Friday, May 04, 2018

Employees Only (West Hollywood, CA)

Employees Only LA
7953 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90046
Fri 05/04/2018, 08:10p-10:15p

Employees Only Exterior Employees Only, the latest import from NYC to land in LA, opened its doors on April 15th. It's certainly one of the most celebrated bars in New York, if not the country, so we were eager to check it out. EO was founded by five principal partners: front man Dushan Zaric, Henry Lafargue, Igor Hadzismajlovic, Jason Kosmas, and Bill Gilroy. Apparently, the guys met each other at Keith McNally's Pravda starting in the late 1990s, where they worked with none other than the legendary Dale DeGroff. Determined to open their own "speakeasy" spot, they launched Employees Only in the West Village in December 2004.

The bar was a success, and resulted in the creation of the group's sophomore effort Macao Trading Company in 2008. Zaric and Kosmas subsequently co-founded spirits producer The 86 Co in 2012. It took a while, but a second outpost of EO finally debuted in June 2016, in Singapore no less. Miami came in February 2017, and Hong Kong in June 2017, with all locations having a different set of partners. This Los Angeles location, meanwhile, is primarily owned by Tom Sopit and Steven Weisburd's Midnight Hospitality Group. Supposedly, there's also an Employees Only in the works in Austin, TX.

Not surprisingly, the cocktail program here is headed by Zaric, who moved to the Southland a few years ago and has made his mark at places such as Hotel Figueroa, Commerson, Ford's Filling Station, and Harlowe. Day-to-day duties are handled by Bar Manager Dee Ann Quinones, who we've seen at the likes of Commerson, Westbound, Booker & Dax, 69 Colebrooke Row, Phillipe Chow, and Susan Feniger's STREET.

The kitchen is run by Executive Chef Sascha Lyon, a 1972 baby who grew up in Hancock Park. He got his first restaurant gig at the age of 14 when he began working at L'Ermitage under Chef Michel Blanchet. This led to a position at Michel Richard's Citrus, which at the time was helmed by none other than CdC Alain Giraud. Lyon then enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, and, following graduation in 1992, landed a spot on the opening team of Daniel. He stayed with Boulud until 1995, then cooked in London and Miami (Biz Bistro) before returning to NYC. In 1997, he became a sous chef at Keith McNally's SoHo brasserie Balthazar, and in 1999, took on the CdC role at Pastis, another McNally venture.

After leaving in 2004, Lyon started working on his own restaurant, and ended up opening SASCHA in the Meatpacking District in 2006, only to close it the same year. He left New York in 2009 and moved back to LA to become the opening Executive Chef for Delphine at the W Hollywood, an Innovative Dining Group-backed French-Med brasserie concept that opened at the start of 2010. In 2012, IDG tapped him to run the kitchen at Downtown's Soleto Trattoria & Pizza Bar, but he would leave the company by the end of April 2014. From there, Lyon partnered with Raymond Eng and the two opened Commerson in November 2016, but the Chef was out by the following June.

At Employees Only, Lyon is assisted by Sous Chef Rosemary Reyes (a former line cook at Delphine), while front-of-the-house duties are the responsibility of GM Yelena "Lena" Zaric, Dushan's wife.

Employees Only Interior
EO resides at the address that was previously home to Baby Blues BBQ and Caribbean eatery Cha Cha Cha before that. The space has been completely redone, and features lots of light wood in what the team describes as a postmodern, Art Deco-inspired aesthetic. I will say that the vibe is definitely on the rambunctious side: think loud and dark (and getting even darker as the night progressed), with a live DJ no less.

Employees Only Interior - Henry's Room
Off to the side is Henry's Room, a semi-private area with its own bar (and own set of cocktails) that's definitely more sedate.

Employees Only Cocktail List: EO Classics Employees Only Cocktail List: Aperitifs / Cocktails & Long Drinks Employees Only Cocktail List: Cocktails & Long Drinks / After Dinner Cocktail Employees Only Wine & Beer List Employees Only Menu: Appetizers / Raw / Salads Employees Only Menu: Entrées / Sides / Desserts Employees Only Spirits List: Irish Whiskey / Rum / Bourbon & Rye Employees Only Spirits List: Bourbon & Rye / Scotch Employees Only Spirits List: Scotch / Tequila & Mezcal Employees Only Spirits List: Tequila & Mezcal / Amaro / Sherry, Port & Madeira / Cognac, Pisco, & Brandy
The cocktail list we saw was surprisingly compact, and featured EO classics as well as a number of LA-only concoctions. This is joined by a small array of wines and beers, but nothing too interesting. Food-wise, Lyon's got a selection of fairly classic, European-inspired fare, one that includes dishes off the New York menu as well as the Chef's own creations. Click for larger versions.

