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Blue Velvet: Welcome back to the 80s

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Inside downtown’s Blue Velvet, the vibe is sleek, dark, and moodily reminiscent of the 80s, in the unisex bathroom with its clever sinks and puzzling lack of mirrors, and via the waitresses, whose severe miniskirts make them look like those endless rows of models in old Robert Palmer videos. “Addicted to Love,” anyone?

Despite the 80s trappings, Blue Velvet aspires to be a fine dining destination restaurant, and succeeds based on its ambitious menu, thanks to chef Kris Morningstar, who has worked at Patina – one of the city’s great generators of new chefs – and Meson G. The space, in the ground floor of The Flat, a former Holiday Inn now renovated into rental apartments, is on the less-commercial west side of the 110. There’s no other hotspot within walking distance.

The food takes itself very seriously and expects customers to do the same. Fine glassware and china are set on the table. Cutlery is changed with every course. The chef sent out an amuse-gueule of salmon tartare, a perfect combination of salty and tart flavors and soft and crunchy texture. The starters are arrayed on their plates like edible concepts; the lobster cassoulet included a puddle of perfectly-cooked flageolets in a tomatoey reduction, set off by a boudin noir (French blood sausage) bread pudding topped by several small pieces of lobster that were tender and tasty. The fondue salad, another starter, was similarly complex: a pool of melted Cantal cheese surmounted by two tiny grilled-cheese sandwiches, offset by a circle of microgreens. There is one apparently simple starter on the menu, a butter lettuce salad with marcona almonds, but somehow I expect chef Morningstar has found a way to bring simple greens to a new level.

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Entrees often feature meats in multiple roles on one plate; the duck includes breast, tempura liver, and confit leg, while the Duo of Pork include an anise-y braised shank in near-shreds sitting in a pork broth with udon, tender stalks of broccoli rabe, and crispy pork belly. This latter dish has a cleanness that balanced well with the rich pork. Loup de mer (an Atlantic fish) in small seared fillets was balanced with a cheese toast (cheese and seafood, a heresy but often a workable proposition) and sitting in a tomato-based sauce with chickpeas. Notably, the entrée list has numerous imaginative fish selections. Desserts are multifaceted - one called only "Caramel" included a tiny flan, caramel corn, and caramel sauce - with the chocolate roulade densely intoxicating.

Already canonized by the Los Angeles Times' S. Irene Virbila, Blue Velvet is only six weeks old. The menu continues to evolve; several of the dishes Virbila mentioned in her December 14 review are no longer on the menu. The wine list is delightful, featuring many interesting California wines. Disappointingly, there is no written list of wines by the glass; there were 3 whites and 3 reds, but we had to rely on our waitress' spotty memory to hear what they were. (We were happy with our selections.) Service was spotty, as well; the waitresses were perhaps cast for appearance - those miniskirts - rather than hired for skill or experience. Our charming waitress mispronounced words and seemed to have trouble remembering details about the specials, for which no prices were mentioned. Training would solve that problem, and with entrées in the $25 to $35 range, I expected better service.

Blue Velvet's expansive bar is a destination in itself, with a full menu of snacks (I hear the short ribs are great) and flatbreads. When we left after 10, the place was buzzing, with a mostly young crowd. Once the weather warms up, the dining room with a view of the pool should be a great hangout...and the bar opens at 4 in the afternoon, welcome news to those of us who work at home and sometimes need a jump start on the cocktail hour.

Blue Velvet
750 Garland Avenue
Los Angeles 90017