Saturday, January 12, 2008

Deceptive Intent

BLD
7450 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 930-9744
Daily 8am to 11pm

BLD on Urbanspoon

Inadvertently tried: January 2008

This is the first time where I have been angry after having eaten decent food.

I have been wanting to try Hatfield's, ever since the Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield left Cortez in San Francisco at the end of 2005 to open their own place. As soon as I found out that I would be traveling to Los Angeles, I called Hatfield's to secure a reservation. This was about a month ago, and we confirmed our reservation a few days before our travel date. That day, however, the flight to Los Angeles was delayed, so I called Hatfield's from the plane to let the restaurant know that we would be arriving 20-30 minutes late.

After stumbling to the corner of Beverly Blvd. and Vista Street and having handed my rental car to the valet, I rushed in through the glass door and made my apologies to the maitre d' station for being late. I explained that I was the one with the 8pm reservation who had called from the airplane to let the reservationist know that I would be late, and that I was finally here, at 8:25 pm. The maitre d'-- sporting a discreet afro-mohawk hairstyle and a pink polo shirt-- took our name and stated that there would be no problem but it would take a few minutes to prepare our table and that we could wait at the bar. We thanked him for his understanding and walked over to the bar area. While we waited with drinks in hand, we perused the gourmet food display in the corner of the restaurant, including the small bottles of balsamic vinegar and silver canisters of fleur de sel, and took in the decor of the dining room, which was very different from what we expected-- more like a minimalist diner with stark tables packed very close together. I tried not to be disappointed until I at least tasted the food.

After being seated, I noted that the menu was similarly casual, with mostly burgers, large, hearty salads, and heavily laden sandwiches. Although the menu offerings still sounded good, they were quite different from what the Hatfields had done previously-- small tastes, elegant, and refined. When our server came to take our order, I explained that we were fans of Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield, had just flown in from San Francisco, and that we were very excited to try their new restaurant, and asked whether the kitchen had recommendations on what we needed to try. She looked a bit taken aback at this question, so we asked whether they were on premises tonight. Still looking somewhat crestfallen, she muttered something about the chefs being at a photo shoot in Santa Monica, but offered suggestions from the menu of what she liked.

I had a giant bowl of squash and chestnut soup, followed by a large charcuterie platter. The salumi, presented with toasted baguette slices and marcona almonds, were clearly homemade, well-seasoned, and tasty, but I was disappointed that there were no cornichons or anything vinegary or spicy to cut the fat. I was also surprised to see that the menu incorrectly identified a Viognier from the Rhone Valley as a Languedoc wine. Although the "tater tots"-- which were deep-fried potato dumplings the size of golf balls stuffed with ground meat and raclette cheese-- were slightly burned and clumsy in flavor and execution, the steak salad was very well prepared, with garlicky crunchy croutons and adeptly dressed fresh mizuna greens in a piquant smoked paprika vinaigrette. The mussels were somewhat overcooked but the spicy broth was satisfying and the accompanying fries were crisp yet fluffy, albeit a bit oversalted.

Our server, while friendly and solicitous, seemed nervous and frantic in rushing around the packed dining room floor, yet still managed to pour our wine and offer dessert suggestions. I explained that we were very full but could not leave without sampling Karen Hatfield's dessert creations. She recommended the yellow cake with vanilla ice cream. Like everything else, it was gigantic and looked more like something that would be served at P.F. Chang's than by Karen Hatfield. Nonetheless, it was rustic and delicious. We asked for the check and decided that the Hatfields certainly decided to go in a completely new direction. Trying not to be too disappointed, we asked for the check.

When the check arrived, I noticed the address at the top: 7450 Beverly Blvd. I had been searching around for 7458 Beverly Blvd. I also noticed the letters on top of the address: "BLD."

It turned out that Hatfield's is located adjacent to BLD Restaurant on Beverly Blvd. and share the same valet parking service. I did not know this and had never even heard of BLD restaurant (or Grace Restaurant, for that matter, which is the more formal estalishment that apparently operates BLD). All I knew was that I had been driving around in the dark, searching for 7458 Beverly Blvd. BLD occupies the corner of Beverly and Vista and is much larger than Hatfield's, which is slightly recessed from the streetfront. The glass door leading to BLD is also located directly in front of the valet parking station and bears only a cryptic sign with the letters "b," "l," "d," designed to look like silverware on a place setting. There is otherwise no other signage on BLD, and the BLD menu has no reference to the restaurant name or even its address.

I sheepishly walked into Hatfield's afterward to apologize for inadvertently skipping out on my reservation. The person at Hatfield's was livid. Apparently, I was not the first victim of this scam, and BLD had "stolen" customers from Hatfield's before. It was then that I learned that BLD does not even take reservations.

When we went back to BLD after straightening out the misunderstanding with Hatfield's to get validation for the valet parking, the maitre d' remarked with a knowing smile, "So did you enjoy your meal, HERE AT BLD?"

If BLD were struggling for customers, I might have been a bit more forgiving, but it was packed, and looking over what happened during the course of the evening, the restaurant's conduct was clearly intentional. Seriously, your food is not so bad that you need to steal customers. And they say lawyers are scummy...

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