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NineThirty at the W Westwood

March 5, 2013

My husband and I are always looking for new restaurants to try out.  We don’t like the ultra-trendy Hollywood-type places where people go mainly to be seen, rather than to actually go and eat the food.  We try and look for places that have good food in a good atmosphere.  For us, it’s ultimately all about the food.  If it wasn’t about the food, I might as well stay home and make something to eat on my own.  We both could really care less about going to trendy places to be seen and heard just so that we could say we’ve been there before.  However, there are the times when the ultra-trendy meets good food, and in that case, as long as we’re not talking about an over-the-top, dress-to-the-nines, wait-2 hours-for-a-table kind of place, my husband and I usually get around to giving the place a try so that we can make up our own minds about whether or not the food is really worth it.

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One restaurant that fits the mold of trendy and hip, but yet having a reputation for good food is the NineThirty located inside the W Hotel in Westwood.  Located in Westwood, just a stone’s throw from the campus of UCLA, the W Hotel is popular with the hip and trendy 20 and 30-year-old set.  With a world class spa, and nestled on a quiet street, set back under a cover of trees, and just down the road from UCLA’s sorority row, the hotel finds itself frequented by both business travelers and celebrities.  The NineThirty restaurant is set just off the main lobby area with a full bar and dining room.  The restaurant itself is small with very few tables, but designed so that guests can have quiet, intimate meals.  The decor of the restaurant is ultra modern and muted with a touch of sophistication and class.  Dining here on a Saturday evening, my husband and I were about to find out if the quality and taste of the food lived up to its reputation.

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So that we could try a variety of dishes, we went a bit overboard and ordered three different appetizers, or social bites, as they are called at the NineThirty.  It was a bit overwhelming when it all came to the table, but we knew we had ordered a lot of food.  My husband’s favorite of the three dishes was a dish called Potato Puffs.  The dish was served with black truffle fondue, black honey, lardon and chives.  Essentially, the dish was these mini fried dough balls filled with mashed potatoes, resting in a bowl of flavorful and delicious black truffle fondue.  The black honey was drizzled over the top, and the crispy pieces of lardon and the minced chives were sprinkled over the top as well.  My husband absolutely loved the black truffle fondue.  Taking the crispy potato puffs and dipping them into the black truffle fondue gave you a bite packed with flavor and punch and so many different textures from the crispy potato puff, the soft potato filling, and the creamy black truffle fondue.  My husband could have eaten these little potato puffs all night and been happy.

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We also ordered the charcuterie and cheese plate served with pommery mustard, red wine jelly and crostini.  Out came a long narrow plate with the grilled crostini, wedges of three different types of cheeses, and cuts of two different types of cured meats.  One of the meats was proscuitto, which you can never go wrong with.  We weren’t sure what the other cured meat was, but it was spicy.  The wedges of cheese included a delicious and creamy blue cheese, brie cheese and a wedge of hard and salty cheese which must have been an Asiago or Pecorino Romano.  While the charcuterie and cheese was good, we probably could have done without this dish as it wasn’t really anything special.

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Our last appetizer was the caramelized brussel sprouts with mulled wine-braised cranberries and smoked cashews.  Neither my husband nor I had ever had brussel sprouts before, but I had heard that caramelizing and roasting brussel sprouts was the best way to get flavor out of them, and reviews from previous diners at the NineThirty had mentioned that the caramelized brussel sprouts dish was a favorite, so we thought we should give it a try.  Go a bit outside of our comfort zone and try something new.  After all, that was the point of coming to a restaurant such as this.  One taste of this dish, and it immediately became my favorite appetizer of the dishes we ordered.  I really liked the flavor of the caramelized brussel sprouts.  The brussel sprouts were full of flavor and packed a punch.  It was crispy and crunchy, and couple that with the tender and delicious cranberries and the smoked cashews, this dish really was a winner.  Though, I would say that this was more of a side dish to an entree rather than a starter.

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For my entree, I ordered the grilled chicken paillard, which was recommended by the waiter.  Essentially, the dish was a a salad served with a grilled chicken breast.  The dish was served with butter lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, lardons and smoked paprika vinaigrette.  The grilled chicken had great flavor and this dish made for a great salad, but I was disappointed in the smoked paprika vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette had a bit too much spice for me in a salad dressing, and it was a bit gritty since paprika is a spice.  With the spice from the vinaigrette, the avocado was a nice counterpoint to the vinaigrette, but this part of the meal was the biggest disappointment of the evening for me.  To me, the vinaigrette was just a little too overpowering for the dish.

