Hidden in Plain Sight is a new series in which we take a new look at an established restaurant. In our lust for newness and our obsession with “bests,” the fantastic unsung places that make up the bulk of our city's dining sometimes get overlooked. Here we aim to acknowledge, examine and (often) celebrate those places.
Blair's Restaurant on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake is coming up on its 10th anniversary in November, which explains quite a bit. Every time I eat there I get déjà vu — Blair's serves food that is very much in the style of 2001, before uni and burrata and pork belly took hold. The thing is, there was nothing wrong with 2001. Basically, Blair's serves classic, French-influenced American food — food that was the beginning of the culinary revolution — and does it pretty damn well.
Owned by Marshall Blair, Blair's has undergone many changes in the past decade. The candlelit brick restaurant, which sits across the street from Ivanhoe Elementary in a mainly residential part of Silver Lake, for a time served breakfast, lunch and dinner but returned to dinner-only service a few years back. While Blair himself has served as the chef for most of the past 10 years, earlier this year Gjelina alum Wes Whitsell was brought in as chef, though it wasn't long before Whitsell left and Blair took over the kitchen again.
Blair is an alumnus of Water Grill downtown, and his food shows the level of quality and precision in seasoning that you might expect from an ex-Water Grill chef. There's also a kind of throwback playfulness, like that exhibited in his deviled eggs appetizer, which comes as three eggs sitting on their ends topped with celery salt, herbs and turmeric-spiced mayo.
But mostly, this is food that is hearty and classic, with just enough creativity to make it special. Roasted chicken comes with a crispy skin over creamed chard and beet greens, both iron-rich and decadent. Short ribs, as rich and soft as you had hoped, sit atop soft sage polenta with breaded leeks — intensely comforting, and very well executed.
Blair's has always struggled in the service department, and while waiters are friendly and well-meaning, there are some oddities, especially for a restaurant this expensive (entrees range from $18-$39, and appetizers can be as much as $16).
The wine list is decent but there's no formal wine service (as in, if you order a bottle, it will be opened and sometimes poured away from the table, with no chance to taste the wine), and there's little to no wine knowledge on the part of the servers. The menu quite often advertises dishes with ingredients that have been switched out. I ordered a halibut dish in part because of the promise of sunchokes; when it arrived, no sunchokes graced the plate. Under the fish instead was a jumble of chopped greens, chorizo and boiled peanuts. It was delicious, but a heads-up would have been appreciated.
All of this gives you an idea of the conundrum of Blair's: It's a neighborhood restaurant with destination prices. But also, often, with destination-worthy cooking. Blair's is reminiscent of a lot that was great about the upscale restaurants of 10 years ago. In this era of small plates as far as the eye can see, it's actually a very pleasant reminder of what the beginning of this current culinary revolution looked and tasted like.
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