By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Photos by RICH SCHMITT | Staff Photographer
When we last we checked in with Dublin’s dynamic duo—Phil Howard and Dean McKillen—we had sampled dinner and cocktails at their flagship restaurant of five years, the incognito Laurel Hardware, and its newly opened subset, Mezcal Bar.
Two years ago, the Irishmen launched another West Hollywood restaurant at nearby Fairfax Avenue and Romain Street, right on a corner once inhabited by the seemingly popular lounge Lola’s.
As with Laurel Hardware, with its vintage signage left over from when the storefront was an actual, long-running hardware store, Ysabel’s exterior is a hard read—boxy, windowless and museum-like, it’s easy to overlook.
Howard and McKillen prove to be masters of creating the overall experience—that is, an expansive, cozy, contemporary environment, here replete with multiple bars, a fireplace and a romantically lit central courtyard. Architecturally, the interior is ambitious and finely, from its puzzle-piece flooring to a nook prefaced by a staircase with throw pillows.
Okay, so while a great atmosphere enhances the dining experience, nothing overshadows cuisine. So how does Ysabel fare?
Ysabel actually surpasses Laurel Hardware … and Laurel Hardware is solid. Which basically means that Chef Allison Trent has topped herself since she crafted the menus at both places.
Trent admitted to the Palisadian-Post that Laurel Hardware, by design, is more bar-centric and gastropub-minded, which means more finger food-type accompaniment. Here, the appetizers are more refined and subtle, down to Pan Seared Octopus (even the tomato relish with Romesco accompanying the Spanish octopus here tastes amazing). Trent has found a novel way to take the grilled octopus appetizer—recently a trope at Angeleno restaurants—and nearly re-invent it in lively fashion.
Another piece de resistance: the delectably charcoal-y Brussel Sprouts, enlivened by golden raisins, mint and a kimchi sauce. If you love this vegetable, don’t miss Ysabel’s version.
We ordered Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, a bright-magenta, offbeat affair with Asian accents (Thai vinaigrette, pickled papaya). Other great moves—Avocado Salad, with its titular fruit beautifully counterbalanced by fresh cucumber and yogurt dressing with Dukkah spice.
Our waitress said her favorite is the Hamachi Crudo, and we could see why. Served here atop a bed of sushi rice with orange, avocado and miso, its fresh ingredients taste so vivid.
Other primo options include a Cheese Plate, a Butcher’s Board and even Sauteed Foie Gras. For you vegetarians and vegans out there, I highly recommend the All Organic Quinoa Bowl, with vegetables, mixed nuts and a mango salsa—as scrumptious and pure-tasting as it is eye-pleasing.
“Pasta is a priority,” Trent said.
There was only so much we could sample at one sitting, but when menu items bear such tantalizing titles as Beet Tortellini Ricotta, Oxtail Pappardelle (also with Ricotta) and Italian Black Truffle Orecchiette, we’re tempted to return every night of the week.
We only had one appetite to blow, so we opted for Squid Ink Spaghetti Carbonara, beautifully executed with smoked bacon and topped with a big, fried egg. We were in paradise. The ham definitely dominates this dish while the thin noodles invite interesting color and texture.
Trent also prioritizes steak. There are five main types to choose from: 8 oz. Grass Fed Flat Iron Steak, 14 oz. Grass Fed New York Strip, 18oz. Dry Aged T-Bone Steak, 10 oz. Aspen Ridge Prime Filet Mignon and the epic 40 oz. Tomahawk Rib-Eye Steak, a spectacular bone-in slab of grass-fed Aspen Ridge beef dry aged for 30 days. The beef is delicious, served with a subtle peppercorn sauce that accents but does not drown out or overwhelm the meat’s natural flavor.
Beef notwithstanding, Ysabel serves Seared Salmon, Wild Branzino and Pan Seared Scallops. The latter comes framed by saffron basmati rice and a Tikka masala, all pitch perfect. We also hear Australian Lamb Chops are divine here; accompanied by smoked eggplant and roasted cauliflower, it certainly sounds promising.
Cocktails prove creative here. The playful program has adult beverages named after females in Howard and McKillen’s social sphere. I would love to meet Susannah, namesake and inspiration of a magical potion of Absolut Elyx, with strawberries, elderflower and aged balsamic.
I adore strawberries, so I couldn’t resist indulging in another similarly infused experience courtesy of the Kali, Ysabel’s twist on sangria with Chateau Las Coste Rosé, Chopin vodka, Giffard Pomplemousse, lemon, strawberries, of course, and—the key ingredient—rose petals, which dominated the flavoring of this wonderful libation.
We also enjoyed the Diana, made with Hibiki 12-year-aged Japanese whisky for that Old Fashioned effect, plus lychee and plum bitters. Or order a Cecilia or Maria Linda, each utilizing La Niňa Mezcal (a brand owned by McKillen and North) as its base.
Desserts here are more than adequate. Ysabel makes a top-notch Molten Chocolate Cake with raspberries and vanilla ice cream as ersatz lava. The fresh-tasting Berries and Cream showcases some stylish dessert architecture with large shards of meringue. There’s also a nice Coconut Tres Leche, teeming with pineapple sorbet and mango. My favorite: Salted Caramel Pot de Crème, with raspberries or blackberries, is sweet yet light after a large meal. To accompany your capper, they serve Stumptown coffee here.
If you want to catch Trent at her best, definitely book a table at Ysabel’s for an experience you shant soon forget!