The extraordinary daily offerings at The Federal Bar are among the most choice California cuisine The NoHo Arts District has to offer. Mini-Stuffed Bleu Cheese Burgers top the appetizers as one of my go-to's, especially since they're available in both premium Angus beef and veggie varieties. The generous Greco Burger has none of the gamey aftertaste that can sometimes linger in lamb, and is instead an invigorating Mediterranean marvel featuring fresh parsley and tomato, olive, and of course feta and tzatziki. Smothered in piquant cilantro cream, the indulgent chipotle Vegan Weena is also topped with tantalizing tropical fruit salsa, and smooth avocado. And succumbing to temptation is too easy with the Federal's sizzling and satisfying House Fries; potatoes seasoned with herb, Parmesan, and garlic. (Splurge the extra buck for truffle salt to transcend to a heavenly level of French fry bliss.)
But my first Federal Bar fine-dining experience with Sous Chef Shawn Dobbin, who spent nearly a decade at the elegant East Coast Italian eatery Bella Campania, was his inaugural Valentine's Day with the restaurant: a decadent four-course prix fixe menu. A carefully-selected array of textures and flavors, along with the lounge's usual sultry and dim ambiance, made for the kind of memorable evening I've come to expect from The Federal Bar.
My date and I began with sampling each of the first course options, a silky Shrimp and Roasted Red Pepper Bisque, and Long Bean Salad. The gangly legumes were matched with mild White Asparagus, Fingerling Potatoes, and feathery Shaved Fennel. Creamy A vivid Balsamic Vinaigrette and Spiced Cashews finished the crunchy salad with a distinctively brisk bite. Without an overbearing bell pepper taste, the soup was sweet and velvety the way a beautiful bisque ought to be.
Presented a bed of peppery Watercress, Chef Dobbin's Blood Orange marinated Tuna Tartar was the highlight of my evening. This delicate yet lively second course dish was drizzled with a tangy Lemon Aioli that complimented the seafood's similar Blood Orange citrus essence and brought out the woody notes of the greens. Hearty Wild Boar Ragu with Fresh Gnocci was a well-thought-out counterpart to the subtle saltwater fish. The wholesome dumplings were not too dense and the ragu was robust.
Three entrees were available to the two of us, so we regretfully did not have the opportunity to sample the chef's golden roasted Cornish Hen we saw other guests enjoying. Stuffed with root vegetables and pecans, the chicken was served with Whipped Potato with Mushrooms, and White Asparagus. An exquisite Espresso Crusted Filet was served with dainty Duchess Potatoes, Haricot Vert Beans, and a posh Porcini Mushroom Sauce. The nutty roast espresso rub was an elegant way to enrich the fine cut of filet mignon, and enhanced the succulent beef's full flavor. My delectable Half Pan Roasted Red Snapper was served up with unexpected savory Sweet Potato Hash, and topped with a Winter Fruit Beurre Blanc. Sauces are clearly Chef Dobbin's forte. Much like the bright Lemon Aoli from the previous course, and the tasty Vinaigrette during the salad course, the Beurre Blanc was brilliant and luscious.
To finish the meal, we squeezed in a few bites of each dessert. Teeming with gooey goodness, the wholesome Warm S'mores Bread Pudding was irresistible. A candied comfort food would not have ordinarily been my first choice for a dessert, but I sliced away a marshmallowy piece from our doggie bag every time I drank a cup of coffee for the next day until it was gone. (And I drank a lot of coffee to make that happen.) Swoon-worthy Warm Double Chocolate Stout Cake with Strawberry Ice Cream and Whipped Cream was also dizzyingly delicious. The lovely little chocolate loaves could barely contain the chilly sweet ice cream, melting like so many hearts.
Chef Dobbin put together a peerless prixe fixe with such wonderfully calculated complement and contrast. And our impeccable meal was, of course, not just quality food, but also a reflection of The Federal Bar's always-inviting atmosphere and warm hospitality from the front of the house; our charming server Daniela was attentive without hovering, and accommodating in giving us time with the generous portions. The restaurant's recently began featuring an urbane Sunday Brunch in addition to its casual lunch and dinner menus, but don't discount The Federal Bar for fine-dining and be sure to seize the next prixe fixe opportunity it offers.
The Knitting Factory's cozy cosmopolitan hideaway in North Hollywood, The Federal Bar boasts an inventive gourmet menu, a comprehensive collection of craft beers, top shelf spirits, and a diverse wine list. Learn more about The Federal Bar at www.thefederalbar.com.