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My husband ordered the skate frites.  Though, he ordered the dish without knowing exactly what skate frites was, though he did suspect that it was some sort of fish dish.  According to the menu, skate frites was served with truffled polenta fries and herbed bacon butter.  Without knowing what the dish exactly was, my husband decided to give it a try.  What came out was basically a  fancy fish and chips dish which my husband said tasted amazing.  The skate fish was cooked to perfection and the herbed bacon butter was delicious.  My husband finished off the fish in just a few bites.  The truffled polenta fries was a nice addition.  Having polenta fries was something different, and the addition of a little truffle oil really added flavor to the fries.  But the polenta fries were enormously large, and with the appetizers we’d already had, even with a little help from me, my husband had trouble finishing off the polenta fries.  But he absolutely loved his entree, much more than I enjoyed mine.

So, when it came time for dessert, we both admittedly were kind of full, but when else would we have a chance to have desserts at the NineThirty, because there’s no guarantee that we’ll actually be back here again.  And hey, it is dessert, and we both have trouble saying no to dessert.  We had to give it a try.  I will say, though, that I was a bit put off by the fact that the menu stated that all ice cream and sorbet is made locally by Drunken Udder and contains alcohol.  As someone who doesn’t drink, knowing that my dessert is going to contain alcohol in the ice cream made me a bit sour on dessert.

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I ordered a dessert that I just couldn’t pass up when I saw it on the menu, the bittersweet warm chocolate cake served with spiced rum caramel, banana carpaccio and coconut ice cream.  Come on, warm chocolate cake and bananas?  That’s a winner right there.  I was hoping that perhaps the coconut ice cream would either contain very little alcohol, or would, at the very least be off on the side so I could avoid eating it if I had to.  I love when the dessert comes to the table and looks more like a work of art than a dessert.  And yay, the ice cream was off to the side and not sitting right on top of the chocolate cake.  This was a decadent, but not over the top, chocolate molten cake.  It was rich, and yummy, and warm, but the spiced rum caramel added a nice balance to it that was sweet, but not too sweet.  The caramelized banana carpaccio was amazing.  They sliced the bananas ultra thin and then caramelized the top of it so it was crunchy, sweet, and perfect.  The toasted coconut ice cream certainly tasted like toasted coconuts, but there definitely was a hint of alcohol flavor to the ice cream, which did ultimately turn me off, so I only had a spoonful or two of the ice cream.  This was a heavenly dessert though that I would order again, just perhaps withtout the ice cream next time.  I can see how in some desserts, having ice cream laced with alcohol would enhance the dessert, but in this case, I thought it was completely unnecessary.

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My husband ordered the Stout Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was recommended as a favorite by the waiter.  The pudding comes with vodka vanilla bean ice cream and toffee popcorn.  One bite of this dessert and my husband was in love!  The stout sticky toffee pudding came with the toffee popcorn sprinkled on top of it, on a plate separate from the vodka vanilla bean ice cream.  The ice cream is served in a frozen and sealed jar which is opened in front of you at the table.  My husband thought that the pudding was fabulous.  It was rich and creamy and full of flavor.  He devoured it first before even touching the ice cream.  As soon as he got to the ice cream, one bite and he said that sure enough the ice cream was definitely vodka vanilla bean.  He said that it was quite potent and strong, but was a good complement to the sticky toffee pudding.  I had thought perhaps that when the menu said vodka vanilla bean ice cream that perhaps there wasn’t really that much vodka in it, but my husband said one little bite and you could taste the vodka and it was evident that it was chock-full of vodka.

All in all, we had a really good time at the restaurant.  It was hip and trendy, but it wasn’t overly pretensious or stuff, which is a good thing.  And importantly, the food was the delicious.  I was thrilled with my entree, but that’s not to say that it didn’t taste good, or it wasn’t creative, it just wasn’t for me.  My husband loved everything he had.  We both walked out of the restaurant having had a good time, and have said to each other that we’ll be back again in the future.  The service was terrific, the atmosphere was fun and low key, and the food was outstanding and different.  If you find yourself in West LA looking for a restaurant that is fun, hip, trendy and good, think about going to the NineThirty at the swank W Hotel in Westwood.

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