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SET THE TONE Roasted baby beets with pistachio granola, nasturtiums, pickled raisins and goat’s milk sour cream make for a light small plate.

High Notes

by Lesley Balla | Photography by Dylan + Jeni | Angeleno magazine | January 5, 2016

I don’t always think of bourbon when I think of Joni Mitchell. A great syrah, maybe, or something spicy and earthy. Even a martini. But at Estrella, a stylish new spot on the Sunset Strip, the cocktail named for the folk-jazz crooner is whiskey-based with a bit of pomegranate molasses, grapefruit and lime. It’s smooth and not sweet, kind of like the singer herself.

The aim of the cocktail, and others subtly named with a nod to the music industry, is to go with the whole vibe of Estrella, which really plays up the West Hollywood scene—back when people like Mitchell and “Mama” Cass Elliot filled the streets. Design firm Studio Collective created a restaurant that feels like a boho-chic Laurel Canyon bungalow, especially the patio with its lush fabrics, pillow-strewn booths, hanging succulents and macramé, and crackling fireplace. It’s exactly where you want to be for weekend brunch, or weekday breakfast, which Estrella surprisingly serves.

Built into the ground floor of Barry Diller’s IAC building, which is currently in the midst of a buzzy transformation, the restaurant consists mostly of outdoor space. Inside, the long room has a welcoming communal bar and a few tables; but the patio is definitely the place to be, even on the chillier nights when the heat lamps are blazing. It doesn’t stop any of the young, hot crowd from packing in the tables.

They’re here as much for the scene as for chef Dakota Weiss’ fun and flirty creations. After years at Nine Thirty at the W Los Angeles - West Beverly Hills—and before that, stints at The Ritz-Carltons in Atlanta and throughout Florida, and the Sunset Tower in West Hollywood (as well as an appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef)—Weiss has made a name for herself by serving comfort food with a twist. And at Estrella, she’s amped it up even more, throwing a few unexpected curveballs on things as mundane as guacamole, crudo and fried chicken.

That fried chicken was my favorite item on the menu, actually. And among some of the more refined-sounding dishes, it stuck out. The breading wasn’t your usual buttermilk-and-flour variety, but, instead, more like wispy tempura, slicked with a sweet and tangy honey glaze. A woman at the next table had the right idea by asking for a bottle of Cholula because a bit of vinegary heat would make it even better. Just like music with the most soul, classics will always surpass the overdubbed.

The menu veers from snacks more appropriate for cocktail hour—guacamole, made with artichokes and boursin cheese, for instance, or silky smooth and rich duck liver butter topped with tomato-huckleberry jam—and small plates meant for sharing around the table. It’s easy to make a full meal out of those: a hangar steak cooked sous vide, perhaps, a bowl of mussels with harissa and hominy, and little gems with truffle Champagne vinaigrette. But there are larger plates too, full dishes like the chicken, which comes with bitter greens and cornbread croutons; slow-braised beef rib with celery root and carrots; and a veal cutlet with Brussels sprouts and black truffles.

Even if the embellishments get a little unwieldy on a few things, like the beautiful hamachi crudo topped with confit squash, truffle pumpkin seeds, edible flowers and chile de arbol—take any one of those things off and it would be perfect—the ingredients are top-notch and the chef’s ambition to push the envelope is prevalent. She does have a lot of fun, though. There’s a whole bacon-wrapped avocado stuffed with a soft egg on the brunch menu, which oozes golden deliciousness when sliced in half. It’s called The Rolling Stone, which is appropriate in more ways than one.

Weiss’ menu jibes with the place. Harkening back to a time of free love mixed with rock ’n’ roll, post-Hollywood glamour and pre-hair metal, there’s a sex appeal here that’s relaxed and effortless. Sit back in one of those comfy booths any time of day, from dawn to dusk, and watch the scene unfold.

ESTRELLA
8800 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.652.6613

Hours: Breakfast, Mon.-Fri., 7-11am; lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm; grab-and-go, Mon.-Fri., 3-5pm; dinner, Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10pm, Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11pm; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm

Prices: (Dinner) appetizers, $6-$11; small plates, $9-$18; entrees, $12-$34; desserts, $10

What to Wear
Hippie-chic never goes out of style in L.A.—only here there might be a bit more black leather and spiked heels to go along with it.

Sunset and Wine
The wine list isn’t extensive, but let Wine Director Dave Reid have a little fun and you’ll be rewarded with lovely selections from Napa and beyond.

Afternoon Delight
Although it started out as grab-and-go, lunch is now full service, with fresh salads, healthy sandwiches and a great burger on the menu.