A New Los Angeles Hot Spot Eschews Big Cabernets In Favor Of "Honest" Wines
Opaline, which opened late last year on the edge of Hollywood, calls itself a bistro. But if the word "bistro" connotes a modest setting with cramped tables, decent traditional food and just quaffable wines, Opaline shatters that conception.
This is the first restaurant venture of David Rosoff, Opaline's managing partner and an enophile with years of experience in the Southern California wine industry. Opaline is first and foremost an oasis for wine lovers, especially fans of European wines who are frequently put off by heavily oaked, fully extracted fruit bombs. Among the white wines, look for a wide selection of mouthwatering Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace, as well as several Chablis and a few unoaked Chardonnays from other parts of the world. On the red side, Rosoff's expertly chosen list features plenty of Syrah, Rhône blends and Pinot Noir. Big Napa Cabernets and chewy Aussie Shiraz are conspicuously absent from the roster, although there are a few classified-growth Bordeaux.
"Long ago I gave up on the trophy wines. I prefer an honest wine, one that speaks of time and place," says Rosoff, who prior to opening Opaline last November with Jonathan Horne, was the general manager and wine director at Michael's, a celebrity magnet in Santa Monica. "I truly want people to drink our wines. I hate it when people feel forced to split one bottle of cult Cabernet between six because of price."
Meanwhile, the kitchen at Opaline is the domain of David Lentz, whose résumé shows stints at L.A.'s Campanile, Miami's Blue Door and the Las Vegas outpost of China Grill. Lentz's food could be described as California meets the Mediterranean, with particular odes to France, Italy and North Africa. Personal favorites among the appetizers include a confit of tuna with black olive aioli, and bay leaf-dusted scallops served in a mushroom broth with tiny beluga lentils and smoked bacon.
For entrées, the slow-roasted sirloin of lamb with parsnips, baby turnips and roasted almonds as well as the orecchiette with braised beef cheeks, roast peppers and sunburst tomatoes were both perfect matches for the Les Crêtes 2000 Coteau La Tour, a sensational Syrah-based wine from the Valle d'Aosta in northwest Italy.
As might be expected for a new place near Hollywood, scene is important at Opaline, but thankfully it doesn't trump cuisine. The look of the 99-seat restaurant, which features "The Den" lounge for more casual drinking and dining, is minimalist but not too stark. And despite the name, which Oscar Wilde coined to describe absinthe, there is no blinding green to interfere with the food or wine.
Opaline, 7450 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA. Tel.: 323/857-6725; closed lunch Saturday and all day Sunday. www.opaline.org.
Fifteen's Minutes of Fame
Jamie Oliver's London boîte turns underprivileged youths into chefs
It's Monday afternoon and London's coolest new restaurant is full. With 70 discerning diners to satisfy, the chefs are feeling the heat. But as usual, the orders are perfectly prepared—quite a feat for a crew of school dropouts, teenage mothers and formerly homeless youths.
The brainchild of Jamie Oliver, host of Food TV's popular Naked Chef and Oliver's Twist programs, Fifteen is a restaurant and a nonprofit charity (and, not surprisingly, the subject of a British television series). Its aim is to turn vulnerable kids into top chefs.
Twenty-seven-year-old Oliver scoured Britain's employment centers, choosing candidates for their enthusiasm rather than their culinary skills. He says, "I wanted people who could work very hard for long hours and still come back the next day."
Selecting the would-be chefs turned out to be the easy part. Oliver says that the three-month intensive training was "way more difficult than I ever thought it would be." The students, who make around $6 an hour, learned everything from how to chop onions to how to select suppliers, and were even given an introduction to wine, which included a visit to the Sassicaia estate in Tuscany. Most importantly, they acquired life skills, such as the importance of punctuality and essential kitchen hygiene.
Nineteen-year-old Kerryann Dunlop works the grill in Oliver's kitchen. She's one of his most trusted chefs, but it wasn't always that way.
"In the beginning, I wasn't always showing up," Dunlop admits. "Then I got in trouble with Jamie, and I realized he was trying so hard to make my life better for me. So I sort of gave myself a kick up the ass. I don't know where I'd be without this place now."
With its skylights, chrome tables and fuchsia-colored vinyl seats, Fifteen could be any other modern London eatery. What sets it apart is Oliver's streetwise persona. The modern Italian menu is written in London slang, including dishes like "gorgeous potato gnocchi" and "scallop crudo, kinda sashimi." And the 200-bottle wine list suits all budgets.
The dishes change regularly, as the chefs gain confidence. They can even create their own entrées.
Nineteen-year-old Ben Arthur has an idea for jerk chicken ravioli, which he hopes Oliver will like. Formerly homeless, Arthur now says, "When you're in the kitchen, you and the other chefs are like a family."
In July, the charity will recruit another 15 students. Dunlop and her classmates, working with a job placement service Oliver has arranged, will move on to find employment in other restaurants—and pursue their own newfound ambitions.
Dunlop says, "In a few years, I'll come back and tell Jamie, 'I'm opening my own restaurant now.' "
Fifteen, 15 Westland Place, London. Tel.: 207-251 1515. Website: www.