Ruby Tuesday
Ruby Tuesday [$16.00] | Wild Turkey 101 Rye shaken with Puréed Black Cherries, Benedictine & Fresh Lemon Juice, served on the Rocks
We started with this scarlet-hued number. I found it fruit-forward at first, but with the herbal qualities of the Bénédictine taking over, the experience punctuated by sour lemon. Certainly not bad, but not terribly interesting, either.

Truffle Cheese Fries
Truffle Cheese Fries [$9.00]
Fries were as crisp as I wanted, with a good balance of truffle and cheese. Try 'em with ketchup, too.

Bellini - Traditional Service
Bellini - Traditional Service [$16.00] | Puréed White Peaches served with EO Prosecco & home-made Raspberry-Peach Cordial
The Bellini was as traditional as advertised. I got plenty of intense, aromatic stone fruit, all tempered by the spritzy, every-so-slightly boozy Prosecco. Pretty much the definition of quaffable.

Bone Marrow Poppers
Bone Marrow Poppers [$13.00] | pastry shell, bordelaise
The poppers are a holdover from the New York menu, and worked pretty well, the rich, buttery nature of marrow just making sense with the flaky pastry crust.

Peche Bourbon
Peche Bourbon [$16.00] | Peach-infused Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon stirred with Crème de Peche, sugars, & Peychaud's bitters, served on a large cube of ice
We continued the stone fruit theme with this next cocktail. Its nose showed off creamy, almost candied peach notes alongside a somewhat "nutty" character. The taste, meanwhile, was more austere, with less fruit and more tart, bitter, boozy notes.

Hand Cut Steak Tartare (Unmixed)
Tartar Mixing Hand Cut Steak Tartare
Hand Cut Steak Tartare [$20.00] | garlic crostini, mixed greens
The tableside tartar is another NY classic that we felt compelled to sample. The meat was pretty much spot on texturally, and had a great mix of tangy, spicy flavors as well as a touch of almost truffle-like funk. Nice crunch from the included bread, too.

Billionaire Cocktail
Billionaire Cocktail [$16.00] | Baker's Bourbon shaken with Fresh Lemon Juice, EO home-made Grenadine & finished with EO Absinthe Bitters
Here I got very apparent, but somehow restrained anise on the nose, with stings of lemon. The palate definitely conveyed the fruitiness of grenadine, intermixed with the whiskey, the absinthe becoming a bit less noticeable.

Rillettes of Duck, Rabbit and Pork
Rillettes of Duck, Rabbit and Pork [$16.00] | hazelnut-apricot conserve
Rillettes were gritty, rustic, with the pork coming through the most. Pretty classic, and well accompanied by that smoky bread on the side.

Rain Dance Cobbler
Rain Dance Cobbler [$16.00] | The Botanist Gin shaken with Rainwater Madeira, Blackberry Syrup & Ruby Port, served over crushed ice with Seasonal Berries & Fresh Herbs
The cobbler was as fun and refreshing as expected. Think fruity for sure, but never cloying, with an oxidative bite from the Madeira.

Formaggi Pizza
Formaggi Pizza [$19.00] | fontina cheese, fresh mozzarella, shiitake mushrooms, chili flakes, sesame seeds, parsley
This off-menu special made good use of the restaurant's wood-fired pizza oven. It was properly cheesy, with a great touch of heat and a welcomed woodsiness from the mushrooms that I quite appreciated. Crust-wise, think substantial, with a nice kiss of char and smoke.

The Infinity Cocktail
The Infinity Cocktail [$16.00] | Suntory Toki Whisky shaken with Mirto di Sardegna, Salers Gentiane Apéritif, EO Grenadine, Aquafaba & Fresh Lemon Juice, garnished with Smoked Black Tea
This next cocktail was one of my favorites. It smelled pleasant, showing off sweet, medicinal, lightly smoky notes. On the palate, I got a soft, multifaceted fruitiness, joined by an almost beer-like element that surprised me. Interesting and easy-drinking.

Pan Roasted Halibut
Pan Roasted Halibut [$34.00] | morels, pea tendrils, english peas, bianco vermouth
Halibut had a pretty much flawless cook on it, and while tasty by itself, really shined when taken with those musky morels and bright, zippy peas.

Manhattan Cocktail
Manhattan Cocktail [$16.00] | Rittenhouse Straight Rye stirred with Dolin Rouge Vermouth, Grand Marnier & dashes of Angostura Bitters
This Grand Marnier-boosted Manhattan delivered. It wasn't shy about the rye or the bitters, but had enough sweetness for balance, and just a smidge of citrus from the orange liqueur.

