Photo by Anne Fishbein

Finding Bliss

BLISS LOOKS LIKE A PLACE THE DEVIL MIGHT LIKE. But it's not easy to find — there's no sign on the building and no visible address. It would seem that if you don't know where Bliss is, the chances of your finding it are slim indeed.

I myself don't mind telling you that Bliss — the new club-restaurant from Gabrielo Morales, who gave us the steakhouse Balboa — is located on the east side of the street just south of Melrose Place and north of Tommy Tramps. With luck you'll spot the telltale velvet ropes and, if you look hard, the word Bliss on the valet's sign. We came early, when nobody was standing outside, and had trouble locating the entrance. A Bliss employee saw us wandering in circles and pointed out some unmarked glass double doors.

Beyond those doors lies a vast, cavernous space dimly lit by gorgeous paper lights in shapes that look like shells and flames. A dozen or so of these lights hang in a recessed grid over the two lounge areas; in the dining room, enormous versions are suspended over the tables like small explosions, interspersed with long, skinny chandeliers made of pearly white beads. Some walls are painted womb red; others are paneled in slices of waney-edged lumber packed together like sinuous bodies. Flames flicker in long, rectangular hooded fireplaces — like so many forked tongues.

As with other club-restaurants, the question arises whether Bliss is foremost a place to eat or a place to hang out, to see and be seen. And if it's mainly a watering hole, a lounge, a club, does the food really matter? Yet with entrées ranging from $25 to $39, Bliss prices its food on a par with many of Los Angeles' finest dining establishments. (Bliss, it would seem, does not come cheap.) And the service charge — the tips — generated by the food prices would be equivalent to the compensation reaped by the professional trained servers in the highest-end establishment. So: Are the food and service that good, or is eating dinner at Bliss more a way of paying rent for a few hours in this devilishly pretty playground?

"First impressions," as the menu dubbed our appetizers, do not provide a promising answer to the question: A $10 order of sweet-corn ravioli with white truffle butter turns out to be four little flat pastas filled with a scant teaspoon of tough corn kernels on a white, gluey cream concoction with only the faintest scent of truffle oil. The "mini carne asada tacos," while juicy, flavorful and charmingly diminutive, also run about $2 a mouthful.

Bliss's cooking could be classified as New American, a mix of comfort food and nostalgia fare with good ingredients and mainstream trends. There's the ubiquitous caesar — in this case chopped, with a pastelike dressing and hard little croutons — and an almost as ubiquitous salad with roasted pear, pecans and crumbled blue cheese. It's not until the entrées come that we're truly impressed.

Bluenose bass has been marinated in sake; it's moist and clear-tasting, although perhaps a bit too redolent of lemon grass, but an excellent light entrée. The New York steak, dry-aged for 40 days, is crusty, tender and sweetly meaty; I just wish it weren't served sliced. It comes with a rich, cheesy garlic potato gratin and sautéed red chard — all told, a great meal. The real showstopper — and at $39 it should be — is the veal porterhouse, a gorgeous, thick bone-in steak whose pale-pink, almost translucent flesh is charred and salted, and just about as succulent and delicious as meat can get. Neither the accompanying small bowl of fresh peas and potato cubes (supposedly a "warm truffle and potato salad") nor the whole head of roasted garlic does this meat justice — but they don't, can't, detract from it, either.

Our waiter — who has been friendly and attentive all evening — makes unsolicited suggestions for dessert. We order, only to discover that just three of the five items on the dessert menu are available. We settle for his suggestions — a very nice chocolate éclair and an uninspired plate of rum balls and rugalah.

Who would have guessed that Bliss would turn out to be a clubby supper house in West Hollywood with fancy lanterns, a faulty dessert menu and a good veal porterhouse that's absolutely, well, sinful?


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