Last summer I had a few days in New York City and got taken to Catch by some edgy friends who know a happening piece of sashimi when they see it. It was artsy, bohemian, buzzy, fabulous cocktails, gorgeous food, a brilliant night.
A little while after that, the much hyped Catch LA opened. In many ways there’s a similar aesthetic, although not a similar vibe. It’s a rooftop space, indoor, outdoor, a wild country garden meets LA slick. My first time there was brunch where we got Frose’s – frozen rose wine mixed up with some other kind of deliciousness. We had the truffled sashimi which was flavour heaven. I wanted to go back for the Frose and my friend wanted to go back for the truffled sashimi. It’s very hard to get a reservation. The kind of place that offers you 5.30 and you take it. Getting there there’s a guest list downstairs and while they’re checking your name off it feels like one of those clubs where you’re just not on the list for. It’s quite alienating but still soon my friend was to be truffled and I was to be Frose’d….
The first calamity of the evening, they only do the Frose for brunch and weekends and it was not possible to have it made specially. Instead I ordered a Brooklyn Zoo – a smoky tequila affair which was perfectly nice but not spectacular. My friend ordered the truffled sashimi and we got freshly made pretzel buns with honey butter. These she said would be used to mop up the sauce except that was not to be. The waiter asked if she was finished and she said no I want the sauce. Just when she was looking at it longingly, another waiter or even a manager swooped up from nowhere and took the plate away. Her precious $28 truffled sauce. They offered to bring back just the sauce but it didn’t have the truffle in it so it wasn’t the same and we pointed out that it’s de rigueur to ask before you take something away. We pondered about restaurants whose efficiency at taking things away exceeds their efficiency to deliver. We talked about that a lot and how a certain kind of restaurant disguises itself in the cloak of efficiency and spotless service when really they just want you out of there.
The menu looked enticing – so many lovely things. Should we go for the Hamachi spinach? Crispy spinach with shallots and sweet ponzu. Or tri coloured roasted beets with candied walnuts. Or eggplant with a miso glaze and toasted sesame. Do we want rolls? Do we want hot food? At this point we were a little in love with the place but we didn’t want to over order or under order so we simply said we’re going to order a few things and leave us the menu and we’ll order the hot things after. The waitress said that wasn’t the Catch experience. She wanted us to have the Catch experience which would work best if we ordered everything at once. I said a little naively oh we just don’t want to order too much or too little. We don’t know how hungry we are. We don’t know how filling the plates are? My friend, a little more cynical and absolutely correct said you just want to get us out of here. Bring us all the food of us and turn the table over. I can’t remember what the waitress answered.
I do remember that a Catch roll with crab salmon and miso honey was seared at the table. It felt very dramatic. It felt that it was the sushi equivalent of Studio 54 – excessive, attention demanding and no stranger to celebrities. We were very much into our thing and didn’t even look for celebrities but this is just the kind of restaurant that loves celebrity. So much so that you can already feel yourself on the B list of not being a celebrity.
I ordered another cocktail and two came at once. The new waitress said that I wouldn’t be charged for it as I hadn’t ordered the second one but of course I was. We weren’t full so we went for the teriyaki chicken lettuce cups. The food is clean, creative, interesting and the portions are small and overpriced but it’s the kind of restaurant that puts celebrity viewing in with the prices.
We were not asked if we wanted dessert but we were actually ready to go so we did. It’s such a shame we had to endure this because I still love the frozen rose’s and have not found anywhere else that does them. The bill came to $197. I could have gone to New York for that. New York Catch is a metaphor for the city itself – it’s busy, fast, on top of its game, straightforward, friendly. Catch LA is self-conscious and the staff have obviously been trained to turn tables over so quickly without actually realising who they are serving and they have no understanding of the service industry. If you’re going to charge someone $28 for three pieces of sashimi, let them finish their sauce. But I do know if I’d been Kylie Jenner, they would have wanted me to stay all night so they would have never taken my sauce away.
It’s a place where style invades substance so much that it hurts. The chef is obviously highly artistic, audacious, smart. It’s a shame the food is treated with such little respect by the people who serve it.
Address 8715 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood 90069 catchrestaurants.com
By Chrissy Iley