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Rib-eye grilled over mesquite with vermouth and oyster jus

You Gotta Have Faith

by Lesley Balla | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Angeleno magazine | June 5, 2014

An earthquake hit the first night Faith & Flower had guests in for dinner. I was there, and once the tall WaterMarke Tower stopped swaying, along with the glistening chandeliers and drop-down light fixtures, the entire room erupted into applause. I knew the outburst was meant for the surprise quake that hit on a packed Friday night, but it could have easily been for the stylish yet comfortable velvet booths, the cocktails served in unique cut-glass tumblers or the board of stunning mignardises that arrived at the table for dessert. You get the picture: This place is ready to shake things up.

At a time when every restaurant seems to have reclaimed-wood everything, kitchen-towel napkins and barnyard-chic flair, Faith & Flower stands out. It’s both opulent and warm, as inviting a destination for a casual pizza and a few Negronis as it is for a full extravagant meal (think expertly grilled rib-eye with plump Kumamoto oysters in the jus and a $1,500 bottle of wine). That seems pretty well-suited for this busy corner blocks away from L.A. Live.

What was once a very cold-looking, very large dining room, now has dark woods around the bar; a long, butterscotch-colored velvet banquette down the dining room; and funky art lining the hallway. Chandeliers drip and sparkle over an oyster bar, and feathers and mirrors hang along the wall. For all of its contrasting textures and effects, it works.

Most of that success can be attributed to the fact that owners Stephane Bombet, David A. Bernahl II and Robert Weakley are consummate diners and hosts themselves. Bernahl and Weakley’s Coastal Luxury Management created the glitzy Pebble Beach Food & Wine and Los Angeles Food & Wine festivals, as well as three restaurants: Restaurant 1833 and Cannery Row Brewery in Monterey, and Rose.Rabbit.Lie. in Las Vegas. There’s hardly a restaurant they haven’t dined in across the country, mostly in recruiting efforts for their events, so they know what they like. They also knew what L.A. was lacking: fine dining that isn’t stuffy or contrived, just fun and malleable, so the diner can create whatever experience he or she wants.

It’s difficult to really put Executive Chef Michael Hung’s menu into any one category. It’s eclectic, for sure, with everything from deviled eggs to wood-oven pizzas to whole tai snapper roasted in kelp. Some might see this as all over the map, or trying to please everyone at once, but I say as long as the execution is there, go for it. Hung worked throughout kitchens in San Francisco, including Jardiniere and La Folie, and was even part of the culinary team that helped make Pixar’s Ratatouille seem so real. He’s talented enough to pull it off.

Hung puts his spin on classics, like kimchee and chilies on deviled eggs, or kombu seaweed and miso cream on steak tartare. And he really knows how to amp up the decadence level on everything. Handmade pastas are wonderful, especially the oxtail-stuffed agnolotti smothered in bone-marrow butter with beef tendon chicharrones sprinkled on for texture. We couldn’t figure out what made something as simple as fresh English peas and beets so incredibly creamy and flavorful: creme fraiche, of course. We’d eat that country ham gravy (which comes with bacon-wrapped tenderloin) with biscuits any day—with anything, really. And the sturgeon, a meaty fish you rarely see on L.A. menus, was cooked perfectly and draped with pickled mustard seeds to set off its natural richness.

Don’t dismiss the pizzas; there’s a reason they’re there, and her name is Michelle Minori. Having spent a couple of years at San Francisco’s Flour + Water, most noted for its whole-grain breads and pizzas, the sous chef has created incredible pies here. On one visit, my friend and I devoured the mushroom and fennel confit pizza, the dough springy and delicious with its toppings. The most extreme is an eggs Benedict pizza with bacon, spinach and hollandaise, to which I’ll just say: Yes.
As you might imagine, desserts are just as showstopping. Overseeing the program is an alum from French Laundry, which is just one of Pastry Chef Ben Spungin’s culinary credits, and he’s doing wonders with things like peaks of chocolate cremeux sprinkled with peanut butter crumble and Big Sur sea salt. When we ordered Stumptown Coffee bean creme, we didn’t expect an almost white creme with torn pieces of light-as-air almond sponge cake. But it tasted every bit of coffee, with tiny star anise meringues and coconut sorbet sharing the bowl.

Hospitality vets can be found at every turn here, both in the front and back of the house. The service really is superb, and everyone had the timing and knowledge to make dinner move comfortably from beginning to end—sort of a dream team all working together to make Faith & Flower become one of the best spots in town. Certainly one of the most talked-about new restaurants, it’s the antithesis of a fly-by-night operation created by a couple of out-of-towners looking to cash in on the shining L.A. culinary scene. Instead, Faith & Flower complements everything that’s so great about dining in this city right now.

Faith & Flower
705 W. 9th St., L.A.
213.239.0642

Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5:30-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30pm-midnight

Prices: Smaller plates, $6-$18; larger plates, $17-$52; desserts, $8

Wines to Drink
Let Wine Director Jared Hooper pick your pairings. He has a great list with wines from around the globe at every price point and wants to have fun with it.

Where to Sit
The big velvet and leather booths right in front are fabulous for people-watching.

The Absinthe Show
This spirit gets a tableside spectacle, with flames and all. Marilyn Manson’s Mansinthe comes mixed with root beer—try it.