A longtime neighborhood favorite, Bel Air Bar and Grill appears to be it’s on its way to destination-worthiness thanks to a brand-new chef. Chef de Cuisine Chris Emerling, a recent LA transplant, is a veteran of Philippe Rochat, a legendary restaurant in Switzerland with an impressive 3-star Michelin rating. Emerling is a man with some serious culinary training: he’s worked with several other prominent chefs, among them Joël Robuchon.
Bel Air Bar and Grill has been around since the 1940s, when it was known as the Bel Air Farm House. Bel Air B&G’s ties to Los Angeles run deep. It’s currently owned by a native Angeleno, Susan Disney Lord, a granddaughter of Roy O. Disney. The restaurant’s walls are adorned with art which, as Disney Lord told me, “is a rotating selection of art from students and professors from CalArts, which was founded by Walt Disney in the 1960s.”
Emerling moved to LA just a few months ago, His goal is to create “borderless cuisine,” using influences drawing on his 18 years of experience in restaurant kitchens. I asked Disney Lord what made her want to hire Emerling for her restaurant and she shared, “He’s young and hungry and wants to make a name for himself. He grew up in the US but he’s traveled a lot. He spent the last five years in Switzerland and has traveled around southeast Asia and most of Europe, so he’s learned a lot about food and has many cultural influences.”
I had the pleasure of sampling over a dozen dishes at Bel Air Bar and Grill during a recent media dinner to introduce their new winter menu.
Starters: I loved the incredibly fresh burratta, served on a bed on wild arugula with herb-poached mushrooms and house-made duck prosciutto. The fish taco is made extra flavorful thanks to house-cured tequila salmon, a trio of sauces and jicama-ginger slaw, while the short rib taco is accompanied by carrot-poblano salsa. The lightly poached farm-fresh egg served upon tapenade was savory and satisfying.
Salads: The Waldorf “Escoffier” is a wonderful update to the classic Waldorf salad. Chris’ version consists of Pippin apples, celeriac, walnuts and his own 3880 sauce. A very simple salad made with late-harvest vine-ripened tomatoes and Fuyu persimmons topped with Modena vinegar was a welcome surprise. The chopped salad is a holdover from years past that the clientele would not tolerate being removed from the menu, and with good reason. An uncomplicated blend of chopped celery, carrots, corn and garbanzos is enlivened with Parmigiano-Reggiano and honey balsamic.
Main Dishes: Despite the ubiquity of salmon on menus all over town, the grilled salmon here is a real standout. Incredibly fresh and moist, it’s served on the rare side with lemon-lovage cream and a fennel-potato sauté. The scallops are also noteworthy, served on a bed of four root veggies with pickled pineapple and orange emulsion. The chicken is beautifully pan-roasted and succulent, with preserved cranberries, rosemary hash and a flavorful gastrique.
Desserts: A short crust tart with almond filling, the wonderfully textural chia pudding with pomegranate granita and a lemon tart with a graham cracker crust were all delicious and not overly sweet.
Visual Stimulation: It’s impossible to miss the gorgeous two-story glass entryway that leads into the restaurant. Photographic glass covered with enormous bougainvillea flowers, it was designed by renowned artist Amanda Weil.
What to drink: The diverse specialty cocktail list includes a California 75 (Nolet’s gin, prosecco and lemon juice), Westside Cable Car (Sailor Jerry rum, lemon juice, agave, triple sec and a cinnamon-sugar rum), the Spanish Mule (Herradura Blanco Tequila, lime juice, ginger beer and Chambord), Bougainvillea (Tito’s vodka, St. Germaine liqueur, muddled blueberries, Chambord and lemon juice) a classic Manhattan, a traditional Pimm’s Cup and 8 other choices.
More reasons to visit: Next time I’m stuck on the 405 near the Getty Center, maybe I’ll dart into Bel Air Bar and Grill for happy hour instead. During their 405 Happy Hour, they offer well drinks, draft beer and Sterling Chardonnay and Cabernet for $4.05.
Bel Air Bar and Grill is located at 622 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.