Location: 6600 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 946-7500
Date: February 8, 2017
Cuisine: Butcher Shop modern?
Rating: not bad, but expensive and weird format
It seems everyone is opening a “butcher shop / restaurant” these days. Certainly Curtis Stone’s Gwen opened with a big splash last year but I didn’t go because they had a strict no outside bottles wine policy. I just don’t buy from wine lists, and certainly not high markup lists. That’s not saying there is anything at all wrong with selling wine at a restaurant — we sell wine at ours — but I just own too many bottles and need to work on “culling the herd.”
Anyway, recently our Hedonist group arranged a dinner at Gwen where we were allowed to bring our wines, so I was excited to try the place out. I enjoyed sister restaurant Maude, even if its annoying reservation system (and somewhat less strict but still irritating wine policy) has lead me not to go very often. Maude is so busy you have to call on a Saturday 1-2 months in advance and grab whatever you can. I don’t plan that far ahead :-).
The meats certainly look “meaty” (and good).
Now the menu is odd. Curtis Stone seems to love weird formats. Maude has that one ingredient / one menu / one month thing. Gwen has an even stranger format. At the bar there is some ala carte ordering, but at tables you get a kind of unusual fixed menu. It reminds me slightly of Valentine’s day menus at fancy places. A bunch of courses, most of which are very small. Then there is sort of an “almost an entree” and the option to pile on some really expensive shared steaks. There isn’t a lot of flexibility.
NV Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée. VM 94. The NV Grande Cuvée is absolutely stellar. This is one of the very best Grande Cuvées I can remember tasting. The flavors are bright, focused and beautifully delineated throughout, all of which make me think the wine will age well for many, many years. Lemon peel, white flowers, crisp pears, smoke and crushed rocks race across the palate in a vibrant, tense Champagne that epitomizes finesse.
Now bear in mind that we were a table of 10-12 people and that each of the pictured plates was shared by multiple people. I will designate the sharing factor. Technically each of these items is a “course.”
Dr. Dave brought: 2002 Jean Boillot & Fils Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles. VM 93-96. Superripe, highly aromatic nose of cling peach and clove, with no obtrusive oakiness. Explosive, sappy, peachy fruit is superconcentrated and rich but impressively dry. Perhaps less expressive today than the Clos de la Mouchere but this has grand cru intensity and class, and great sappy freshness and energy. Extremely long and fine on the aftertaste.
Jacob brought: 1999 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières. VM 92. Sexy nose of peach, butter and smoky oak. Rich, sweet and pliant but with firm supporting spine. Very silky wine enlivened by succulent acidity. Classic Folatieres, very long and firm on the aftertaste.
From my cellar: 2006 Bouchard Père et Fils Corton-Charlemagne. BH 96. A reserved, indeed even reluctant nose of fresh and stony green fruit and citrus aromas that offer real depth leads to precise, minerally and exceptionally powerful full-bodied flavors that possess huge amounts of dry extract on the hugely long finish. This is still sorting itself out but the quality of the raw materials is impeccable and it possesses impressive potential, which will require at least a decade to realize. One of the finest examples from this appellation in the 2006 vintage.
Duck Rillette, Tete de Cochon, Foie Gras Terrine, toast (shared by 3 people). These were all very nice bits of cured meats, but cutting them up 3 ways wasn’t the easiest. Plus I ran out of bread after about 2 of them. Note, sort of counts as “3 courses.”
From my cellar: 1993 Louis Jadot Bonnes Mares. VM 92+. Good deep youthful red. Quintessential briary Bonnes-Mares aromas of raspberry, roasted currant, mocha and menthol. Penetrating flavors of black cherry, flowers and mint; insinuating, ripe acids give the wine terrific verve and lift. Finishes long, vibrant and youthful, with firm but round tannins. Quite rich but not as concentrated or long as the ’96. “The crop size was down due to mildew. The aromas remind me of red Burgundies from 1953.
Seb brought: 2006 Marcassin Pinot Noir Blue-Slide Ridge Vineyard. BH 78. Here the nose offers a different aromatic composition of menthol and extremely ripe red pinot fruit though the same melted vinyl note is annoyingly present. There is fine richness and density to the round broad-shouldered and robust flavors that possess an admirable amount of dry extract but the finish is noticeably bitter and even warmer. An imbalanced and difficult wine to enjoy.
2003 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. VM 95. Dark red. Exotic, even flamboyant on the nose, which displays strong red berry preserve, candied cherry, mineral and floral scents. Round and juicy, with deep red fruit flavors and a strong note of licorice. This is showing even more energy today than it did on release. Lush and sweet on the finish, leaving behind spicecake and cherry notes. I rated this wine 94 points on release and now think that I was stingy.
