If you’re ever driving down the Prius-smooshed 405 at sunset, wondering where you should eat dinner in West Hollywood, get on OpenTable, type in “Catch LA,” and book an 8 p.m. reservation for two. You might be skeptical about this advice, rightly asking, “Catch? Isn’t that a chain of restaurants in New York , Dubai and Playa del Carmen, Mexico?”
And to that I’d answer, “Yes but trust me.”
Then you’d probably say something like, “OK, I will,” pausing for a moment before adding a really soft, under-your-breath “maybe.”
A quick search on your phone — “Catch LA” — probably won’t allay trepidations. The place is inextricably trendy, visited by the celebrity likes of Jessica Simpson on her birthday, Drake on his birthday, (Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were also in attendance for that fête) and most recently, the entire cast of Modern Family in celebration of the hit show’s 200th episode. Oh yeah, and an edgy portrait wall is covered in black-and-white images of famous faces, from Marilyn Monroe, Walt Disney and Johnny Depp to Paris Hilton and Kim K.
Let me set the stage: I was in West Hollywood with my dad to meet some friends at the W Hotel. We had a glass of wine inside the winding-staircased lobby then rode a darkly wood-paneled elevator up to the penthouse apartment and took in some pinch-yourself views.
It was one of those days/nights when you feel like you might’ve stepped onto a movie set, where imaginary butterflies flitter Mary Poppins-esque across the sidewalk, the smog of Los Angeles becomes a gauzy, romantic gray, and the sun sets over the city in a neon mess of celestial impressionism. City of Stars as the song goes ….
Italian wine in hand, the group luxuriated in the luxury of the penthouse for a while, a collection of moments chilled in time and excessive extravagance. Then we rode the wooden elevator back down to the world below, my friends left and my dad and I hopped in the car, drove two miles west and found a parking spot twenty feet outside Catch. (See? Movie. In no real L.A. situation do you ever find street parking at the very place you want to go.)
The way to get into Catch is characteristically posh; an attendant whisks you into an elevator that travels noiselessly to the top floor then ding–dings! as it opens onto a rooftop oasis where strings of lights twinkle and stretch across a fairy-tale garden entrance.
Here’s where our night got a little funky. We checked in with the maître d’, who told us the table wasn’t quite ready.
“We can wait at the bar,” my dad told her. “You’ll find us?”
The woman, dressed smartly in a black blazer and crisp, white shirt, chuckled. (It wasn’t a full-on guffaw because c’mon, this is L.A.) “Yes, of course. I know who you are.”
Who are we?
Maybe I should’ve mentioned my dad looks vaguely like Billy Crystal and that small fact might just twist its way through the rest of the story because if it doesn’t, everything else that happened would be pretty hard to explain.
After a glass of wine enjoyed at a bar so cool it could play piano riffs in a Japanese jazz lounge, we were seated at an outdoor table along the very edge of the restaurant. Behind us, the Downtown L.A. skyline blistered bright against the evening sky, and on either side, emptiness. There was no one next to us because our table was super private and tucked discreetly into the corner of the space. The waiter offered to adjust the heat lamps, I said we were OK for now but inquired about a particularly striking building lit up green to our right.
“That’s a parking garage,” he told us with not a hint of ridicule.
Then he explained the family-style plates, walked us through the night’s specials, asked if we needed the heat lamp adjusted (again) and told us he moved to California from Boston. He elbowed a waiter standing next to him and they both smiled our way. It was all very friendly, very accommodating and very these-people-think-Billy-Crystal-is-at-their-restaurant-and-who’s-to-tell-them-he’s-not.
We ordered the hamachi spinach (delicate, subtle and with a satisfying crunch), the roasted tri-color beet salad, (a light and fresh mix of warm goat cheese foam and cool beets) and the spicy tuna “Hellfire roll,” a buttery fish plate unexpectedly paired with pear and balsamic; they gave us an extra piece of tuna “just because.”
Next, we had the wild mushroom spaghetti with sugar snap peas and as a finale, stuck a fork into Catch’s famous “Hit Me” chocolate cake, so social-media postable it comes with a hashtag plaque you can eat.
Everything was delicious. The portions were generous, the fish wasn’ t fishy. The pasta was creamy but not bogged down in milky goop. The famous dessert was a chocolate explosion, not gloppy sugar on sugar but refined saccharine elegance and just the right ending to a sweet, Billy Crystal-less night.