On Hollywood Boulevard, between Hillhurst and Vermont, sits The Hillmont, the new communal dining hall--cum--steak house. It belongs to Steve Arroyo, who gave us Boxer, and more recently created the lively, fun tapas restaurant Cobras & Matadors. With this new venture, he proves once more that hip and charming is not an oxymoron, but a sound and inviting concept.
The Hillmont is a few doors west of Wacko in what used to be an Armenian nightclub. The place has been transformed into an appealing cavern, with visible trusses and ductwork overhead, exposed brick and concrete walls, and deep, saturated colors -- turquoise, red, black. Cozy minimalism prevails; the rooms lit by those hanging glass globe fixtures from the 60s in topaz, ruby and aquamarine. On one glass-and-steel partition is etched SUPER COMMUNAL, which is stating the obvious: The Hillmonts seating is composed of sleek, long picnic tables made of steel and wood with comfortable upholstered benches; theyre set on large casters, so the room can easily be reconfigured for, say, dancing. Strung above each table, like a clothesline, is a wire with clothespins.
Reservations are accepted only for parties of six or more; otherwise, its a walk-in kind of place. Upon walking in, we are handed menus -- single photocopied sheets -- and invited to perch on an inventive laminated-wood sofalike thing while deciding what we want. The host then enters our orders into a computer, hands us a small printout and directs us into the dining room.
For a moment, Im back facing the pergola of my elementary school. Who to sit next to? Who to avoid? All of Silver Lake seems represented here, from young hipsters to neighborhood oldsters, and the many gradations in between. Should we sit by the front windows, or in the emptier, more antisocial back? We choose the wide-open middle, pin our printout to the overhead wire. Shortly, a waiter comes round and reads it -- though weve ordered, hell make sure everything happens as it should. We set our own places; napkins and silverware are in little bins on the table.
The whole staff, from the host to the busboy, is personable and helpful, a pleasure. The tables are comfortable. And the music is terrific, from Jimi Hendrix to Pete Yorn, loud yet not intrusive.
The food could be called rethunk steak house: The menu leans heavily to meat and vegetables. Those of us embarking on the diet most recently deemed weight-reducing, or at least weight-containing -- that is, the protein-and-fat diet with very limited carbohydrates -- will find the Hillmont an ideal venue. That said, we wont be eating the first thing that comes to the table, hot bread served with herbed shallot butter. (Not to worry -- that shallot butter turns up again soon enough on the steaks themselves. We have our fill before the meals over.)
Our favorite appetizer turns out to be the not-so-promising-looking spinach salad, a heap of leaves, strips of bacon, one boiled egg. What you dont see is a drizzle of salty-sweet bacon dressing that packs a real wallop. The same approach to a caesar -- many greens with a bit of pastelike dressing -- is less successful, though the white anchovies draped over the romaine are mild and delicious. Cold gazpacho, served prettily in a square blue bowl, has too many onions and too much cayenne.
The menu includes several platters and mixed grills for two people to share, but three of us protein-hounds happily split a seafood platter -- with small, fresh, cold Kumamoto oysters, meaty Dungeness crab legs, and sweet, cold shrimp -- as an appetizer.
The steaks are dry-aged for a month, and each cut has its own distinctive deliciousness. The classically tender filet has a mild winy edge thats subtly compelling. The rib-eye, on the other hand, is shamelessly fatty, the age on it big and gamy, like well-ripened cheese; its a different and bolder pleasure altogether. The New York is kind of a cross between the two, chewier and more flavorsome than the filet, calmer and less audacious than the rib-eye, but still with good cheeselike age -- an aged Cheddars tang, as opposed to, say, a deeply ripened Brie. The prices, I might add, compared to most other steak houses, are extremely reasonable, with entrees ranging from $15 to $21.
The almost boneless half-chicken, a tender, excellent bird, has been marinated in something winy and sweet; though moist and perfectly cooked, it doesnt hold a candle to the meat. Pork chops, for example, marinated in apple cider, vinegar and port, are less sweet, and the meat itself sings loud and clear -- one person swore shed order nothing else at the Hillmont from here on out. Lamb chops, too, are beautifully cooked, succulent, meaty.
Most entrees come with a choice of a side. Mashed red-skinned potatoes may be half butter, but this makes them dreamy, almost holy. Green beans are al dente and slicked with garlic. Sauteed spinach with julienned apples is a good idea, but our batch had too much rosemary, as did a gooshy potato-and-corn cake.
Except for the not-too-sweet apple tart with homemade cinnamon ice cream, the desserts need work. Both the brownie and the baked-to-order cookies (a great idea) suffered from stale oil or cooking spray.
At present, the Hillmont doesnt have a liquor license; you can bring your own wine and beer. But the food and the service are thoroughly enjoyable, and the room is, well, hip and charming at the same time.
4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 669-3922. Open Tues.--Sun. for dinner. Reservations for parties of six or more only. BYOB. AE, MC,V.