By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Upbeat and social, The Tuck Room Tavern creates atmosphere on a large scale and then fans out from there, providing a tasty menu that finds its greatest strengths in its cocktail and dessert programs.
Located adjacent to the iPic movie theaters (formerly the Avco Westwood) along prime Wilshire and Westwood boulevards, The Tuck Room has only been open for a year and yet, entering the restaurant, you feel as if it’s been around forever.
Replete with relaxing atmosphere and lounge spaces, this tavern delivers a familiar and inviting vibe, despite its vast square footage and its existence as one-fourth of a high-end chain, with other outlets found in New York City, Houston and Miami Beach.
The entire enterprise can be credited to Chef Sherry Yard, a James Beard-winning pastry chef and cookbook author who worked with Wolfgang Puck for nearly two decades and crafted desserts at the iconic Spago before bringing her experience and expertise here.
Yard and company keep the menu tight on options yet varied. In terms of starters, there’s a great range of appetizers here, and all the plates that we sampled were better than average to excellent.
On the fair side, we enjoyed our Mac N Cheese “Fries” platter—four fried sticks filled with macaroni and cheese and accompanied by a roasted tomato dip. They were delicious, if not something we had had before.
Better yet, for an amazing experience, be sure to order the Spiced + Sweet Pork Belly Wraps, a Vietnamese-style board that arrives with fresh, crispy leaves of lettuce for you to stuff with delicious cuts of pork, radish, jalapeño and cilantro. This is a bang-up way to launch your meal—very savory, satisfying and definitely something that I would personally order again.
If you feel like having a salad, enjoy the Grilled Gulf Shrimp + Beet, an excellent chevre-accented bowl of greens brought to life by big, bulbous shrimp, naval oranges, hazelnut and shaved fennel—all of it flavored with a white balsamic vinaigrette.
Entrees here average between $22 and $26 per plate. Don’t come here if you’re not packing a big appetite because portions run rampant here, and no matter how hungry you are, chances are high that you’ll be taking leftovers home.
For instance, the Wagyu Beast Burger lives up to its monstrous name: a hulking pile of quality beef with aged cheddar, bacon jam, crispy shallots, smoked ham, Applewood bacon and aioli. Accompanied by a dollop of hand-cut French fries and catsup, this gourmet hamburger definitely constitutes a meal, both in intersecting flavors and in portions.
Beyond the burger, try the Seared Atlantic Salmon, which arrives on a bed of coconut jasmine rice, flanked by garden vegetables and tomato ginger curry. It’s a tasty, healthy way to go here.
Poultry-wise, you can order Herb Roasted Jidori Chicken, with sweet corn, button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, bacon lardons and jus. However, we went the quasi-Viennese route and opted for Crispy Chicken Schnitzel, a big cut of pounded chicken breast served with mixed greens, pee wee and purple potato salad, shaved cucumber, and red onion.
The hearty Mango + Habanero Baby Back Ribs, which come with spicy tangy coleslaw and honey-glazed cornbread topped with whipped goat cheese, is simultaneously sweet and spicy. The rack of ribs is tender and plentiful but you’ll want to order a beverage to go with it because these glorious flavors will set your mouth on fire.
Inevitably, all culinary roads led to us partaking in Chef Yard’s signature specialty: the sweets.
We enjoyed Red Velvet Pavlova—a vivid volcano of red velvet shortbread cake, raspberries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce—and Chocolate Hot + Cold, chocolate gelato, chocolate pearls and cake croutons that comes with a deep dark chocolate sauce pour.
Cocktails are strong here, both in alcoholic potency and in creativity. A pineapple-y drink housed in a shaved coconut called the Coconut Grove packs a tropical punch with its blend of Bacardi 8 Year Rum and El Dorado 8 Year Demerara Rum, Balsam American Amaro, and fresh coconut water. This exotic, visually exciting drink is inspired by the kind once served during Prohibition at the late, great Ambassador Hotel in LA’s Koreatown.
Also on the sweet side is Sugie’s Original Gimlet, named after Howard Sugarman, owner of the Polynesian-influenced Tropics Supper Club during Hollywood’s Golden Age. This libation mixes your choice of gin, rum or vodka with passion fruit juice and house sour to excellent effect.
We also enjoyed The Tuck Mule, a Moscow Mule, which comes in a pewter container, and an Old Fashioned, a reliable bourbon-based favorite that arrives with orange bitters and makes for a solid hard-liquor experience.
Hospitality here is also top-notch, from our hostess and our bartender to the general manager and our servers. What The Tuck Room excels at is creating an environment where to bring a group of friends space, quirkiness and unpretentious whimsy are all in abundance.