegetables, and herbs and make a stock, and otherwise, it’s pretty much the natural flavor.
[June 2009 Editor's Note: Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge has since closed.]