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A Happening Plate

Art by Dottie-Boy for DottievisionTM

I tend not to dine where I drink, because the fare at nightclubs is rarely more than incidental: a chip here, a tapa there, finger foods whose main purpose is to provide ballast for the alcohol. Which is why I did not expect much in the way of dining from Deep, the incendiary club of the moment, on the legendary corner of Hollywood and Vine, site of a Brown Derby and, more recently, Jacks Sugar Shack. Deep’s spacious, woody main bar, which also serves as its dining room, seemed too mightily styled to promise a menu of substance — a Serengeti scene complete with stalking lion over the entryway, a soundtrack heavy on bass, a peek-a-boo nude-with-martini oil portrait above the bar, and a crowd of slender young things who looked raring to go.

“You want training wheels with those?” asked bartender Courtney, challenging anyone to accept a lime with his or her tequila. It was enough of a challenge to concentrate on anything but the way she filled out her slip of a spandex top. Distraction provided, as lights flashed on in the windows behind the bar, revealing two sylphs, wearing tattered lingerie and 8-inch stilettos, performing Fosse-esque dance moves on and around a boudoir set.

“Hungry?” asked Courtney, sliding over the tiny menu, 15 items total, designed, as if one needed further encouragement, to put one in the mood: oysters, fillet, chocolate. We began with a generous starter of Maryland crab cakes, two fat medallions rolled in kataif (shredded phyllo) and fried crisp, a perfect counterpoint to the creamy interiors. A gigantic portion of potato-encrusted calamari was served with a smooth roasted-tomato aioli and baby greens tossed with toasted-cumin vinaigrette. This was bar food nonpareil — they couldn’t possibly keep it up. And then came the delicately seared foie gras, atop a toasted brioche and a quiver of Riesling gelée.

What was going on here? Why was this food better than almost anything I’d eaten in a restaurant in the past year? There had to be a genius in the kitchen, and there was: Chef Neal Fraser, formerly of Boxer and Rix, had not merely created Deep’s menu, but was at the stove, turning out one sublime dish after another. Fillet of beef arrived topped with molten Gorgonzola, melting over the meat and into sautéed Swiss chard flecked with caramelized garlic. Barbecue quail, “cooked under a brick,” was a funny-looking little bird, flat as a deck of cards, its skin richly glazed, its flesh tender and smoky. Vanilla crème brûlée was a big dish of not-too-sweet custard with a burnt-sugar crackle as thick as a pane of glass.

I wanted more, but could not fit more, so made plans to dine again the following Wednesday. “We serve dinner Thursday through Saturdays only,” I was told, though Deep plans on expanding as demand increases. We arrived early on a Thursday, before the throngs lined up behind the velvet rope (fair warning: you will encounter a big guy at the door, checking out your attire), and tried just about everything else on the menu: shellfish cocktail, morsels of sweet, briny lobster, shrimp and crab in a sharp horseradish-vodka tomato water; spicy ahi tartare, topped with iridescent-green wasabi caviar, surrounded by a pool of ginger vinaigrette suffused with cilantro; and a presentation of buttery, pepper-rimmed salmon gravlax so high-design it could have been displayed at MOCA. Rack of petite lamb was not an exaggeration — each of the eight chops was no bigger than a thumb, and the mild, charred meat was nicely set off with a violet-mustard sauce. The only dish left to try was the chocolate fondue, a dish I find hard to take seriously, dredging up, as it were, memories of my adolescent slumber party fare in the ’70s, when fondues were all the rage. And yet this fondue was very serious, the almost-black sauce as dense as frosting, a sort of liquid truffle in which to swirl speared chunks of banana and strawberry.

Again, the food was an utter triumph, not merely complementing Deep’s deeply seductive ambience but elevating it. As revelers began filling the room, many bound for the black-lit, silver-and-purple back bar, pumping with funk, I realized Deep had pulled off a very neat alliterative hat trick indeed: a drinking, dancing and dining scene where each part takes the others to higher ground.

 

1707 N. Vine St., Hollywood; (323) 462-1144. Open Tues.–Sat. 8 p.m.–2 a.m.; dinner served Thurs.–Sat. Starters $11–$22; entrées $13–$25; desserts $7. Full bar. AE, Disc., MC, V.

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