Roasted Mushroom Chicken
Roasted Mushroom Chicken [$26.00] | garlic mashed potatoes, baby spinach, sherry vinegar jus
The chicken didn't disappoint, the bird arriving juicy, supple, and very enjoyable just by itself. Mushrooms functioned as a homey addition, as did the potato, while the spinach imparted a bitterness that just worked.

Hope Monkey
Hope Monkey [$16.00] | Gin Mare shaken & served up with EO Clarified Lime Cordial & EO Absinthe Bitters
Next was one of the more intriguing gin cocktails I've had in recent times. It was lusher, more full-flavored than I expected, displaying sweet, floral, slightly citrusy qualities along with an astringency and palpable hit of anise toward the back end.

26oz Bone In Rib Eye (Tableside Presentation)
26oz Bone In Rib Eye
26oz Bone In Rib Eye [$74.00] | gratin dauphinois, bordelaise
The ribeye ate tender for sure, and hit the spot with its generous amount of char and smoke--very tasty. The Bordelaise wasn't necessary, but still appreciated.

Revolution Calling
Revolution Calling [$16.00] | EO Special Rum Blend mixed with dashes of Branca Menta & topped with Mexican Coca-Cola
Our lone long cocktail of the night came out bubbly and refreshing, with a definite minty, medicinal edge from the Branca.

Gratin Dauphinois
The steak came with a side of rich, creamy dauphinois potatoes that certainly satisfied.

Mata Hari
Mata Hari [$16.00] | Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac shaken with EO Chai Infused Italian Vermouth, Fresh Lemon & Pomegranate Juices
I'm sometimes wary of cognac cocktails, but this one worked it out. The vermouth really did a great job meshing with the brandy, making for a soft, bittersweet drinking experience with a pleasant element of chai.

Crepes Suzette
Crepes Suzette [$12.00]
Time for dessert. Our crêpes Suzette wasn't prepared tableside unfortunately, but still had all the nutty, citrusy, caramel-y flavors that you'd expect.

Vieux Carré 1938
Vieux Carré 1938 [$20.00] | Walter Bergeron, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans / Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey, Remy 1738 Cognac, Italian Vermouth, Benedictine D.O.M., dashes of Peychaud, Angostura and Absinthe bitters
We were able to request a cocktail from the Henry's Room menu, hence this Vieux Carré. I actually didn't get much on the nose here, surprisingly. Its taste definitely met the mark though. I found it robust, assertive, with a caramel/toffee character joined by cola notes, dark fruit, and bitter, herbal nuances.

Beignets [$9.00]
Coming out with a traditional sprinkling of powdered sugar, beignets were piping hot, with a soft, chewy consistency.

Café Cabeza
Café Cabeza [$16.00] | Tequila Cabeza & Italian Espresso, shaken with St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur, Orange Oleo, OM Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt liqueur, served straight up
We ended, fittingly, with a dessert cocktail, one with appealing aromas of roasty coffee and dark fruit. Its flavors were similarly roasty and heavy on the coffee, but also sweet, chocolatey, cozy--nice.

Cheesecake [$10.00]
Last up was the cheesecake. I actually found the cake itself fairly nondescript, though the caramel certainly helped things.

Given all the hype and acclaim surrounding Employees Only, I have to say that the cocktails weren't quite as transcendent as I hoped they'd be. They were certainly enjoyable and properly prepared, but I guess I was just expecting more. As for the food, it's nothing too groundbreaking, but it works, complementing the drinks without drawing too much attention to itself. Overall though, EO's a solid addition to the scene, and I'm glad to have it as another imbibing option around town.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

LA desperately needs less places that sell mediocre 16 dollar cocktails so I hope to god this place closes fast

Thursday, May 24, 2018 2:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another overpriced hipster joint. Two thumbs down.

Friday, May 25, 2018 8:09:00 AM  
Blogger Ralph Wiggum said...

No way I’m supporting the normalization of $16 cocktails. Total BS.

Friday, May 25, 2018 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Kevin's bff said...

Don't go to sake dojo in little tokyo....theybbave $16 cocktails and none of them sound good....might as well go to apotke.....

Friday, May 25, 2018 6:59:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Lately I've been seeing a lot of protest concerning cocktail prices, which I understand. I'm curious then, what is the "right" price for a cocktail?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 2:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$8 to $12

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 1:53:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I'd love to pay just $8 to $12, though I can't remember the last time I did. Any recommendations for where one can find interesting, high quality cocktails for that price?

Tuesday, June 05, 2018 12:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$8 specials at my house next time you in Vegas. If you want to pay $16, ok then every 5 drinks you get a lap dance from my cat

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 12:56:00 AM  

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