The Hungry Cat: A Purr-fect Little Oyster Bar
Published October, 2005
In the Scene Magazine
Since moving to the West Coast from the Northeast, famous for ubiquitous oyster bars and clam shacks, I’ve been hard pressed to find an East Coast-influenced fishery in Los Angeles.
A couple of cool cat chefs, David Lentz, formerly of Opaline and his wife Suzanne Goin, owner of Lucques and A.O.C., must have had the same thought. Together they opened The Hungry Cat, a fish café authentic enough to satisfy even the toughest East Coast critic.
Like many of LA’s finest, The Hungry Cat is located in a mall complex. Neighboring Schwab’s and Borders on the corner of Vine and Sunset, it stands out for its hip Hollywood atmosphere and flavorful, fresh seafood despite its lackluster location.
Eyeing the menu, I felt like a lion honing in on its prey. I could have ordered one of everything. The thought of oysters and clams on the half shell and peel ‘n eat shrimp made me squeal with glee. The Hungry Cat serves mostly fish, with the exception of a few salads and a bacon, avocado and blue cheese “Pug” burger.
Our server warned us that our meals would be delivered piecemeal: dishes come out as they are prepared ensuring optimum freshness. Although my group ordered individual dishes, this system lent itself nicely to sharing so we ended up splitting everything as it landed on the table.
After polishing off a couple of salads with avocado, pecorino and egg, we delved into the crab cake, allegedly made from a 100 year old Baltimore recipe. Lightly crispy and accompanied by a dollop of mustardy aioli, it is made with pure chunks of sweet and delicious crab meat. There are no superfluous ingredients, which I like, and it is served with a cool and refreshing frizee and grapefruit salad.
My friends and I started off the evening with cocktails (and they do make superbly creative drinks) but moved to wine. We asked the server for pairing suggestions. He was kind enough to allow us tasting samples so we could make astute choices. All wines are available by the bottle and the glass.
Next came the oyster chowder, simultaneously spicy, smoky and lightly creamy. The meaty and hearty soup is laced with black kale, diced root vegetables and bacon. We then moved on to the monkfish served with fennel, mussels and squid. The broth was like a wonderfully rich bouillabaisse and the lightly seared fish was accompanied by a creamy rouille.
I had a bird’s eye view of the open kitchen from our table; it is just big enough for David Lentz and, at most, two or three others. They make use of the tight space by churning out perfect and straightforward seafood dishes, one by one, to a 35 seat dining room, the 15 seat bar and an outdoor patio. There is a cool, industrial feeling to the surroundings; the curvy zinc-topped bar overlooks the open kitchen while the dimly lit dining room is set against metallic walls, all underneath exposed pipes. Sounds rustic, yet it actually lends itself to an intimate and hip scene.
Now back to the focus: the food. The giant crab leg is served over a Dijon butter sauce with a hefty slice of rustic grilled bread. All the flavors meld together perfectly and the sauce doesn’t conceal the sweet, juicy crab meat. I could eat this dish everyday.
Before we hit dessert, we took one last stab at the savory. The clams with garbanzo beans and chorizo have a Middle Eastern touch, with an aroma of cumin and paprika. It is also presented with wonderfully grilled bread that is perfect for soaking up the fragrant juices.
Although we had saturated ourselves, we could not resist the temptation of the lone dessert on the menu, chocolate bread pudding. It is a very custardy bread pudding with a crunchy layer of burnt sugar on top, much like a crème brulee.
It’s a shame there aren’t more restaurants like this in the LA area. However, I am relieved that I will not have to hop the next aircraft to Cape Cod to find fresh, mouthwatering seafood at prices that won’t shatter the piggy bank. Lentz and Goin have cooked up a remarkable little bistro that will definitely leave you happy as a clam. They are also open for Sunday brunch.
The Hungry Cat