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Blaine at Roy's

Crazy imaginative: Chef Blaine Villasin

You can be honest: you may think "I'm craving Thai" once a month or "I'm jonesing for Italian" even more frequently, but unless you are daydreaming of a recent escape to the north shore of Oahu and how miles-away-from-here sumptuously tropical it was, you are rarely going to think, "I gotta have Hawaiian fusion tonight." It's OK to admit as much to yourself.

Just know that it might be your loss if you don't crave Hawaiian fusion too every so often.

We wandered in to Roy's downtown last night for a media junket kind of thing, introducing a recently arrived chef. Like the Patina group, Roy's is its own constellation; downtown, Roy's is at 800 Fig around these parts, a scant block south of the City's main metro stop at 7th. And also like in the Patina group, the chefs at Roy's pretty much have free reign. In fact, like at other stand-alone notable restaurants, it's not uncommon when they arrive to bring dependable former sous-chefs with them.

Passing through the restaurant's three dining rooms, I was surprised at how big and bustling it was. It's a perfect theater restaurant--they are big enough to seat you quickly and chock full of enough staff to time your dinner to end when you want. Even at 6:30, the bustle and hum of the place reminded me of eating at Engine Co. 28 back in the day and catching the shuttle bus to go see Private Lives at the Taper. There are only a few restaurants downtown that are especially sensitive to the fact that you may actually like to do something else with your evening too, and this is one of them. Service I could see was exceptional throughout.

But the service is just a sideshow compared to what you might like to eat there. The media were there for the new chef, Blaine Villasin (top photo, a little younger, but only a little), a Hawaii native and San Diego State alum and Cordon Bleu grad. I know when you think Cordon Bleu you think fancy, busy hotels in Orange County with golf courses and kitchens run by guys with 99-pleats in their hat, but this guy is a lot different from what you think. He took full advantage of being proximate to LA gastro-exotica while studying--for instance, he used three different sea salts on three of the various dishes we were served.

That's his trademark, I think: he really zeroes in on imaginative spicing. My wife was glad to taste star anise--very forward, that spice--in an imaginative dish with a pork belly and a soy stock base--to her, star anise is like an old friend dropping in from the east coast. We also had a very imaginative sashimi topped with a cilantro chimichurri to start; and it occurred to me while looking at the way it was plated that a restaurant that serves sashimi or other island cuisine does not have a garde manger, but a sushi sous-chef who knows more about artful plating. But it was fabulous, the type of thing you could never come up with at home without experimenting for years.

There was artful plating through all the courses. There was also a rack of lamb that came both on the bone and in medallions, which was purely perfect, and another exotically-spiced plate of fried scallops. But the dessert, a collaboration with the restaurants dessert chef, was very memorable, a semifreddo with lychee and lime gelee that so far outpaced any ordinary crème brûlée that it almost made it a shame to think that some well-known restaurants still serve desserts that are not anything imaginative.

Honestly, I think especially that people who like Matsuhisa or Nobu would also much like this incarnation of Roy's under Chef Blaine; it's not quite going to set you back the way Nobu will, but you will get the full force of a strong and recognizably Pacific Rim-cultivated culinary imagination behind every dish anyway. And of course while on the south end of downtown I love the idea of escaping the trauma-tecture and bland national chain stuff of LA Live for a suitably ginormous space in an unpretentious office building with a real wait staff who are perfectly attentive to your hopes for your evening. Conventioneers can depend on Roy's, theater-goers certainly can, and especially anyone caught in one of those rare moments jonesing for Hawaiian fusion--which do not, I promise, come nearly frequently enough.

Roy's Restaurant downtown
is at 800 South Figueroa Street Los Angeles, CA 90017. Hours: Sun: 5–9pm | Mon-Thurs: 11:30am–10pm Fri: 11:30am–10:30pm | Sat: 5–10:30pm. There's an Aloha Hour every night 4:30-6:30pm, and recently selected appetizer plates have gone for $5. Call (213) 488-4994.