August 30, 2010

Full of (First and) Hope

In an unsuspecting strip mall in downtown Los Angeles, a luxurious supper club is tucked away in the corner. And tucked away inside that is a speakeasy that sends you right back to the 40s.

Look up "hidden gem" and you’ll find First and Hope.


A friend told me about the place and the fabulous and innovative flight of mac and cheese. Where else would you take a girl who loves cheese for a pre-wedding last blast with her girl friends!

The party was started an hour before our dinner reservation as Amy and Celeste ended their days early. It didn’t take long before Amy, well known for her friend making prowess, chatted up First and Hope co-owner Parker Martin, restaurant designer Jeremy Ingram, and special event manager Mark Shunock. By the time Nhien the Bachelorette and I got there, we were whisked off to a tour of the restaurant and the Fedora, their “speakeasy” performance space, by Jeremy himself.

Talk about whetting your appetite! We were in the room in time for their lighting check. And the Fedora revealed herself to us gorgeously. Most bits and pieces in the room actually have history, not manufactured new. It was truly awe inducing. Mark informed us that wait until we come back in later to hear Brenna Whitaker perform to really be blown away. We didn't rush through our dinner but we could hardly wait to return to the Fedora for the show.


Back outside in the dining room, now fully alive with staff and diners trickling in, we were greeted by our waiter Johnny who was attentive, knowledgeable, and all around awesome. Not to mention handsome! I mean, the entire service staff came right out of a modeling catalog or something. And in those awesome uniforms!

At Johnny's recommendation, we ordered a bottle of wine and a mocktail crafted for our alcohol-allergic Bachelorette. And then we went to town with our orders.


First up, a potato amuse bouche. I inhaled that, more or less. Then pimento cheese and crackers I couldn't stop eating.


Then arrived BBQ Fried Oysters (Bacon BBQ Sauce & Celery Bleu Cheese Tapenade), tasty little morsels that were gone way too fast, and my mission dish, Praise the Lard! (And I was too hungry to take any pictures of these things. LOL!)

A trio of pork in a plate which I regretted that we share because I would've wanted it all for myself! Crispy Pigears over Heirloom Tomatoes, explosion of textures with crispy wisps of pigears and refreshing tomatoes. Kurobuta Pork Belly over Creamy Grits christened with warm Maple Dressing was superb, however my favorite has to be the Bourbon-Braised Pork Cheeks with a Crisp Soft Egg. The sweet, melt in your mouth pork with creamy egg inside crispy fried exterior. So. Effing. Good.

Then entered the grand finale, the Bachelorette's pick of Pecan-plank Whole Trout Stuffed with Baby Spinach and Lump Crab with a side of Heirloom Tomato & Cornbread Panzanella Salad. Nhien enjoyed this dish although I can't really tell you much about it because my focus was entirely on the Flight of Mac and Cheese.

All-About-The-Cheese Mac & Cheese Flight laid out beautifully on the table. First crock was Fiscalini Xtra Mature Cheddar, Lasagnette & Ritz Crackers. Creamy and homey. Next was Cypress Grove Goat Cheese, Conchiglie & Popped Corn. I had my doubts erased the moment I ate a forkful. Popcorn gave it the texture and the flavors were really good. Everyone else liked the popcorn/goat cheese best. But no, not me.

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Naturally, my favorite is Porter Beer Cheese, Corkscrew Pasta & Rye Croutons with a sample of porter and small pile of what I think is pickled shallot/red onion. Put all the components in your mouth and sip the porter and all will be revealed to you!


Also came with the main event were our 2 side dishes collard greens and tater tots. The greens came with big hunks of thick bacon...which my friends left for me to destroy. (Good friends!) Tater tots were crispy outside and creamy inside, a texture I didn't expect from my tots but they were really, really good.

And of course, I wans't going to leave without dessert. I just didn't have room to go solo on what I wanted, the Porky Pig Banana Split (Bacon & Banana Ice Cream, JalapeƱo Hot Fudge, Brandied Cherries & Caramel Pork Rinds) which no one wanted to participate in. LOL. We asked Johnny and went with his favorite LAPD Doughnut Shake Down. Boston Cream Pie Doughnuts & Chocolate Dipping Sauce with Strawberry Milkshake, Strawberry Compote & Strawberry Whipped Cream.


Seriously. Hit me with a bus. I can die happy.

And a surprise present from Mark and the boys for our Bachelorette was the Lemon Meringue Beehive. Coconut Macaroon, Lemon Curd, Lemon-Thyme Ice Cream & Toasted Marshmallow in a shape of a beehive. Sounds decadent but really refreshing. Definitely lighter than the doughnuts I can tell you.


As we wrapped up the dessert, music came pouring out of the Fedora. The fabulous Ms. Whitaker had taken the stage. And wow. What a voice! So back into the Fedora we went. With Brenna and her band on stage, the place really came alive. Intimate truly is the word for the place. It was simply amazing.

There are times when I really wish I live closer to downtown LA. And walking away from First and Hope that night was one of those moments. I wish I could hang out here any night there is a performance. The food. The vibe. The music. First and Hope has all I ever wanted.

Suddenly, living behind the Orange curtain becomes a serious inconvenience. I envy you, Downtown LA!


Anonymous said...

I still have a $20 coupon which I desire to use soon. Now they're closed on weekends for lunch, I'm not sure I'll ever get to eat here again. Good to know the kitchen is still humming along after the exec. chef departed. We dined here 4 times the first month they opened, and consistency was always a problem.

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

That place looks fantastic! I bet the bachelorette was happy with it, and the beehive! How adorable is that? :)

Annette said...

Hank and I ate here before seeing South Pacific! LOVE IT!!! Want to do it again. They have some very delish cocktails.