When Kris Tominaga took over as group executive chef of the Paligroup earlier this year, it was safe to assume that the already posh chain of boutique hotels was about to get even more posh. Nothing reflects that change in ownership better than Mardi, the restaurant that opened last week at the Palihouse Hotel in West Hollywood.
The renovated patio dining room is impossible to imagine looking more charming. Black-and-white checkered flooring abuts Provençal green walls. Adjacent to the patio is a vintage library-style room that provides a sharp contrast with the outdoor garden seating area. The mix of marble tabletops, French bistro chairs, bohemian pillows and rustic wood tables feels very Californian. The mix-and-match style somehow all comes together in a way that is both design-forward and comfortable. If the intention is to make guests feel at home, then it's working.
In line with the decor at Mardi, the food is eclectic and hard to pin down. But that's also what makes it stand out. Tominaga, who previously ran the kitchen at short-lived Cadet in Santa Monica and also opened the Hart and the Hunter at sister property the Palihotel on Melrose, has created a well-rounded, family-style menu that embraces seasonal California cuisine without being clichéd.
Familiar-sounding items such as a stone-fruit salad with arugula, goat cheese, hazelnuts and pancetta are revelatory. When sweet Bing cherries and ripe white peaches are chopped, tossed and dressed with chicories, cheese, toasted hazelnuts, savory meat and honey, it doesn’t matter if you think you’ve had this salad before. This time, it tastes better. Tominaga avoids banality entirely by serving up exciting starters such as venison carpaccio and large platters of slow-roasted pork neck. Even the bread and butter comes mixed with shrimp and topped with uni.
Ask your server what he recommends and listen when he suggests the head cheese schnitzel. (Try not to giggle if he accidentally says “cheesehead schnitzel.”) Tominaga’s interpretation of the veal dish is much more tender and flavorful than the traditional German version. The unctuous combination of head meats is perfectly breaded. The rectangular slab is balanced with a scattering of shaved purple radishes, spicy red chili flakes, bitter watercress, mustardseed, capers, sweet onion and dollops of garlic aioli.
It's also worth mentioning how large the portions are. In a shared plates–obsessed dining culture, it's comforting when dishes are just that: big enough to actually share.
In line with Palihouse Hotel's massive culinary upgrade, the cocktail program at Mardi does not mess around. Order the house gin with rosato vermouth, aperol, rhubarb shrub and lemon. It comes over crushed ice in a vintage highball glass, garnished with a few berries, and is a refreshing antidote to the summer heat.
Finish the night with artistically plated desserts such as the vanilla bean creamsicle semifreddo, which comes loaded with a topping of sweet berries and toasted lemon, or the stone-fruit angel food shortcake with yogurt honey sorbet and buttermilk panna cotta.
8465 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood; 323-656-4020, mardirestaurant.com.
Clarification: A previous version of this post misstated Tominaga's title. He is group executive chef of the Paligroup.