Let's Do Lunch: Hatfield's

There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

Food enthusiasts all over town waited patiently for Quinn and Karen Hatfield to make the move from their original location to their new, larger space (formerly the scarlet-hued monstrosity Red Pearl Kitchen) on Melrose. Getting a table for dinner at Hatfield's might mean more patient waiting for diners, particularly after the LA Times gave the re-located restaurant a three star review late last month. But lunch is still wide-open terrain for the lovely, spacious, and often gracious eatery, which is how we wound up enjoying a leisurely lunch on a recent afternoon.

Being the first in our party to arrive, I was ushered to the seemingly bartender-less bar by the host, who quickly switched hats when I placed my drink order. Unfortunately they couldn't make me the Pimm's Cup (the Pimm's shipment was delayed, he explained) but he was quick to make some worthy suggestions. I already had a backup cocktail in mind, however, and so the suit-bedecked host went behind the bar to comply.

I was surprised at how quietly cavernous the space was, with just a few tables occupied, and only one other person at the sedate bar. I watched uncomfortably as the host-turned-bartender fumbled with just about every ingredient and tool needed to make my Dark and Stormy: 2 limes tumbled out of the citrus press onto the floor, rum surged over the stir-spoon and down his hand, and the citrus press fell to the floor with a clatter. If you were my dining companions, thankfully this is where you come in. Seriously, thank you. That was really awkward.

One significant draw of Hatfield's at lunchtime is their prix fixe three-course menu offerings. At $19 the Studio menu exemplifies affordable luxury, while the $29 Sessions menu kicks it up notch with complexity and ingredients. Luckily one of us wanted the Studio, one some a la carte options, and I was intrigued by the Sessions menu, so our table was able to get a solid overall sense of what the meal can be.

From the a la carte menu, one selection was the Buttermilk chicken, which was a delicate preparation of a cherished lunch protein often abused as gritty slices on a wan salad. Here the plump breast stays moist thanks to its sous-vide preparation, and is draped in snappy green beans and resting on silken pureed potatoes. Beneath the stack is a pool of almost ironic sauce--the rich, buttery brown kind that comes from the fat and the skin that is nowhere to be seen on this on this chicken dish.

A standout a la carte item is the Lobster Club, which is two generous slabs of uber-buttery brioche filled with chunks of lobster and avocado mingling in creamy mayo. The crispy onion rings are turned up by the addition of curry, giving the side item not only a bonus zing but a fun contrast to the sandwich.

A beautiful bowl of Butternut Squash Soup was the appetizer on the Studio menu, while a Caesar Salad livened up by fresh fennel started off the Sessions meal. For entrees, the Studio menu made excellent use of the less-frequently used chicken leg by giving it the star treatment as a Crispy Confit, turning an average protein into something more celebratory. For the Sessions menu, the main course was a beautifully moist Pan Seared Loup de Mer (Sea Bass) artfully presented amid swipes of bright green pea puree.

Since lunch for many, especially the sort of spot with power lunch potential, is meant to be an enjoyable but expedient thing, the one major drawback of Hatfield's was the pacing of the meal. There seemed to be only one server working all the tables--an affable woman who never seemed harried or put-upon, but who did take a bit longer than folks who needed to get back to the office might appreciate. Without the din of the dining room (and fortunately no great urgency to get back to anywhere) we could pass the time listening to the indie-rock on the sound system and look into the kitchen courtesy the massive glass window that affords such opportunity. It is, beyond a doubt, a stunningly beautiful space.

We knew we contributed to the stalled pacing of the dessert course, since those of us on the three-course menus had chilled desserts coming, but our a la carte-r went for the Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding, which, of course, takes a bit more time. It was worth the wait, though, since it is a lovely plate with cinnamon apples, the tender wedge of custardy bread, and a scoop of ice cream. For the Studio meal, a delicate cup with a scoop of Blood Orange sorbet was a nice exclamation point finish, and for the Sessions, a tangy Buttermilk Panna Cotta topped with lemon sorbet and kumquats was a tart, sunshine-tinged surprise.

Hatfield's is, without a doubt, one of the lovelier fine-dining spots in Los Angeles, and a great way to access it without breaking the bank--though perhaps running the clock--is to check it out during the week for lunch. They have the two affordable options for getting a full, three-course meal, and you can always take it to the higher end of the spectrum by ordering one of their many tantalizing cocktail choices, or simply ordering a la carte.