The Stinking Rose55 North La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90211 (Map) - Tel:(310) 652-7673
The Stinking Rose - Restaurant Review
Review by Michael Low
By Any Other Name, It's Good Too
This may be the only restaurant review you ever read with a disclaimer. If you do not like the garlic plant, garlic smell, or most importantly, the taste of garlic, please move on and choose another restaurant. For those who have remained, and especially garlic lovers, welcome to garlic heaven.
Executive Chef and San Francisco restaurateur Andrea Froncillo opened The Stinking Rose in Beverly Hills in 1995 as a follow-up to the successful San Francisco eatery of the same name. The theme of The Stinking Rose is encapsulated in the restaurants’ official motto, "We Season Our Garlic With Food." There is nothing on the menu that isn’t seasoned, covered, glazed or roasted in garlic.
Located near the heart of L.A.’s Westside, just south of the Beverly Center on busy La Cienega Blvd., The Stinking Rose is just a flat out fun dining experience. The outside is relatively benign; a white, one level building featuring several uncomplicated red and green marquees (of course, with a garlic clove). Upon entering the restaurant, I realized that they saved all the character for the inside. There is not a space in the entire restaurant not covered with art, murals, paintings, pictures, wine bottles, sculptures, etc. Almost all the décor is garlic themed. Throughout dinner, I stared at four garlic cloves that were painted in Warhol-esque fashion. For those who like to dine in quiet, understated surroundings, The Stinking Rose may be sensory overload.
The main area is essentially one large room, parsed off into different sections by some clever interior design. On one side, there’s Garlywood, a Hollywood themed area with a large mural of L.A. landmarks covering one side of the wall. As you will come to expect, the mural has been “garlicized,” and all the familiar L.A. spots are covered in garlic cloves. In the middle, The Stinking Rose has attempted to create more romantic dining areas by surrounding small tables in tents you might find at a chic pool area. It does create intimacy; so if you’re on a date, request to sit at one of the tented tables. Otherwise, The Stinking Rose is an ideal place for large parties. Many of the tables are set-up for six or more, and the two adjacent rooms are just the thing for entertaining groups. One has a giant mural of the “Creation of Adam” rendering on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In this version of the famous painting, God is reaching out to Adam with a clove of garlic in his hand. The other room is my favorite themed area, Dracula’s Grotto. A tribute to the greatest of vampires, the room is made to look old and neglected, with cobwebs covering the ceiling. At the far end of the room is a picture of the Count, illuminated blood red, smiling brightly and showing his signature fangs. After taking this in, my dining companion and I were seated in the Chianti Caffe, an indoor café (complete with windows and doorway), with hundreds of Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling along with strands of hanging garlic.
Shortly after being seated, the wait staff brought six large dinner rolls, and placed them on a tea light warmer. The rolls were outstanding. Warm and chewy, these will disappear quickly if you love bread. I do, and they did. The tub of fresh basil, chopped garlic, and olive oil on every table aided their disappearance. Every bite of this trio provided the signature “hotness” of garlic, while the fresh basil cooled the palate simultaneously. If you indulge in this topping liberally as I did, your breath will be shot before your order is taken. There should be no warning necessary, but those on a romantic date, beware!
Our server Agnes next brought the appetizers, the Shiitake Mushroom pizzette, and The Stinking Rose Salad. The pizzette was a basic preparation; thin pizza crust, topped with mozzarella cheese, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, and garlic. There were five slices in the oval shaped pizzette, plenty for two. The combination was both earthy from the generous portion of mushrooms and asparagus, and mild from the subtle mozzarella cheese. Garlic remained in the background for this dish. The crust at the edges was crisp and tasty, but was a bit soggy in the middle. The Stinking Rose Salad was also large enough for two, tossed, and served family style in a white serving dish. The bright green butter lettuce was cool and crunchy, with a generous portion of sweet cherry tomatoes that complemented the bitterness of the butter lettuce. Walnuts are featured on the salad’s menu description, but did not have much presence in the salad. The garlic dressing was delicate, with just a hint of garlic, and did not overpower the salad in any way. Overall, the salad was light and flavorful.
