West Hollywood: American Dim Sum at The Church Key
The Church Key opened in West Hollywood less than two months ago and it’s already a smash hit. Taking inspiration from San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions and the Chinese tradition of dim sum, The Church Key serves small plates via roving carts. You may also order larger plates from the kitchen. Chef Steven Fretz has brought back his beloved Tai Snapper, a favorite dish of mine from his days at XIV.
Devon Espinosa (formerly of Pour Vous, The Tasting Kitchen) heads up the bar. I have always thought Devon’s cocktails are very elegant but fun at the same time. With names like Pink Lips (Grey Goose La Poire, lime, Pama espuma, Champagne) and Shut the Funk Up (Russian Standard vodka, lime, orange, orgeat, soda water), the cocktails are just right for the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. And you can do a mini bar crawl from The Church Key to Eveleigh.
Conde Nast Traveler recently asked LA cocktail writers about their new favorite LA cocktails, I chose the Canned Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth, Campari) at the Church Key because you can’t beat a classic. I love the canned presentation because not only does it help out the bar when it gets busy but you know you’ll get a great cocktail quickly. The Church Key will eventually can other cocktails but most likely they’ll always have canned Negronis. They hope to label them as well. Considering how great the stamped menu cards, pretty decor and other details, I’m sure the labels will be wonderful. For now, you get a plain can and church key to open your libation. You’re also given a glass and for the Negroni, an ice sphere and orange twist.
I was a little bit surprised by the Harlequin. I thought it would be more bitter or at least on the drier side because of the Bonal but it turned out to be quite delicious and slightly sweet. Since it’s also served on crushed ice, I’d call it an adult sno-cone.
Harlequin – Bonal, raspberry gomme, lime
We didn’t have a game plan when we started ordering and that’s the beauty of getting food from the roving carts. I spied spicy tuna toast and it hit the table in seconds. The server will stamp your order card and they’ll tally up the small plates at the end. Most range from $4-8.
We got the spicy tuna toast and the toast retained its crispness.
I also spied the beef tataki and since it was from the cart, it was about room temperature to a tiny bit cooler. I liked this dish but thought it’d be better on with a little bit of lettuce to make wraps.
A server dressed as a flight attendant cruises around with a beverage cart with a PanAM logo offers you the aforementioned canned cocktails as well as frozen cocktails packaged like Otter Pops.
The cocktail pops are made to order and involves molecular mixology wizardry. Expect to see liquid nitrogen.
We ordered a salad off the menu and I loved the Frog Hollow pear salad with Manouri cheese. The cheese reminded me of really soft feta — though perhaps not so crumbly. Really fresh greens, grapes and crisp pear slices complete the dish.
The hamachi was another small plate we grabbed. The sauce was great and for crunch, the fish was topped with puffed rice.
I was surprised how much I loved the falafel. It turns out they use fresh garbanzo beans. The interior is bright green.
There’s a drink named the Fretzy. Guessing it’s named after the chef, Steven Fretz. I have found chefs are very fond of tequila and this one is very drinkable.
Fretzy – Alto reposado tequila, St. Germain, Reagans’ orange bitters, grapefruit peel
I loved the Parker rolls with housemade bacon jam.
The presentation of the chicken liver mousse was just so great. The liver came with a ton of freshly toasted toast as well as salt and chopped chives.
Here’s the toast after I customized mine with a smear of chicken liver mouse, a tiny sprinkle of salt and a pinch of chives.
I saw someone walking around with the ham shaver and it’s for when you order the Benton ham with fig mostarda and sourdough bread from the menu. I got a tiny sample though and I can imagine how great it’d be to make your own ham sandwich. One of my favorite things is a simple ham sandwich with good bread and mustard. I’ll have to get this next time.
For those just dipping their heels into whiskey, I’d recommend the Shot in the Dark. Although there’s an absinthe rinse, even the most shy of whiskey virgins will like this drink.
Shot in the Dark – Buffalo Trace bourbon, Dolin banc vermouth, pineapple, absinthe rinse
Already a classic, the pig ear cheetos served with avocado mousse is a must get item. The cheetos reminded me of the spicy pork rinds from Publican in Chicago in flavor though different texture. I even called them pork cheetos back in 2010! The Church Key though may have those beat with that wonderful dip.
If you like truffles, the truffle popcorn is a simple and tasty treat.
The selection on the carts seemed endless. I couldn’t resist these little scallops. The good thing about sitting on the outside edge of the table means it was so much easier to point at stuff before your table mates could protest.
Besides the name, Shut the Funk Up, this cocktail is great and refreshing. I am a sucker for anything with orgeat so I really enjoyed the flavor combinations of almond and lime. It’s a tiny bit tiki-esque but I think this would be great for a brunch cocktail list whenever the Church Key starts doing brunch.
Shut the Funk Up– Russian standard vodka, lime, orange, orgeat, soda water
We ordered the ahi tuna tartare off the menu. Although I love tartare of all types, ahi tuna is actually my favorite. Served with round chips, this ahi tuna tartare went very quickly.
The stuffed Peking quail was stuffed with red rice and I really wanted to like it more. Possibly we had reached a breaking point since we had so many other little dishes before this dish hit the table.
A friend wanted a rum drink and the Hectic was recommended. It’s a bit like a daiquiri meets a Mai Tai.
The Hectic – Bacardi Superior, house falernum, lime
The hand rolled cavatelli was a little firmer than I like pasta but better firmer than mushy. The flavors were very rich.
As mentioned, the tapioca-crusted Tai Snapper was one of my favorite Chef Fretzy dishes. He can’t seem to leave it off menus as there would be an outcry. Plating is still gorgeous with that bold red stripe.
I almost constantly worry about cocktails being too sweet but luckily the Fashioned Chai isn’t too sweet. It’s a well-balanced drink and great variation of an Old fashioned.
Fashioned Chai – apple jack brandy, Buffalo Trace bourbon, chai syrup, orange peel
The Church Key has posted on their menu a note to not steal their silverware. As you can imagine, handstamping things like “sweet treat” on spoons make them desirable as a souvenir. But really, don’t steal the spoons!
The funny thing about ordering dessert with a group of ladies is sometimes you act coy about how many desserts you want. This night, we weren’t shy. I know I will always try a bite but I could have done without as well. Sadly, the dessert cart came around after we ordered. If it had come before we put in our order, I would have snatched up the donut holes and Earl Grey creme brulee.
I’ve been on a cognac cocktails kick lately. The Golden Lorraine is a lovely Fall/Winter cocktail with hints of spice. The Benedictine is just lovely in this and works well with the honey and pear.
Golden Lorraine – D’usse cognac, Benedictine, clover honey, lemon, Anjou pear
We got a recommendation for the pear tart and we knew we should get the donuts. Later someone told us we needed to try the sticky toffee pudding date cake and semifreddo. Am I going to have to become a regular at this place?
Chef Fretz mentioned he was inspired by the black sesame dessert he gets every time back east at this tiny shop he can’t even remember the name of. He claims his black sesame shake isn’t as good but it was pretty darn good to us. Not too sweet and very reminiscent of Asian desserts. I used a little to spoon over the brown butter glazed donuts. Great combination.
The Church Key is hosting a fundraiser this Sunday, December 8 for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. A number of chefs and bartenders from around town are getting together for this event. The #LALovePI tickets are now on sale. General Admission is $100 and VIP is $150. General admission includes all inclusive dinner and cocktail experience. VIP includes a champagne reception in addition to food, drinks and gift bag. . Or you can get a drinks-only wristband for $30 and then food is available for purchase. Buy tickets.
8730 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069 — (424) 249-3700
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