If you don't read the blogs (or Twitter), you may be one of the few people unaware that Hatfield's opens tonight. Make that re-opens, as this will be the second incarnation of Quinn and Karen Hatfield's restaurant, which was previously located on Beverly Boulevard in the location that is now home to Mark Gold's Eva. The Melrose Avenue spot was previously Red Pearl Kitchen… and before that Meson G, and before that, Michel Richard's Citrus. We had a chance to observe Hatfield's first dress rehearsal on Friday and see just how far things had come.
It's been a long couple of weeks for the Hatfields' and their team. Just last week the restaurant passed its final health inspection. Thursday marked the first time the restaurant's stoves were turned on. It wasn't until three days ago that the kitchen staff gathered together for the first time to cook the dishes for a night of “mock service”–a practice run of the restaurant for a dining room peopled with 14 staff members.
When we arrive, staff members sit at the stone-topped bar clutching handwritten flash cards and dog-eared menu descriptions. Across the room, Peter Birmingham, Hatfield's new general manager and sommelier, cranes his head to hold a phone in the crook of his neck. He's talking with customer support about a problem with the touch-screen ordering system he's furiously trying to fix.
In the high-ceilinged dining room, underneath an airy sculpture of the molecular structure of a honey comb, back waiters arrange polished water glasses and flatware on the tables. Past the glass doors of the open kitchen, an army of cooks await orders while expediters and runners in street clothes study order tickets.
“Pick up fries,” Quinn Hatfield says to the men in chef whites and paper toques. The kitchen maintains its silence as a fry cook grabs salt-water soaked Kennebec potatoes and drops them into hot oil.
“When I say 'pick up fries' I want my chefs de parti to echo that,” Quinn says. The kitchen comes alive with a chorus of “pick up fries.” Sous chef Brian Best runs through the recipe for the house fries with the chefs. “You have the chervil? You have the parsley?” Best looks over a flummoxed cook's prep area.
In this first night of service, a multitude of small details must be worked out: how bowls are warmed, how orders are communicated and organized, where finishing sauces are placed so they don't break or get too cold, or even the position of a garnish on a plate must be be finalized before opening night.
“There's no way to prepared people for what service is really going to be like when we open,” Quinn says. “You have to just throw them into it. Some of [the staff] are going to make it. And some of them are not.”
When the night's dinner service switches from savory to dessert, Karen Hatfield leaves the front of house staff training in the dining room and joins the pastry staff in the kitchen to talk through the plating of the first dessert: beignets.
A pastry cook appears with a sheet tray of squared beignet dough. “Good,” Karen says as the entire pastry department follows her to the deep fryer. The men and women in white stand on their toes to watch the pastry chef, in street clothes, slide the chilled dough to bubbling oil.
“With every restaurant opening you have high expectations,” Karen says when we ask how she thinks mock service is going. “Are we were we want to be? No. But compared to where we were the first time we opened Hatfield's, we are so far ahead.”
Hatfield's: 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 935-2977.