Sunday, July 13, 2008

When You're Feeling Shellfish -- Hungry Cat

Hungry Cat‎
1535 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155
MC, Visa, AMEX

I'm about a year behind the cutting edge. I've been meaning to get to Hungry Cat, around the corner from the Arclight Cinemas on Vine and Sunset, for many months now. I can't believe what I've been missing.

I finally made it for a celebratory lunch on the day my novel was released--

What's that you say, you didn't know I wrote a novel? Why yes, I did. It's called MY NAME IS WILL, A NOVEL OF SEX, DRUGS AND SHAKESPEARE. The Washington Post says it has "nuance and panache," the New York Sun praises its "intelligence, humor, and high stakes, and Publishers Weekly calls it "clever... deliciously irreverent... irresistible." You can read all about it on my website or just buy it by clicking here:

But I digress.

Lately I've been having this insatiable desire for oysters. Perhaps it's because I was reading the work of a friend of mine recently that is on a decidedly shellfish theme. Maybe it's because I'm afraid the oyster ship is leaving the docks due to global warming, (as two different articles - this one and this one -- in Sunday's L.A. Times seem to suggest. When I was in New York a few months ago, I made sure to visit the famed Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, where one can suck down fresh oysters of literally dozens of varieties, washed back by a perfectly chilled martini, in a historic and wood-panelled building of glorious old-Manhattan ambience.

Ever since coming back to L.A., I've been looking for the same experience; or even a place where you can get a decent half-dozen and a cocktail. They are surprisingly few; I had pretty much resigned myself to McCormick and Schmick if I was downtown, or if I was home here in Hollywood -- believe it or not -- Hooters. But a post on the Los Angeles Chowhound board, as usual, directed me to the right spot.

Hungry Cat is conveniently located across from the rear entrance to Border's at Hollywood and Vine. Just a two minute walk from the Arclight Cinemas, where it seems I spend half my life. It's smallish, elegant, minimalist in the New York/New Hollywood brushed-nickel style. An actual raw shellfish bar stands to the right, guarded by iced lobsters; a cocktail bar to the left; tables with banquettes along the wall, and a modest patio out front. Servers are helpful and chatty. You can order from the full menu wherever you sit.

The place is operated by Suzanne Goins, the same chef who brought you Lucques and AOC, so this is, in short, no Hooters. I'm warning you now, it ain't cheap: $15 for a half dozen oysters, $30 for a dozen. But LA Food Crazy is all about getting good food at fair prices; the prices here are fair, because the food is exquisite. A nouvelle California version of the classic New England Lobster Roll (an item I have looked for in California in vain) comes served not on a squishy roll but on a perfectly toasted boat of sourdough. It's $23 (for a sandwich, you think!), and it looks small, but it's actually a lot of food, and a LOT of delicious Maine lobster, for the price. I've had several dozen oysters here by now, all delicious. Hungry Cat doesn't have the variety of the Oyster Bar in NYC, featuring only two or three varieties, mostly West Coast, daily -- the quality is stunning, as are the homemade dipping sauces.

On my novel-release day, I celebrated with the small, $45 seafood platter for two, pictured above. It's as awesome as it looks. Four oysters, four giant steamed prawns, four giant grilled prawns in herbed butter, half a snow crab, two varieties of clams. We were stuffed. One day we sat at the raw bar and watch the chilled salads being prepared. I have yet to sample them, but they look delightful.

My only gripe: the full bar, which features an excellent array of primarily French wines by the bottle and glass, serves a generous and exquisitely chilled martini. But for some bizarre reason, they do not serve "big, name" brands: i.e., no Ketel One, Grey Goose, or even Stoli. They serve a couple of smaller, "artisinal" (this is becoming one of my least favorite foodie buzzwords) brands (Ice, Monopolovia) that I personally don't care for. AND... they serve them in a bizarre little demi-tasse glass, with a sidecar. Sorry, but when LA Food Crazy wants oysters and martini, he would PREFER them served in a proper martini glass, thank you very much.

Still, for a quick, elegant bite of seafood before a movie at the Arclight, and if you're feeling a little flush, Hungry Cat's the place to go.

And then walk out the door, directly into the Borders across the courtyard, and buy my book. You won't regret it.