When you first walk into The Church Key on the Sunset Strip, you might think, in no particular order, “This place is big. And pretty. And it kind of looks like an Anthropologie store. Are those food carts being pushed around? Am I sitting on a couch to eat dinner?” At least, those were some of the thoughts running through my head, which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my experience. Because I did, because the food was pretty darn good.
How could it not be? Most of the creative and business team are made up of XIV alumni — Chef Steven Fretz (Top Round Roast Beef, XIV), General Manager Joseph Sabato (The Bazaar, XIV) and Chef de Cuisine Ryan Ososky (XIV, Bradley Ogden) — with Mixologist Devon Espinosa (Pour Vous, ink.) and Pastry Chef Ian Opina (Hatfields) thrown into the mix.
But the dining experience at The Church Key is definitely something new. While there’s the regular food and drink menu, there are also roaming carts serving off-menu specials dim sum style, including frozen-to-order boozy popsicles. This can make for a fun meal, but you can also easily eat too much if your eyes are bigger than what your belly can hold. Also, the cuisine might be best described as “international,” though management calls it “modern American.” Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. Basically the menu is all over the place, but because most of it is executed so well that it really doesn’t matter.
I enjoyed the Benton’s country ham, which is shaved table side and served with a fig mostarda, house made pickles (including eggs!) and grilled sourdough. I thought the ham would be much saltier, but it had just the right amount for me. Great presentation, too.
The pig ear “Cheetos” are an addictive snack of fried pig ears coated in cheesy powder. The salt and vinegar popcorn is equally tasty.
The requisite tuna tartare dish comes with an interesting Mediterranean-Asian twist here: pomegranate, Greek yogurt, cucumber and Indian pappadam cracker. The pear and cheese salad (pictured above), with pears, Greek manouri cheese, frisée, black walnuts and a poached pear vinaigrette, also has a nice Mediterranean touch.
For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding made with a date cake, toffee and candied orange, is beyond delicious.
When it comes to the cocktails, I liked the negroni, which comes on one of the dim sum carts served in a can that you open with a church key opener and pour into a glass. Check out a video of me opening the can. The Golden Lorraine, with D’usse cognac, Benedictine, clover honey, lemon and anjou pear, was another nice drink. The other cocktails that I tried, which included the two on the menu made with bourbon, were on the sweet side for me, but they were still nice to sip on, especially the Fashioned Chai with AppleJack brandy, Buffalo Trace bourbon, chai syrup and orange peel.
Even though I tried a lot of dishes, I’m sure the off-menu cart items are sure to change, so I’d be interested in going back to try more of Chef Fretz’s creations. And another helping of shaved country ham might not hurt, either.