The intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights on the eastern end of the Strip, is steeped in local history. It was here, more than 60 years ago, that Googie architecture, with its Southern California-esque ethic, took its name in honor of a John Lautner-designed coffee shop. The aesthetic, extant but endangered, is in so many ways the antithesis of the Gothic cathedral, and yet, for the artistically inclined soul, there is something every bit as sacred about these structures, and for that matter any of today’s temples, or as they’re known by the culinarily devout: restaurants.
That iconoclastic spirit and heretical ethos, which could only take root here in the City of Angels, are alive and well today, embodied by Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails. Appropriate it is then that it is helmed by a chef with the nickname, “Malibu.” Top Chef Chris Crary (formerly of 41 Ocean and Whist at the Viceroy Hotel) is a disciple of the theology that is California cuisine and a prophet of seasonal, ingredient-driven foods.
For those of us to whom food is a quasi-religion, the menu is our sacred text, and Crary’s is truly a work of divine inspiration. The leather-bound tome includes thick, rough-cut parchments with few chapters and verse, but those few items are revelatory, such as the crispy fried chicken sliders on a buttermilk biscuit with house-made kimchi, pickled mustards seeds and a honey aioli. The combination of flavors is to the palate, to keep with the metaphor, what an angelic choir is to the ear.
The Ohio-born chef also works miracles with his seared Ahi — a staple on an L.A. menu — served colorfully alongside bites of heirloom tomato, paper-thin radish and chunks of compressed watermelon over an avocado puree and garnished with basil. Other ubiquities include crispy Brussels sprouts and grilled cauliflower, which, rather than being dead, are granted salvation at Hyde; while the Torchio Bolognese sprinkled with Parmesan is simply heavenly.
Crary draws heavily on Southeast Asian flavors to enhance his dishes, having acquired a taste during a stay in Thailand that awoke not only his tastebuds but his conscience, as well, evident as he discusses the plight of peasants in that not-so-distant corner of the world.
Those exotic flavors also find their way into Hyde’s cocktails, which are neither mere afterthoughts nor obligatories. This Waldo Fernandez-designed bar stands on its own merits; a indoor/outdoor drinking experience as stylish as any in town. The laid-back California ambience finds manifestation in cozy patio furniture reminiscent of a backyard in the magnificent hills directly above.
And in this quintessential L.A. dining space the beautiful flock to imbibe and indulge in reimagined classics and thoroughly original concoctions. The Earl Grey Aviation seems an unlikely standout on a page of impressive house specialties but throw a bit of Bombay gin, a dash of Maraschino cherry liqueur, a touch of pistachio syrup and lemon juice into a shaker of ice, add a hint of Earl Grey tincture and serve it up, and your soul will be stirred — or, in this case, shaken.
The Kaffir Caña-Kazi, similarly, is wholly a surprise inside the holiest of holies — a martini grail. It’s a rum beverage for people uninspired by rum beverages that lack little umbrellas. Fleur de Caña and Sugar Skull coconut rums are complemented by freshly pressed lime juice and muddled kaffir lime leaves. Complex yet balanced, this is surely the nectar of the gods.
The gospel of Hyde is spreading throughout the Southland as word of its excellence is preached to the unbelievers. Go ye, therefore, and be converted. Amen.
Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails
8117 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.