The entrees of Fresh Black Linguine & Clams and the Porterhouse Pork Chop came next. The linguine & clams was a superb presentation. A mound of jet-black pasta sat in the middle of a white pasta bowl, a visually engaging contrast. Surrounding the pasta, sixteen steamed clams, and everything sat in a sea of garlic parsley shallot sauce. The dish’s taste did not disappoint. The pasta was freshly made and cooked to al dente excellence. I’ve dined in many restaurants were steamed clams are overcooked and tough, but The Stinking Rose gets it right. The clams were pleasant and chewy, absent the rubbery texture that turns off some people to shellfish. The garlic parsley shallot sauce was terrific, and could not think of when I last had a sauce that matched so well with steamed clams. The taste of garlic and shallots were pronounced, and the saltiness from the clams made it all come together in a white wine broth.
The Porterhouse Pork Chop was a massive bone-in chop, placed smack dab in the middle of the plate. A generous helping of the Garlic Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (what did you expect?) flanked one side of the chop, with caramelized apples on the other. Sauced on top of the chop, and on the bottom of the entire plate, was a sweet Garlic relish. The chop itself was lightly seasoned and had gentle smokey undertones. The sweet Garlic relish was a red-brown colored sauce that had a sweet & sour quality, and harmonized well with the pork. Even a better match was the caramelized apples. The apples had a deep brown color, and an easygoing sweetness with a hint of cinnamon, complementing the chop magnificently. The Garlic Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes were in a single word, RICH. Each bite was a spoonful of garlic, butter and potatoes . . . I loved it. Although we did not order any, one of the featured items on the Stinking Rose menu is their Garlic Roasted Prime Rib. I’d imagine these mashed potatoes would be a wonderful match with a slice of bloody prime rib. And speaking of blood, a quick note about ordering your meal. You can order any dish “vampire style”, and will be spared some of the 3,000 lbs. of garlic the restaurant uses every month.
Feeling a little different (could have been from some kind of garlic infection), I ordered The Stinking Rose’s featured cocktail, the mojito, to accompany my meal. The classic mojito, heavy on the lime and muddled with plenty of mint, was a welcome change up to the usual dinner pairings of beer and wine. If you’d like a more traditional approach to your drinking choices, there is a small wine list to choose from on the back of the dinner menu. Most are California wines, moderately priced, with the majority of selections below $50, and by-the-glass prices of $7 and $9.
I’m not sure if garlic is addictive, but when I stared at the first item on the dessert menu, it didn’t seem so strange. Gilroy's Famous Garlic Ice Cream. I felt as if I needed a second opinion before diving headfirst into this venture. So I asked our server Agnes her thoughts, “People either love it or hate it. I love it, I think its great.” I felt strangely obligated to try it. The generous portion is served in a chilled blue ice cream dish/cocktail glass. It was lightly covered with a caramel mole sauce that was the key to the whole, zany dish. Eaten naked, the ice cream has a much different character. The garlic is in your face and the ice cream is very sweet, attempting to balance out the garlic’s bite. When you add the caramel sauce, the dish significantly mellows. The mole was slightly bitter, almost like baking chocolate, and balances the sweetness of the ice cream, and the garlic’s zing. If you come to The Stinking Rose, give it a try. How often do you get a chance to eat garlic ice cream? Also sampled was the Chocolate Truffle Mousse Cake. The mousse cake was a heavy, thick mousse that sits at the bottom of your stomach. Don’t misunderstand, it was excellent. The mousse was presented in a cylindrical shape, dusted with coco powder. The dark chocolate was not too sweet as to overpower the rich flavor. On the side, was an ample scoop of vanilla custard. It was more yellowish in color than your average scoop of vanilla ice cream, and was sweeter than most ice creams. Both desserts are a fantastic way to end a meal.
After the meal had ended, my companion and I retreated to the lounge area to relax. The massive teal colored lighting fixture behind the bar highlights the lounge. No surprise, the rest of the lounge is adorned with more garlic themed décor. Adjoining the lounge is a small outdoor patio, open for drinks and dining. I wouldn’t recommend the patio area for dining, as it sits on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, La Cienega Blvd.
However, I can recommend The Stinking Rose to all who want a unique dining experience. The service throughout the evening was pleasant and capable. The restaurant has starring role in the show, and I put The Stinking Rose near the top of the list of places to bring large parties and out of town visitors. The décor, and the themed rooms have something for everybody. Not to be outdone, the food is as entertaining and flavorful as the surroundings. It is a must for those who love garlic, and the rest can come and bring the breath mints.
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