At the Hammer: LA Museum Dining as Stunning as its Art

Written by | Lifestyle

Audrey at the Hammer Restaurant

Not so long ago, The typical museum restaurant was little more than a glorified café where patrons clustered to discuss current exhibitions over uninspired salads or lukewarm cappuccinos. Leave it to LA to turn that convention on its head.

Pioneers-turned-mainstays like the Patina Group’s Ray’s & Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and chef Timothy Hollingsworth’s Otium at The Broad proved that Angelenos have an appetite for both art and fine dining at the same locale.

Now comes Audrey at The Hammer Museum in Westwood. The eatery has turned the museum’s inner courtyard into one of the city’s most swank alfresco dining destinations. The restaurant’s launch is part of the museum’s $180 million multi-year transformation and expansion. The boundary-pushing institution is also incorporating newly acquired spaces and works, which in turn attract larger crowds. So it makes sense that it has opened a showcase restaurant to boot.

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Chef Lisa Giffen is in the kitchen after experiences at some of New York’s most recognizable restaurants, including Blue Hill, Daniel, Adour, and Sauvage in Greenpoint. Her partner is restaurateur Soa Davies Forrest, whose resumé is impressive in its own right and includes stints at Le Bernardin, The Mercer and Chateau Marmont.

Audrey embraces a decidedly SoCal vibe with an indoor-outdoor layout to make maximum use of the museum’s expansive courtyard. While the outdoor tables and bar seating are pleasant enough, the smaller interior dining room is an eye-catching endroit for your next date night.

Noted Cuban-American artist Jorge Pardo has created a striking tile installation on the back wall that provides a cheerful frame for the intimate booths with olive-colored banquettes and ochre chairs. Pardo also designed the pendant lanterns overhead, which lend the space its soft glow in tones of red, orange and white. The overall aesthetic feels like a cross between mid-century Palm Springs sophistication and French Riviera refinement.

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The cocktail list is inspired by California’s seasonal produce and flavors: Start with a refreshing Briar Patch Bloom that blends dill-infused aquavit, carrot juice, black lime and fino sherry; or sip on the Sage Advice, which comes on the rocks in a highball glass and contains rye whiskey, tangy rhubarb bitters, lime and a sprig of sage. The wine list is a nice mix of glasses and bottles from California, France, Italy and Spain.

Giffen’s menus are inspired equally by the bounty of California and the flavors of Europe. Among the starters are bracingly fresh oysters with tongue-tingling cucumber-ginger mignonette; delicate carta di musica crackers spread with briny bottarga, Persian lime and chives; and earthy fried artichokes served with a sauce of smoked green goddess, mint and sorrel.

There are lighter dishes for those with smaller appetites, including delicate strips of Baja kampachi crudo garnished with a near-mirepoix of kiwi drizzled with a lemongrass vinaigrette and fermented chili oil. Tender grilled octopus is served with savory almond gremolata, paprika and pickled shallots. A slice of toasted pumpernickel is piled high with luscious burrata, pickled green strawberries and assorted early summer stone fruits as a decadent alternative.

The creamy celery soup with a toast point smothered in crème fraîche and trout roe is a hearty taste of Nordic summer, while the toothsome cavatelli with creamy ricotta, tangy Sungold tomatoes, green garlic and mouthwatering Iberico ham jus conjures up seaside suppers in Sorrento.

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If meat is your passion, options include a bone-in ribeye for two and a reliably relatable burger with SunFed Ranch beef, sharp Prairie Breeze cheddar, smoked onion aioli, crisp lettuce and the inevitable side of fries. However, the tender cut of halibut in a flavorful and bright saffron nage with summer squash, garden-fresh herbs and flowers is nothing short of a midsummer celebration plated to perfection.

You’ll likely also notice a small section at the bottom of the menu touting  “Garden Things” if you’re seeking a side like their asparagus spears with pickled red walnuts, lemon and sumac — or the slightly bitter Swiss chard with anchovy vinaigrette and preserved lemon.

Don’t over-order though, because you don’t want to skip dessert. The rich torta of bittersweet chocolate with crème fraîche and pistachio is already a crowd favorite, but the recently introduced peach-plum crostata with vanilla ice cream and spicy candied ginger is sure to please palates throughout the summer months.

Also providing a pleasant aftertaste? Solicitous but not overbearing service from a staff who are clearly enthusiastic about both the victuals and the venue.   

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Last modified: September 13, 2019