Monday, January 18, 2016

Where to Eat: Dining Al Fresco @ 208 Rodeo

The Eats: A new winter menu featuring traditional favorites, enhanced by seasonal, high-end ingredients

The Location: Beverly Hills

The Vibes: Quaint, intimate, upscale, European ambiance, al fresco

Good for: Small groups, dates, solo

When-To-Go: Daily, 9 a.m. – close (exact closing time varies by day and season)

The $ Factor: $$$ Appetizers are $12 - $26; entrées are $24 - $54; sides are $8 - $12

The Names behind the scenes:
Executive Chef Curt Gladden

The 4-1-1: Open since 1991, the restaurant is ran by a husband-and-wife duo, Yiffat and Michael Rublevich

Parking Situation: Nearby metered street parking or a nearby parking garage

I’ll Be Back…: To check out the Happy Hour and breakfast!

The first thing that caught my attention about 208 Rodeo was its location. 

It’s breathtakingly mesmerizing. 

Situated on a raised terrace and across from the historic Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, the tiny restaurant overlooks a bustling, trendy stretch of Wilshire Blvd. and Via Rodeo, the famed part of Rodeo Dr. that turns into a pedestrian walkway lined with high-end luxury stores. 

208 Rodeo is right smack in the center of all the prime action in Beverly Hills.

And the best part?

You can watch all of the commotion pass you by, while dining and/or drinking, al fresco on the terrace.

Fortunately, 208 Rodeo also has attention-grabbing dining options that are right on par with its impressive location, offering what the restaurant coins “California cuisine with pan-Asian and French influences.”

Last week, I attended a media dinner to experience items from the restaurant’s new winter menu. In total, there were 12 dishes we dove into, ranging from soups and starters to entrées for all appetite sizes and preferences. While there wasn’t a specific geographical theme that ran through each and every selection — i.e., some dishes were clearly more French-inspired while others were more American — each one had its own unique personality, with a fusion of popular and out-of-the-ordinary ingredients that worked well together. 

Here’s a look at some of my top picks from the night:

The Chicken & Waffle, is a basket of well-seasoned, crispy fried chicken breast strips and crunchy waffle “fries,” accompanied by a simultaneously sweet and tangy maple-soy-chili sauce. While I’m used to dipping my fried chicken in ketchup and hot sauce and my waffles in syrup, the maple-soy-chili sauce works surprisingly well for both. Great to share and to kick off a meal as a starter.

The Tomato Bisque with Parmesan cream and basil was one of the best I’ve tried. I’m typically not a tomato soup or bisque fan, but the balance of tomato and cream is just right. It’s exactly what a winter soup should be — hearty, frothy and all kinds of deliciousness.

The Spicy Tuna Tartar features sashimi grade Ahi tuna accompanied by cucumbers and crostini. Thick chunks of tuna have an intense flavor and the “spicy” aioli gives it a subtle kick. I preferred munching on the tuna by itself, as I felt that pairing it with the crostini or cucumber, while adding an interesting crunchy texture, detracted from the intense flavor of the tuna. This is another appetizer that’s good to be shared.

An example of a dish with pan-Asian influences, the sautéed Sesame Shrimp has a slightly sweet coating, thanks to a tangerine reduction and sweet Thai chili glaze. It's topped with sesame and toasted coconut. The shrimp were phenomenally prepared: large, plump and firm yet still tender.

The Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli was probably my favorite entrée of the night. It's a prime example that vegetarian options don’t have to be bland or one-dimensional, simply because they’re meatless. Drenched in brown butter, the ravioli is lightly crisp on the outside and rich and creamy in the inside, filled with ricotta cheese. Sage and squash are lightly pan-fried, having a crispy consistency, and are added along with pumpkin seeds, for the final touch.

The most intriguing aspect of the Sea Bass was the bed of Swiss chard, bacon and black boluga lentils, tossed in a grain mustard vinaigrette, underneath it. What an unexpected, yet surprisingly delightful combination. The sea bass itself, a New Zealand bluenose, was very flavorful, buttery on the inside and crispy on the outside.

The 208 Bolognese is a rustic dish, reminiscent of the French countryside. Large handmade Pappardelle pasta gets tossed together with lamb, tomato and mint, all in a garlic-shallot sauce and coated with crumbled cheese. The pasta noodles are decadent and literally melt in your mouth. An option worth selecting for those who have a larger appetite.

Since I don’t eat beef, I didn’t try the miniature version of the Truffle Cheeseburger or the Tomahawk Steak, but I absolutely had to take a snapshot of the steak (pictured below). Served on a large wooden slab, it's a 28-day, dry-aged, bone-in, 28 oz rib eye cut, topped with fried onion strings and potato purée. Talk about presentation!

And, we ended the night wit a special treat — cookies and biscotti, made by owner Yiffat Rublevich.

Overall, 208 Rodeo offers an impressive L.A. experience, with spectacular views and ambiance, and some exceptional dining choices to match. You’ll be paying for the experience, as it ain’t cheap, but it could be worth it, especially for special occasions, such as a romantic date night or to show off the best that L.A. has to offer, to out-of-town visitors.

For more information: 208 Rodeo

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