The Gourmet Detective
by Michele Elyzabeth & Pamela Price
Pamela and I love to play the “Gourmet Detectives.” It is our immense pleasure to go around trying new places in and around Los Angeles. After weeks of wanting to schedule a visit to Madera Kitchen, we finally made a reservation at the new restaurant which took residence at the corner of Franklin and Cahuenga Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood.
Owners Milton Sznaider, (also owner of the Solar de Cahuenga Café, next door) and Loyal Pennings have done an outstanding job of giving new life to the space, formerly known as Wonderland Night Club. They have transformed, updated and upgraded to what is now Madera Kitchen. “Madera” means “wood” in Spanish and they have used plenty of it. The décor is modern, yet warm, comfortable and inviting.
As we entered the restaurant, we found ourselves in a very large patio which is split up into three areas. There are two separate dining areas on either side of the entry way. Both sides adorned with wooden French garden chairs and wooden tables, as well as a wooden banquette which was well crafted. The floor is made of cement and the ceiling is illuminated by hanging glass jars which have a country feel. To the far right-hand corner is an intimate lounge area with a majestic olive tree that dominates the center. There is a grand fire place and peek-a-boo access to the inside bar, which is perfect for Happy Hour, while waiting for your table, or even a late night drink. If you prefer to sit inside the main dining room, no problem, they can accommodate guests from two to 10 people or more on one of the wooden or communal Zinc-aluminum tables. An impressive canary yellow banquet wraps across the back wall made up of wooden barrels. On the opposite side of the room is a remarkable work of art, the Spanish tile bar stands proud ready to serve its patrons. But my favorite room at Madera Kitchen is the private dining room, also known as the wine room. Open for private parties, it seats up to 20 people. Above the long table is a chandelier, and on one side of the room are barrels cleverly used as a wall divider, cut open to display bottles of wine and glasses.
After the mini tour of the restaurant given to us by Russell, our server and part-time manager, we were ready to eat. It was beautiful outside so the open patio seemed like the place to be. While looking at the menu, I thought that the banquet we were sitting on could really use cushions. Something the owners should think about. Taking the lead, Russell suggested some cocktails and we went for it.
They have an extensive cocktail menu, with delicious drinks perfect for the spring and summertime. Michele favored the “Word Up,” a drink with a real tequila punch made with Don Julio Blanco, lime, Serrano chile and Green Chartreuse. I tend to like lighter gimlets, so the refreshing “Green Dolphin” hit the spot. It is Grey Goose mixed with Hendricks, lemon, basil and cucumber.
On the wine list, they offer Barrel wines, as well as by the bottle and glass. During our tasting, we preferred the bottled Malbec.
Looking over the menu, it’s split up into five parts: Meat/Cheese/Breads, Shared Plates, Pasta, Flatbreads and the Entrees. Russell raved about the Orbit Carrots ($11) and the Brussels sprouts ($14), so naturally we had to indulge. The shared plates are definitely the strong point of Madera’s menu. Both were equally delicious. The soft carrots are sautéed with toasted pumpkin seeds and spicy honey, which is not at all overwhelming. The plate is perfectly matched with Humboldt fog, a type of goat milk cheese, which just melts in your mouth.
The Brussels sprouts have a scrumptious crispy coat to them, paired with romesco sauce, crispy pecorino, and a balsamic reduction. You just keep coming back for more.
Still on the green side, their Endive Salad ($12) is a good appetizer or shared choice with baby arugula, candied pistachios, blood orange and buttermilk blue cheese.
When it comes to the entrées, this is where Madera is lacking. The spice factor for a few of their main dishes is slightly off-kilter. Mario Gomez, who is currently over-seeing the menu could benefit from simply cooking for a universal taste bud. He recommended their daily Pan Seared Market Fish, which on that night was Mahi Mahi ($25). At first bite, the salt was very prevalent. So much so that it masked any other flavors. We did however enjoy the dish’s broccolini, rainbow baby carrots, beurre blanc sauce and fava bean puree.
Although we were told the Barbeque Baby Ribs ($22) served with fries and kale/red cabbage slaw is a popular choice, they may not be for everyone. Four stars for spicy should be added next to its name on the menu, just in case you can’t handle chili pepper. The ribs were pleasingly tender, but the sauce will immediately set fire to your tongue. We’ll leave this one for those who enjoy hot and spicy.
If you’re sharing your main dish, go for the Flatbreads. They have a nice selection, from Burrata to Wild Mushroom. Mario insisted we taste the Oxtail Flatbread ($15) with smoked mozzarella, arugula, asparagus and truffle oil. It’s not too heavy and the combination of the greens and braised oxtail is very appetizing.
To top off our Madera experience, we tried two desserts. Mario often changes the sweets selections. On this particular evening he was serving a chocolate leche cake with a berry sauce and small donut globes a-la-mode sprinkled with confection powder.
With some menu alterations, Madera Kitchen has the potential to be a wonderful dining spot in Hollywood. Even though it was not perfect, the service was outstanding and we may have visited on an ‘off-night.’ The décor and ambience is already first-rate.
Russell told us that they are open for Sunday Brunch, something we will have to try.
To make your reservation for Dinner, Happy Hour or Brunch, visit: www.maderakitchen.com
Address: 1835 Cahuenga Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028
Hours: Tues – Wed: 5:30pm to 11pm
Thur – Fri: 5:30pm to 12am Sat: 6pm to 12am
Sun: 11am to 10pm
Happy Hour: Tue – Fri: 5:30 to 8pm