Sitting unmarked, behind two towering wooden doors on a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, you'll find Norah — that is, if you're looking. The latest project from restaurateur Rohan Talwar and chef Mike Williams, previously of the now-closed Tipple & Brine, is easy enough to pass by without noticing. That would be a shame.
On a recent Thursday night, Norah is buzzing. The central bar is surrounded by guests sitting and standing, sipping cocktails such as a dangerously boozy take on Southern sweet tea or a gin fizz concoction called the Mandarin that's reminiscent of an orange creamsicle.
Inside, Norah is all style. Housed in the former Don't Tell Mama space, Norah was designed by Thomas Schoos in a complete overhaul. The two industrial-chic rooms are divided by a large central marble bar. Through the back wall's floor-to-ceiling windows, a small garden studded with bamboo sits in wait, vacant until the restaurant has proved it's a good neighbor.
The menu is filled with Williams' eclectic American, Southern-swaying dishes. You might begin with small bites for sharing, such as skillet cornbread with rosemary butter, little sausages with kaffir lime chili jam and herb salad, chilled Gulf prawns with smoked tomato cocktail, and freshly made ricotta, whipped to the consistency of spreadable air, covered in sesame and sumac, then drizzled with honey and served alongside grilled levain bread.
There are plates of chilled English peas with green garlic, parmesan, ricotta and sugar snaps, and pork belly topped with tender bites of octopus, pickled mustard seeds, spicy kraut and a bright apple soubise. Most impressive is a bowl of uni butter–poached shrimp with smoked tomato, so surprisingly good you will find yourself scraping the bowl with the accompanying bread to make sure you don't leave one drop behind.
Main courses, many of which are cooked on Norah's wood-burning grill, might include grilled swordfish with romesco sauce, smashed fingerlings and a bright salsa verde; a half grilled chicken with chickpea panisse; and a hanger steak with horseradish creme fraiche, paprika butter and crispy shallots. You'd be remiss not to finish your meal with the decadent (and vegan) sweet corn ice cream with coconut caramel, almond crunch and flakes of sea salt.
Are there some quibbles to be had with Norah? Perhaps it's a touch dark inside, parking is annoyingly difficult (and there's no valet), and the pork belly and octopus is just all right compared with some of the other dishes. The biggest problem we have with West Hollywood's new neighborhood spot, though? We wish it was in our neighborhood.
Norah, 8279 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 450-4211, norahrestaurant.com.