2007 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. VM 95+. Deep ruby. Powerful, pungent aromas of kirsch, dark berries, smoky herbs and spicecake, with notes of black olive and tobacco coming on with air. Chewy, palate-staining dark fruit flavors are complicated by bitter chocolate, licorice and black cardamom. Acts like a 2005 today, with serious structure but also superb depth of powerful, densely packed fruit. A hint of cherry skin adds grip and refreshing bitterness to the long, smoky, focused finish. Not an easy read right now: this demands cellaring.
2003 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle. VM 92. Deep, saturated ruby. Intensely spicy aromas of blackberry, bitter cherry, tobacco and minerals, with a complicating note of black pepper that became more pronounced with air. This is quite fresh and lively for the vintage, showing tangy red and dark berry flavors and a solid, chewy texture. Finishes with considerable finesse.
2003 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. VM 95. Bright, deep red. Spicy, vibrant and tangy nose offers redcurrant, wild strawberry and minerally raspberry tones. Impressively fresh and nervy on the palate, with lift and thrust to the exuberant red fruit tones. As this opens in the glass, the fruit tones take a darker turn toward blackberry and cassis, also picking up notes of graphite and licorice. The deeply concentrated, spicy and wonderfully long, sweet finish is framed by huge but remarkably integrated tannins.
Ocean Trout. Finger lime, shiso, pumpernickel (shared by 5-6 people!). Now the size was a problem, and was probably the fault of our ordering. We should have had 2 of each type of entree for our table of 5, but we ordered 1 of each (don’t ask). As it was I got a morsel about the size of a piece of nigiri. It was very tender.
Boneless shortrib. Braised and grilled (shared by 5-6 people). Yep, tasty but not enough!
Sides. (shared by 3 or more people). Cauliflower, smoky eggplant? These were decent, but again so little it was hard to remember the taste.
1997 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. VM 93-95. Healthy saturated dark red. Very deep, musky, alluring aromas of roasted plum, dark cherry, nutty oak, mocha, leather and truffle. A seriously outsized Napa Cabernet with a compellingly plush texture but still with a juicy shape to it. This slightly warm wine can’t quite match the 1995 for complexity or energy but it makes for a mouthfilling meal substitute. Slightly dusty tannins reach the incisors.
1985 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard. JG 96+. I can distinctly recall from my early days in the wine trade the release of the 1985 Martha’s Vineyard, which was eagerly anticipated after it was announced that this was the first vintage to be graced with a special label since the legendary 1974. This was at the height of the winery’s popularity and the 1985 Martha’s was an extremely difficult bottle to come by at the time of its release. Consequently, I had not seen a bottle in many years and was delighted to see it included in our vertical at the winery in June. The wine is flat out brilliant, as it soars from the glass in a mélange of black cherries, saddle leather, a great base of soil tones, eucalyptus, smoke, incipient notes of petroleum jelly and a very gentle framing of new oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and powerful, with a rock solid core of fruit, great complexity, moderate tannins and a very long, perfectly balanced, tangy and palate-staining finish. This is a very intense vintage of Martha’s that is decidedly younger than the 1987 for instance, and still demands plenty of cellaring time. It will clearly prove to be a legendary vintage of Martha’s and certainly has earned its special label.
Bone-in Ribeye. 30 day dry aged Creekstone farms. (we had 3 for 11 people). This is what filled us up. And it was a great steak. Very medium in the middle, and nice and crispy (and salty) on the outside.
Chevy had a bad reaction to the garlic.
Overall, this was an “interesting meal.” Really, the rigid format is not designed for 11 rowdy Hedonists (and we are a handful). There wasn’t enough room on the tables and because of it I think they just put down less plates than they would have normally, and they rigidly put the same portions on the plates they usually do. The result was us splitting some very tiny things many ways.
Sommelier Fahara Zamorano is a real pro and is a gracious and highly skilled Somm — but Gwen isn’t used or our chaotic format and the need to get a lot of bottles opened and poured. With bringing 2 bottles a person and constant flights the wine we need to get the vino flowing and fast. Ideally we can use a ton of glasses, but we had 3-4 each. Our needs don’t allow time for the careful opening, glass selection, placement, pouring that Gwen normally does. The result is a bunch of impatient boys who want their grape juice. After a flight or two it got moving, but at the beginning there was a momentum problem. Hedonist dinners need to get stuff popped and poured ASAP to get through the mountain of wine. I’ve tuned my own Somm duties to these needs, by throwing out the niceties! I just pound through the corks and get the stuff out there.
Food was good, but only a couple of dishes blew me away: namely the steak and banana dessert. The rest were just good. Extremely well executed for sure. But the price is high and the expectations even higher, so I’m not sure what to make of it. Clearly Gwen is a place to go on a romantic meal or with two couples. It’s very much a couples place by portion and feel. The setting is lovely and romantic. And the guy can eat half his date’s food!
But a very fun evening and they really went out of there way to take care of us despite the total mismatch between the group (big and boisterous bordering on boorish!) and the format (designed for upscale couples).