View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "Delphine: French Riviera-Themed Cooking" slideshow.
Four women sway toward the lobby, tugging at tight, black skirts, stilettos in boozy lockstep. A heel catches on a crack in the floor. A glowing slug of appletini arcs onto the tiles. Not a moment later, an oblivious waiter steps into the puddle. His legs shoot out from under him, and the full plates he was carrying spring into the air as he bounces hard onto the tiles, then land on him in a steaming tangle of chicken tarragon, onion soup and fries. Do I imagine that the woman who spilled the drink giggles just beyond the entrance to the lobby? Buster Keaton would have approved.
Delphine is the brasserie in the new W Hollywood, a light-filled corridor that leads from the entrance on Hollywood Boulevard, opening up a bit in the middle to include a central dining room, and narrowing again where it meets the lobby of the hotel. It is meant, I think, to evoke the feeling of a sun-bleached hotel somewhere near Cannes, with pale Provencal tile on the floors, black-and-white seaside photographs on the walls, and shelves displaying a haphazard collection of beach glass, liquor bottles and yellowing French paperbacks. Tables sag under the weight of whole grilled dourade, drifts of salad Niçoise and soggy pizza. All that's missing is the sand on the floors and the stink of Bain de Soleil.
Los Angeles is going through one of its periodic brasserie moments, a tide of popular French food flushing out the swamps of uninspired fusion cuisine, and it has never been easier to find a plate of steak frites, a tureen of onion soup or a flagon of thin muscadet. Delphine's chef, Sascha Lyon, is a Los Angeles native and veteran of the New York City brasserie wars, who cooked at Balthazar, Pastis and his own Meatpacking District brasserie, Sascha. Daily Candy compared his ambition to that of David Foster Wallace, and the New York Times' Frank Bruni compared his menu to something from a Midwestern hotel. Lyon's simple, Riviera-themed cooking seems right at home in the airy restaurant, where the cheeseburgers share table space with the excellent soupe de poissons, the overcooked fish and chips with the Friday bouillabaisse, just as they might in a Juan-les-Pins hotel.
I once described a phenomenon I called the Royalton moment, that split-second when you're unsure whether the doorman is going to greet you with a fist bump, which is a bit more informal than what you are probably expecting at a hotel that is costing you $450 per night, or with a crisp "Good morning, sir,'' which means he does not expect to see you later that night at Les Deux. This is not a problem at Delphine, where the waiters greet everybody with a mumbled "Hey, man,'' and the parking valets want to know what you thought of the snails, the garlic chicken or the roast lobster and fries.
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The roast lobster and fries is a pretty good way to go, actually — the meat is juicy, the fries crisp and plentiful, and the herbed lobster butter just weird enough that you will find it safe to ignore. The char comes half-immersed in a puddle of the cabbagey French vegetable soup garbure. Uniformly fresh steamed mussels come in a Le Creuset pot with white wine and slivered fennel that had been tossed with Pernod. Salt cod is whipped to a froth with potatoes and staggering amounts of cream. A crisp-skinned trout meunière, sluiced with brown butter, garnished with a handful of sautéed shrimp, is probably the best trout meunière I've ever had in Los Angeles. Although I could find it in neither Saulnier nor Escoffier, there must be a proper French name for the dish, but it reminded me of the fish preparations I am always happy to eat in New Orleans.
In keeping with the Mediterranean theme, there are a certain number of Catalan-inspired dishes on the menu — ham with goat cheese crumbed onto soggy tomato toast; braised lamb with stewed peppers — but it's better to pretend that they don't exist. You probably will want the Caesar salad with bacon, the cumin-spiked olive bowl and the onion soup blanketed with bubbling Gruyère.
As at W restaurants all around the world, the customers are a fairly self-selecting bunch of women in black, men with interesting hair and the Midwestern tourists who are actually staying in the hotel, plus an oddly high contingent of tween stars and their entourages, drawn, I assume, by the proximity of Delphine to the Nickelodeon studios right down the street. One afternoon, I noticed three different industry suits, at three separate tables, scrolling through Justin Bieber fan blogs on their Macs. If Wizards of Waverly Place is the tween equivalent of The New Yorker, Delphine is its Algonquin Round Table.
DELPHINE: 6250 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 798-1355, restaurantdelphine.com. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner appetizers, $7-$14; main courses, $17-$36; desserts, $9. Recommended dishes: soupe de poissons; arctic char with garbure; roast lobster and fries; apple-hazelnut crostada with goat cheese and vanilla ice cream.