It's been nearly three years since diners last stepped into SBE Entertainment Group's shuttered Mercato di Vetro in West Hollywood. Gone are the red-tinged walls of its former incarnation; in their place is the striking, teal steel façade of the newly rebranded Doheny Room. And with its major makeover comes a new menu focused on L.A.'s global street-food culture, plus vegan sushi.
With SBE's name — one that's linked to the nightlife culture — attached to this space, it's hard at first to define Doheny Room, which is nestled between the Troubadour and Dan Tana's on Santa Monica Boulevard. It's definitely not a club — more of a restaurant and lounge. The interior shouts just as loudly as the exterior with its vibrant colors and leafy-floral prints covering comfy lounge chairs. Tweed and leather cover the space's variety of midcentury modern furniture. The walls are adorned with a hodgepodge of artwork: black-and-white photographs of celebs such as Amy Winehouse, and a Banksy-like canvas of Queen Elizabeth blowing bubblegum. It's as if you have one foot in a swanky Mad Men bar and the other in an atypical SBE joint.
On a recent visit to Doheny Room during its opening week, the music — from indie electronic to rock staples like Beck — grew increasingly louder as more guests trickled in. A friendly waitress came to my table wearing a minidress and a chain-strapped purse. Other servers were carrying similar bags. At first I wasn't sure if the waitstaff was supposed to blend in as if they, too, were customers. But when I asked a waitress about it, she said since they didn't have aprons, this was a way for them to keep pens or lighters nearby. It wasn't so much kitschy as just kind of weird.
The food, though, is a different story. Chef Danny Elmaleh (Cleo, Katsuya) has put some gourmet staples on the menu, such as filet mignon and roast chicken, but he mixes things up with his upscale take on shareable plates that lean toward the more decadent street-food side. One of the standout dishes is the lobster poutine: a bed of shoestring fries in a skillet smothered in gooey cheese curds and creamy gravy, with chunks of poached lobster mixed in. It pays homage to our genius Canadian brothers up north, and it's done right.
The crispy pork belly takes its name to the next level: The pork's crispiness comes from thick slices of the fatty meat breaded in flour and deep-fried. It's then stuffed inside a Chinese steamed bun (aka mantou) and paired with a sweet soy sauce that's like a hoisin. The breading comes out light and perfectly crunchy, but the problem with deep-frying an already lardy meat is that it's just way too rich. A bite or two will suffice before the heaviness sinks in.
On the lighter side, Elmaleh has chosen to experiment with vegan sushi for his herbivore clientele. He offers three kinds of rolls, all without fish. The avocado and beet roll was beautifully plated with a nest of crispy golden rice and a sprinkle of leafy herbs resting on top of the log. Shiso leaf was a dominant flavor in this dish, and the mashed-up, purplish-red beet was in essence supposed to replicate the texture of tuna. It does its job for the most part, but does tastes more like a refreshing and flavorful veggie roll than like imitation tuna.
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To wash all that street food down, there are craft cocktails, many of which are made with fresh juices. While the Tampico Sun seemed promising — a concoction of watermelon, lemon, vodka, bitters and herbaceous Galliano liqueur — the fruity flavors were watered down and overpowered by the bitters. On the other hand, the Margarita Moreno was a shining star with its well-balanced pineapple-sage infusion with Avion tequila, lime and honey. There's even a nice hint of smokiness in this easy-to-go-down drink.
While it may take some time to get the vibe right at Doheny Room, its fun play on global food makes it a good addition to the neighborhood.
Doheny Room, 9077 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (424) 777-0266, sbe.com/nightlife/brands/dohenyroom