The Church Key (West Hollywood, CA)

The Church Key
Sunset Towers
8730 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 10/23/13

church key

The Church Key opened last week in West Hollywood with chef Steven Fretz (XIV, Top Round) helming the kitchen. The food is modern American small plates combining a regular menu with revolving carts, drawing upon inspiration from State Bird Provisions and dim sum restaurants. The chef makes liberal use of the modern American label, presenting a pretty wide variety of dishes and influences from around the world. The opening menu offers chicken tikka masala and ‘peking quail’ from Asia to pastas, pierogies, and sticky toffee pudding from Europe. I was invited to a preview dinner the night before opening.

church key cart

The large space looks great with a mix of chairs and sofas, multiple dining areas and a large bar.

church key

church key

Cocktails are a big part of the restaurant’s offerings, crafted by Devon Espinosa (Pour Vous, ink., The Tasting Kitchen).

Shot in the Dark dolin blanc, buffalo trace bourbon, pineapple, absinthe rinse
Fashioned Chai apple jack brandy, buffalo trace bourbon, chai syrup, orange peel

DD0_4688

Benton’s Country Ham, Fig Mostarda, House Pickles, Grilled Sourdough

Benton's Country Ham, Fig Mostarda, House Pickles, Grilled Sourdough

Paper thin slivers of ham showed off its slight smokiness and hearty pork flavor. Sweet and tart complements came in the form of the fig mostarda and house pickles, respectively.

Ahi Tuna Tartare, Pomegranate, Greek Yogurt, Cucumber, Pappadam

Ahi Tuna Tartare, Pomegranate, Greek Yogurt, Cucumber, Pappadam

It seems like a variation of the tuna tartare shows up everywhere nowadays. This was one of the better ones, with simple balanced flavors and some good textural contrast from cucumber and Indian fried pappadam.

Canned Negroni

canned negroni

Hamachi Sashimi, Lop Cheong

Hamachi Sashimi, Lop Cheong

The first dish to come around on the carts, thin slices of hamachi were bathed in citrus and slices of chewy Chinese sausage. Interesting flavors, though I found the sausage to be the dominant flavor profile.

Pig Ear Cheetos, Guacamole

Pig Ear Cheetos, Guacamole

This item seems to be the most buzzworthy at the restaurant and rightfully so. It was a fun one, tasting very similar to Cheetos but with a porky undertone. There was a nice crunch too, while guacamole complemented the strong cheesiness.

Salt and Vinegar Brown Butter Popcorn

Salt and Vinegar Brown Butter Popcorn

Another cart item, I’m not sure I got as much of the vinegar and brown butter flavor as expected.

Fried Bay Scallops, Roulade

Fried Bay Scallops, Roulade

I think this dish may have sat on the cart a little bit longer than I would’ve liked, as the tater tot look-alikes were a little cool and a little soggy. Something in the sauce was too sweet for me too.

Frog Hollow Pear Salad, Manouri Cheese, Frisee, Black Walnuts, Poached Pear Vinaigrette

Frog Hollow Pear Salad, Manouri Cheese, Frisee, Black Walnuts, Poached Pear Vinaigrette

Crisp slivers of pear and frisee were joined with a generous portion of manouri cheese. Similar to feta but creamier, the Greek cheese paired well with the sweetness of the pear while walnuts provided much of the crunch.

I was very intrigued by the restaurant’s adult take on the Otter Pop, with an alcoholic version frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen.

"Odd-er Pops"

“Odd-er Pops” appletini, lemon

"Odd-er Pops" appletini, lemon

Definitely a show as well as a food item, I found the pops to largely be successful with strong flavors. However, they were a little bit soft upon serving – I missed the mouthfeel of being able to bite into these.

Lamb Belly Pastrami

Lamb Belly Pastrami

Rich and smoky, these thin slices tasted as expected. A little citrus was an ideal accompaniment.

Falafel Croquettes, truffle tahini

Falafel Croquettes truffle tahini

Our final savory item from the carts, these were crispy on the outside and hot and airy on the inside – very successful. The tahini, with a slight truffle essence, was good as well.

Shut the Funk Up russian standard vodka, lime, orange, orgeat, soda water

DD0_4738

Golden Lorraine d’usse cognac, benedictine, clover honey, lemon, anjou pear

DD0_4739

Crispy Pork Belly, Gochujang Glaze, Cashew Butter, Radish, Sesame

Crispy Pork Belly, Gochujang Glaze, Cashew Butter, Radish, Sesame

The pork belly was slightly crispy, though not as much as expected. Rich and fatty, they were smothered in a subtly spicy Korean chili paste. Some radish and greens sought to lighten the dish up, but I would’ve liked even more to counter the richness.

Sunchoke Agnolotti, Beaufort Cheese, Chanterelles, Brown Butter

Sunchoke Agnolotti, Beaufort Cheese, Chanterelles, Brown Butter

The sunchokes provided a very sweet filling encased in the chewy pasta. I liked the earthy mushroom pairing, while the cheese and brown butter sauce provided much more richness.

Fretzy alto reposado, st. germain, regan’s orange bitters, grapefruit peel
Shot in the Dark dolin blanc, buffalo trace bourbon, pineapple, absinthe rinse

DD0_4758

Tapioca Crusted Tai Snapper, Broccolini, White Soy Vinaigrette

Tapioca Crusted Tai Snapper, Broccolini, White Soy Vinaigrette

This may have been our favorite dish of the evening. The batter was crispy and light, while the fish was moist and delicious. Bitter greens provided a nice balance to the fish.

Stuffed “Peking Quail,” Red Rice, Apples, Parsnip Puree, Sansho Truffle Jus

Stuffed "Peking Quail," Red Rice, Apples, Parsnip Puree, Sansho Truffle Jus

The quail was prepared in a similar style to a Peking duck, but deboned and stuffed with red rice. I liked this dish, with the quail having a crispy exterior, moist meat and a sweet-savory glaze. A creamy parsnip puree was subtly sweet.

“Sticky Toffee Pudding” – Date Cake, Toffee, Candied Orange

"Sticky Toffee Pudding" - Date Cake, Toffee, Candied Orange

This was a strong take on the British classic with a date cake at center. Served warm, it was pretty moist and topped with a layer of crunchy toffee. A rich toffee sauce and whipped cream added a lot more flavor and richness, while candied orange peel brightened everything up.

The Hectic bacardi superior, house falernum, lime
Pink Lips
grey goose la poire, lime, pama espuma, champagne

DD0_4770

Creme Brulee earl grey, black sesame, pumpkin

Creme Brulee

Coming from the cart, these mini creme brulee were solidly prepared with strong flavors, although not particularly noteworthy.

Some of The Church Key seems like a gimmick, but a lot of it was actually fun and playful. The cocktails were excellent – favorites were the Fashioned Chai and Shot in the Dark. There were some hits-and-misses on the food side, but I see this as a good place to sip on a few cocktails and get a few bites (especially late-night). The falafel croquettes, tai snapper, peking quail and sticky toffee pudding were highlights.

Note: This was a hosted meal.


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