On a weekend night at the 2-month-old Gardner Junction in West Hollywood, young industry types buzzed around the steampunk-inspired bar talking loudly while, one imagines, silently wondering if they'd talked enough about work to justify putting the tab on the company card.
The evening was brisk for an outdoor bar, yet the crowd — and the dramatically backlight row of brown bottles of booze — radiated energy (heat lamps helped).
Inside the restaurant, the mood was calm and the menu looked familiar enough for L.A. diners: charred octopus, seasonal vegetables, foie gras. But when the food landed on tables, its presentation was a welcome surprise.
The octopus was served in a bracing gazpacho with buttermilk snow — a twist that might be offputting in chilly November but should be devoured instantly with no regrets. The vegetables were presented as a small forest planted in a puree. The foie gras was almost sent away, as it was mistaken for a dessert, the liver tucked between a waffle and a whirl of toasted meringue and sprinkled with crumbled peanuts and jellied grapes. Even a simple slab of squash was jolted awake by a bright vermouth cream, balanced with a few fat ravioli.
“We're literally farm-to-table,” the waiter assured, gesturing to the small garden behind the restaurant. “You'll see waiters grabbing fresh herbs.”
Unless each plant regenerated at night, this statement seemed improbable, but sure enough, waiters kept rushing out the door and, several times, left it ajar causing a literal cold war — with one chilly patron finally kicking away the door stop.
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A fig cake with coffee ice cream and rose candy shards sticking up like stegosaurus spikes tasted like a trip to Turkey. By the time dessert arrived, every table was suddenly packed with late-night diners. Deltron 3030 grooved on the speakers, and servers were increasingly hard to flag down.
Under the cozy yellow dome, happy people on their second whiskeys rested their forks back on the 4-inch steel bolts used as cutlery holders and wondered what this space used to be. An old Red Car depot? A retro gas station?
“It was a pizza place,” said the waiter with a grin. Just one more unexpected surprise.
1451 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; (323) 450-9021, gardnerjunction.com