First & Hope: Food to Be Ogled
Across the street from Disney Hall, shiny as the crooked grin on the mug of a gin-sozzled dame, First & Hope is a maximalist's cool evening out, a restaurant-slash–supper club with a Blue Velvety jazz lounge at its heart, a bar that splits the difference between Busby Berkeley glitz and downtown disco cool, bathed in a purplish glow that recalls the shimmer of footlights reflected in a tight, sequined dress. Does the Flash-intensive Web site give the costume designer and the bartender as much play as it does the chef? It does. Is the menu of proto-Southern tavern food programmed as carefully as a Golden Globes acceptance speech? There isn't a current meme that has gone unnoticed, from the mac 'n' cheese flights to the flatiron steak, from innard mania to beer-can chicken, from cocktailianism to pot roast, from fried chicken to meatloaf with foie gras.
In a certain way, all you have to know about the place is that the Back Yard Garden Salad, said to feature ramps, fiddlehead ferns, English peas, morels and pea tendrils, a rather complete catalog of a produce fetishist's spring, in fact contained none of those ingredients — not one! But the other thing you should know is that it ended up being one of the best salads of the year anyway, a collection of young endives and chicories and such served with a jigger of Green Goddess dressing on the side, like an herb-scented salad version of cookies and milk.
So does it much matter that the Praise the Lard plate features slivered pigs' ears fried hard by someone who's obviously never eaten pigs' ears, pig cheeks braised overlong in bourbon and pork belly closer to yesterday's chicharrones? Not much — you nibble the grits and order another champagne julep. Should the combination of seared ahi tuna and foie gras pâté be legally enjoined from cohabiting within a sandwich? Probably so. Should a dish called Popcorn Shrimp & Grits be required to taste like either (1) popcorn, (2) popcorn shrimp, or (3) shrimp & grits? One might think so.
But First & Hope is less a restaurant than it is a blog about a restaurant. This is food designed as much to be admired as to be eaten. And did I mention it was both open late and across from Disney Hall? You can keep the rubber chicken at Rothschild's — I know where I'm going for supper after the Ring.
FIRST & HOPE: 710 W. First St., dwntwn. (213) 617-8555, firstandhope.com.
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