Sunday, May 08, 2005

Meow! Fish for Hungry Hollywood Cats

The Hungry Cat is a cute seafood place with a distinguished pedigree and some knockout cocktails. But its odd location and design make it somewhat hard to appreciate the kind of experience that's likely to cost upwards of $70 for two people. The Cat is the lovekitten of chefs Suzanne Goin (Lucques, AOC) and David Lentz (formerly of Opaline), and it's kind of like a seafood shack on the New England coast put on a shiny little black dress and decided to hide out in a Hollywood shopping complex.
As the few tables inside were booked up on Saturday night (I spied famous pastry chef Lindsey Shere's name on the list) , we scored a table on the patio. The patio is perfectly pleasant, if you don't mind the view of the back door of Borders, but I'm afraid the cute little wooden block stools have got to go. An older lady requested a real chair and was accomodated, but do you have to be in AARP to get a back on your chair? Another well-prepared diner brought a little stadium seat with her, which looked quite ridiculous. Come on folks, chairs aren't that hard. The interior is odd as well, with a pitch black wall, a curtain separating the restaurant from a sunglasses shop and a fairly high noise level from all the shiny surfaces.
There's some serious bar talent coming up with these potent cocktails -- Matt had the Pimlico, a scarily tasty mix of bourbon and fresh orange and lime juices. The wine and beer list is small but well chosen. The equally small menu is all seafood, all the time, except a lone burger just in case your party includes a pescaphobe.
Nearly everyone had the raw oysters on their tables, and while they looked tempting, we opted for cooked dishes instead -- a calamari and frisee salad, the clams with chorizo and the crab cake with celery root slaw ($14).

calamari salad with frisee and roasted potatoes
The salad was refreshing, with tender calamari, but unremarkable. I had heard great things about the clams but the Moroccan spiced broth either didn't have enough chile heat or just had too many spices going on. It seems like just garlic and peppers -- a more Spanish or Portuguese flavor -- could make this dish sing. I've never tasted a crab cake like this one, however, -- a huge lump of all fresh crab which was just pure crab flavor, with a nice celery root slaw.

left, clams and chorizo; right, crab cake
Nearly everyone ordered the lobster roll ($22), which comes with a heap of golden fries that looked wonderful. Clearly, oysters and lobster roll are the de rigeur selections. And Jeremy Sisto and his mom had the calamari salad as well.
I'm a little ambivalent about the Cat -- the cocktails are knockouts, and all the food is clearly carefully prepared, with a few standout dishes. But a bread basket would be nice, and some real chairs.
In short, this is a great place for a tasty bite and a drink before a movie at the ArcLight or a play in the neighborhood -- if you're in the habit of dropping between $60 and $100 for two on a little bite.
The Hungry Cat
1535 N. Vine
(323) 462-2155