Estérel, the new restaurant at the Sofitel Los Angeles, not only hits the fine-dining “Goldilocks sweet spot” of just right, with dishes neither too elaborate nor too conventional, it does so taking pleasure in the challenge of serving dishes to accommodate the modern range of food preferences regarding ingredients and calorie count without sacrificing one iota of foodie joy.
The cuisine at Estérel is French “with a Mediterranean accent.” This is not your grandmother’s French cooking, heavy and sauce-laden with fresh food like salads or fruit served only to clean the palate between cream-based, buttery rich plates. It is French in its insistence on finesse, bouche, and beauty. The dishes, even something rich like duck, have a brightness to their flavors, a clarity that comes from a paring of ingredients down to a few essentials and then the skill to pull those flavors out and keep them vividly present.
All the dishes at Estérel sat cleanly on the palate, keeping our mood light as we ate rather than weighing us down to a digestive stupor. One element that contributed to this was the number of dishes that they label as “De-Light” which qualify as calorie-conscious dishes. We ordered a number of these, not because we were interested in watching our calories, but simply because the dishes appealed to us. The Chilled Melon Soup was one such dish, gaining a place in my foodie dreams at only 150 calories. I also ordered the Chicken Roulade, another, to my mind accidentally, low-calorie dish, and one of the desserts was a bittersweet chocolate mousse that weighed in at an unbelievable 200 calories.
Estérel's De-Light offerings come across as not just a nod to the reality that some folks watch their weight, but rather as a challenge to serve up the same quality and savor for all appetites. When the server found out that one of our party was gluten-free, suddenly a second plate of bread appeared for him to enjoy with the butter and appetizers. The flatbread appetizers arrived with a side dish for him of grain-less finger food from the same topping ingredients: tomatoes, cheese, prosciutto. The pasta served with the shrimp was a gluten-free variety and all but one of the desserts were dishes he could enjoy guilt-free. His dietary restriction was not a problem, it was a challenge, and it actually seemed they enjoyed puzzling out a way to make the dining experience as satisfying for him as it was for us.
I believe that restaurants and the dishes they serve reflect the personality of the chef. The first time I met Estérel’s chef, Marius Blin, at an event at the Sofitel in Los Angeles, I was caught off guard by his easygoing warmth. He struck me as a regular, nice guy who was interested in other people. He gave his complete attention to each person. He took care of them as if he asked nothing more from life than to add more sauce or withhold the garnish as they requested. If you judged from his manner, you’d think each person he served was the CEO of the Sofitel, and that they were friends. It was neither obsequious nor arrogant. I think he actually, genuinely likes people and enjoys making them happy by making their taste buds dance and their stomachs sing.
I don’t think that is just an act for customers either, because the people working for him in the restaurant also exuded that quality of pleasant welcome. It was formal but respectful. I not only care about the ecological environment, I care about the human environment. I prefer giving my business to places where the employees exhibit behavior that suggests they are well-treated.
The Sofitel website introduces both the restaurant, Estérel, and the Riviera Lounge bar on the same page, but the two are quite different experiences. The entry to the Estérel dining room takes you though the lounge outer seating area, a rich, dark corridor of plush red upholstery, dark wood, and giant vintage black and white photographs. The mood is quite different from that of the restaurant proper, with its bright, sleek design and comfortably cool outdoor patio. The long walk through the outer lounge can be a bit daunting for someone not dressed for its make-me-famous vibe, and the live music in the lounge’s main room intrudes on the restaurant, though the management of the two spaces are working that out.
Once inside the restaurant, the decor is bright and deceptively simple like the dishes. The decor has what look like metallic woodland papercuts, giving a light feeling to the space dividers. The kitchen is set back but is open to to the restaurant, using its gleaming and bright space to cast a backlight glow to the room. The outdoor patio is a blend of wicker and wood with a fountain wall and greenery making it an inviting space for lunch or for and evening gathering.
But a restaurant is first and foremost about the food. These are the dishes we enjoyed for our meal at Estérel. The menu varies seasonally, but these dishes can give you some idea of how they handle the various types of dishes.
This was a fresh take on the usual Margherita pizza, less oily and deliciously flavorful.
Summer Fig Flatbread
Indescribably good. The picture says it all.
The restaurant is experimenting with a new serving design which I felt would work better on a low cocktail table than high on a dining table. But savory and fun to share with the grilled flatbread getting refreshed when we ran low.
Chilled Melon Soup
The melon soup is a dish that will remain as one of my all-time favorites, because how successfully the freshness of the melon was retained while the taste was heightened with an elaborate process of vacuum treatment and storage that exploded the flavor. Served with a scoop of ceviche, a dish I am usually wary of, the combination was magical.
This was marvelous in flavor and texture, complemented by the fresh salad and great breads.
Very light and refreshing tuna melted on the tongue. The artichoke chips gave it some playful texture and the truffled arugula added depth to the flavor.
The Main Course
Summer Squash Pasta
This dish had gluten-free spaghetti instead of the usual pappardelle pasta that the menu offers. The chef took special care that the pasta come out at the last minute since gluten-free pastas don’t “sit” as well as other pastas and must be eaten right away for the best texture.
Grilled Beef Tenderloin
If you want meat, this generous tenderloin will certainly satisfy. Grass-fed guarantees flavor and the crushed fingerling potatoes… well the person who ordered this dish had to fend off potato poaching from across the table at one point, they were that good.
The chicken, wrapped around a wild mushroom filling , was garnished with yummy carrot gnocchi that made up for the fact that the meat itself was a bit dry. My table mates found the chicken scrumptious, but I am rather particular about my chicken.
Seared Duck Breast
Duck has a reputation for being rich and heavy, but this dish, while substantial, was perfection itself for anyone who is not vegetarian. Duck is so very difficult to get just right. If you are someone who likes to order dishes you could never make yourself at home, this is the entrée to order.
Valrhona Chocolate Cake
This is more a mousse than a cake served with a mixed berry compote. The bittersweet chocolate was a dream dessert for someone like me who prefers her chocolate dark and well over 80% cacao. Just amazing that it is also one of the De-Light items clocking a mere 200 calories.
Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
A dense, rich cake with the tang of lemon and the complement of a sweet, tree-ripened half peach as a fresh complement.
French Macaron “Ice Cream Sandwich” - Plum macaroon, cantaloupe sorbet
I am a macaron fiend, and until recently, you could not get good ones in the US because they are so tricky to get just right with the fragile dome and moist center. This plum macaron was perfect and instead of a cream filling, had a fresh and flavorful cantaloupe sorbet. Fights almost broke out as we shared this one.
Meyer Lemon Pannacotta
Creamy and delicious, if you are a pudding or a flan fan of any kind, this baked treat with a butter biscuit and some cherry topping is a must-have finish.
Sometimes food is just sustenance. Sometimes it serves to comfort us or satisfy us. And sometimes food is an aesthetic experience as well as a nutritious one. In all cases, it is a sensual experience of taste and smell, sight and touch. When food is prepared and presented as a seduction, it even engages our imaginations so that the whole experience of eating rises to the level of bliss. I class the food at Estérel on the seduction scale, a seduction full of warmth and love.
Estérel serves breakfast and dinner. Valet parking at the Sofitel is $12 with validation from the restaurant.
Learn more at their website:
Estérel Restaurant LA
8555 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048