Decadence on the rise [restaurant review]
Hermosa’s newest restaurant offers high-style Asian fusion and some deceptively simple dishes
A French speaker might have a momentary sense of confusion when they look at the sign for a new Hermosa restaurant whose name translates as “decline.” The word decadence has other meanings too, though those aren’t always positive — “moral decay” is the first synonym in most dictionaries. Depending on what you think of downtown Hermosa, that might be completely appropriate, and the word has been used to describe jazz-age New York, Weimar Germany, and any given Tuesday in New Orleans.
Decadence Restaurant is the brainchild of Skylar Tourigny, whose Marine Street Cafe closed in 2016 when their lease ran out. That restaurant offered contemporary cuisine with a Vietnamese twist, and this one does the same thing, but with much more ambition. It’s also different because Decadence may be the most stylish restaurant interior in town. There is a mix of lounge and conventional restaurant furniture amid elegantly painted walls and patterned tilework. Unfortunately all these hard surfaces make the space so loud that servers repeatedly apologize because they can’t hear diners.
The food menu is short, only six starters, six salads or veggie items, and eight mains. Few have an overt Vietnamese influence, though a bowl of Pho is offered for $26. I almost ordered this to see how it came out when made with premium ingredients, but was lured away by other entrees.
First, though, there were starters, and after consulting with our server Austin we decided on tempura fried avocado, braised bacon, and a Chinese chicken salad. Though fried avocado is something I’ve seen on a few other menus, I have to say that Decadence makes it better than any other restaurant I’ve been to. It’s one of those items that seems like it shouldn’t work but does. The fruit (and yes, we treat it as a vegetable, but it’s a fruit) spends so little time in the hot oil that it’s warmed rather than cooked at the center, and it doesn’t turn mushy. It benefits from a brief dip in the spicy aioli that comes on the side, and a forkful of the lightly marinated Napa cabbage that comes with it is a nice contrast between bites.
The braised bacon was misleadingly named, because it didn’t have a heavy salt cure, but it was another winner. The thick chunk of pork belly had a slightly sweet glaze with hints of star anise and herbs, and it was tender enough to fall apart at the touch of a fork. The lightly dressed arugula that came with it had a gentle bitterness that cleansed the palate between bites, but I didn’t find much connection with the bed of sauce Suedoise. That mix of applesauce, mayonnaise, and horseradish usually accompanies Swedish meatballs, and it’s good there but had nothing to say to the sweet and aromatic pork.
Those starters were followed by a Chinese chicken salad (an item that was actually invented in Santa Monica in the 1960s). I rarely order this for two reasons: first, it’s often overly sweet and oily, and second, my mom made the best Chinese chicken salad in the world, so I’m always disappointed. That was, however, before I tried this one. The basic elements of chicken, lettuce, nuts, and dressings was still there, but the chicken had been poached with ginger, the nuts were cashews instead of almonds, and the dressing was sweetened with miso instead of sugar. The ginger infusion added an extra layer of flavor to the protein, the dressing had a deeper umami, and it was altogether the best I’ve had. I might have wished for a dusting of black sesame seeds to give it the crunchy bits I was so fond of as a kid, but it was still tops. (Sorry, mom.)
With our first courses we ordered three cocktails, a Bourbon-based Purple Sky, a Garden of Eden, and something else gin-based that I don’t know the name of. The Purple Sky was a fine concoction of gin and berries, the Garden of Eden what happens when you use gin instead of rum in a Mai Tai. I don’t know the name of the third drink because it was a substitution – they had run out of an ingredient for the one I wanted, and I took the bartender’s suggestion for something similar. He tried to explain what it was, but the noise level was so high that we couldn’t hear each other. Whatever it was, I liked it.
For our main courses we selected a pan-seared duck breast, seared seabass, and a roasted half chicken with ginger and thyme glaze. The bass was the standout of the three, partly because the fish itself was excellent and partly because of the vegetable mix it was served over. This was a mix of young radishes, potatoes, and squash in an herb-pepper citrus-chardonnay broth, and it was outstanding. Cooking radishes makes them mild and sweet, and they enhanced the flavor of the vegetables and made them the perfect accompaniment for simply done crisp-skinned fish.
The duck breast was similarly well paired with braised fennel and arugula, and the chef made a fresh berry sauce rather than the Pinot Noir reduction to accommodate an allergy at our table. It came out well, but the duck itself could have used a bit more seasoning. A bit more garlic and herbs on the skin could have enhanced the flavors as it seared, though if you like your flavors natural you may disagree with me.
The chicken was also unexpectedly subtle, the ginger-thyme glaze lending a pleasant aroma and hint of exotica to a tender and juicy bird. Had we not been told what the seasonings were, we would have had trouble pinning them down. The salad with apples that accompanied it was a good pairing, but a second vegetable or potato item would have been welcome. Side vegetables are offered, but it would be better to have the plate completed with items that harmonize with the other flavors.
The wine list is impressive and included a very large by-the-glass selection. Our server suggested excellent pairings – the pinot by Ministry of the Vinterior hit the spot with the duck, and their Sancerre was exquisite with the fish.
For dessert we tried a lavender cheesecake with lime served with fruit and nuts, and a very light chocolate cake topped with violets. The cheesecake tasted like it might have a hint of white pepper or some other savory spice, and it was my favorite of the two despite the fact that I’m not generally a fan of cheesecake.
We might have lingered over dessert and had an after-dinner drink, but as the evening went on the volume was getting even louder. I measured it at 80 decibels when we arrived and the restaurant was half empty, at 87 just over an hour later when we left, and the echoing space made it seem even louder. I talked briefly with Skylar and she said that they’re examining ways to mitigate this. The other thing I’d suggest is either lowering prices or including more variety with the entrees, because as good as the food was, two out of three weren’t complete meals. Decadence has the makings of a destination restaurant and is a rise in quality for the area rather than a decline.
Decadence is at 1332 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa. Open 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Tues.– Wed. 11:30 a.m. — midnight Thurs. — Fri. 11 a.m. – midnight Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Sun. Street parking or lots nearby.Wheelchair access ok. Some vegetarian items. Dinner for three $153 food only, plus drinks. Reservations recommended. Phone 424-409-0990. ER
by Richard Foss