It’s hard to impress my Chinese friend, the Pearl River Gourmet. He compares everything to his own cuisine, usually with a measure of disdain. But he had to admit that the cooking at Bradley Ogden’s new Tivoli Village digs, Hops & Harvest, was top notch. Pulling a third french-fry-shaped piece of crispy sweet and sour pork belly from a paper cone basket, he remarked, “This is even better than Chinese barbecued pork.”
I think I know why he liked it so much: Ogden’s son, Bryan—also at the stoves in the eponymous Bradley Ogden in Caesars Palace before that restaurant closed last summer—sneaked ko chu jang, the fermented red bean you get in many Korean restaurants, into the marinade, giving the pork a distinctly Asian cast. That’s just one of the constant surprises from the kitchen at this terrific new restaurant, now open for lunch and dinner.
Perhaps you remember when the massive space was Bottles & Burgers, just one of the many places in this mall that ended up on the ash heap. You’ll enter through a tall foyer that opens up to an expansive dining room, furnished with long wooden booths and plain wood tables. What formerly functioned as a soda fountain is now something akin to a sushi bar, with specials scrawled in chalk on a blackboard mounted on the wall behind it. It’s possible to sit outside on a large patio, as well, but I suspect those tables will not be at a premium for a few months.
Meals begin here with Ogden’s signature blue corn muffins, piping hot and impossible to resist when slathered with soft butter. For those of you who miss the famous burger that the chef served on his bar menu at Caesars, it’s back, sort of. Now, it’s called the H & H burger, and while still excellent, the grind is leaner than before.
My friend liked the mini-Dungeness crab sliders with house-made tartar sauce, but I like them better au naturel, without the buns. That way, you get more of the crabby essence of them. And he absolutely raved about the freshness of the produce in the heirloom tomato salad with Maytag bleu cheese and crispy garlic, and in the Bibb lettuce with avocado, a goat cheese-stuffed crepe, and a delicate hazelnut vinaigrette. I had to concur.
We tried three main dishes, all reflective of Ogden’s commitment to sourcing the best products and letting their flavors do the song and dance. A bone-in prime rib eye with pea shoots and zinfandel-shallot sauce came from a farm in Oregon—just a great piece of meat. For the fish dish, we had pan-roasted wild King salmon, a deep orange from the omega-3s, on an inspired sweet summer corn-and-bacon chowder. Summer vegetable hash would have been interesting even without the slow-cooked farm egg, shaved Parmesan and crispy sage toppings. Think ultra-thin potato pancake, with julienned vegetables mixed in.
The back of the menu has good cocktails such as the Watermelon Cream (fresh watermelon juice, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Pyramid Weiss Cream spiced wheat ale), interesting beer on tap, and a fine selection of bottled beers. Interestingly, all the wines by the glass are on tap, as well.
And for dessert, a retooled version of Ogden’s famous butterscotch pudding, this time, with a more custard-like silkiness, heads the list alongside a strawberry shortcake to beat the band, thanks to the flaky biscuit, hand-whipped cream and extra-ripe fruit.
Welcome back, Mr. Ogden. We have missed you.
Hops & Harvest
450 S. Rampart Blvd., 476-3964. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $55-$94.