by Estee Cohen
If you remember the gefilte fish pizza from 26’s early days as a Milchig (dairy) restaurant, then you will be pleasantly surprised with the re-concepted, upscale Fleishig (meat) venue that 26 has become. After testing 26 as a dairy entity, lively French owner Stephane Sultan, who recently brought us the increasingly popular dairy restaurant, Trattoria Natalie, decided to go in another direction. This time, he made it his goal to bring customers a lavish, Fleishig (meat) dining experience. Typical of Mr. Sultan’s grandiose style, he went all in.
Mr. Sultan’s first focus was on creating a gourmet menu utilizing aged meats and the most exotic ingredients. He vetted the finest chefs in the country and struck gold when he lured the acclaimed Tierra Sur alum, Todd Aarons, into 26 as chef. Chef Todd Aarons is an executive chef par excellence and also happens to be one of the nicest, most modest, uber talented people out there. I have been a fan of his cooking for many years. He is known for seeking out dishes made with seasonal vegetables and creating culinary masterpieces using unusual combinations of ingredients.
There are many tantalizing meat and pasta dishes on the menu, but funny as it sounds, they make an excellent burger. 26’s hamburger is one of the 2 dishes that I recommend. The hamburger is thick and square and they use high quality meat for the ground beef, so it’s very juicy. Inside, the patty is topped with tangy sauce and fried pastrami, enhancing the flavor and adding a little zing that elevates the hamburger from good to great. The “fries” on the side are long, skinny, crunchy strips of potato that are pretty to look at and very tasty. I suggest you stuff some of these stringy fries inside the burger for a delightful crunch. I also recommend the Spencer Steak which they will grill to meet your tastes (even if you go for the all-too-common Jewish meat killer “medium-well”.) One of Mr. Sultan’s claims to fame is that the meat in 26 is dry aged in their in-house aging facility; which apparently is state of the art and not found in many restaurants in the entire United States.
Make sure to check out the massive wine collection which stands behind sliding glass doors in its own wood inset wine room. You have literally dozens of wine options and the waiters are pretty knowledgeable and would be happy to help you make your selection. 26 also features a full bar with a fun bartender who makes famous cocktails including Penicillin Cocktail which is made from honey, scotch, ginger liqueur and lemon and The Dill which includes lime juice, cucumbers, vodka and a sprig of dill. There are also several options of cognac, bourbon, scotch and beer. There are far better experts to describe the variety of alcohol in these categories, but word on the street is that it’s an impressive array.
For dessert, snag churros and chocolate dipping sauce. Churros are one of my favorite desserts in general and Chef Todd Aarons makes the very best. I also like to drink the chocolate sauce after I’ve gobbled the churro. Oh yes, I’m a real class act at the dinner table. In my defense it comes in a cute, little, white mug and tastes like thick, rich hot cocoa.
Stephane Sultan’s background is in the furniture industry, so he expertly created a luxurious room that is ready to impress. The vast room is accented with deep red walls and a gorgeous bar with curly metal wine holders dangling in mid-air. The seating is both beautiful and comfortable. There are tables in the middle of the large room and private booths along the sides. Go for a booth if one is available, they are beautiful, plush, white leather with tall backs that allows you to feel like you’re in your own private living room.
Another nice change with the revamped 26 is the generous number of waiters. There are different waiters to lead you to your seat, take your order, and refill your drinks. The refill guy is particularly on the ball, not allowing the ice of your soda to show through the top of the glass. The waiters are well versed in the dishes and if they are unsure they quickly ask Todd and return with the correct answer.
The mood on a weekday night is formal and elegant. It would work well for a date, business meeting or special occasion. Saturday night is a whole different story; it’s party time with louder music and large groups looking for a good time. The Motzei Shabbos menu is a bit different from the rest of the week and includes snackier/party type appetizers. As of now they are open Motzei Shabbos until 10:30 PM and the rest of the week from 6 to 10 PM. 26 is located at 8657 West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. Their phone number is 310-246-1326