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Restaurant of the Week: Fresh Californian produce is brought to life at John Fraser’s veg-centric upscale eatery.
By Emma Al-Mousawi | August 4 2021
In the culinary world, chef John Fraser is widely considered one of the best vegetable-forward chefs going. This is why, in November 2019, when the California native opened Ardor at one of the hottest new luxury hotels in Hollywood, it caused quite a storm.
On The West Hollywood Edition’s opening night, Fraser, who also helmed New York’s Michelin-stared veggie favorite Nix, welcomed flocks of A-listers to Ardor’s alluring palm-laden dining room. Champagne and cocktails were flowing as Fraser served up beautiful California-fresh plates to Hollywood’s glitterati. Fast forward just a few months later to March 2020 and we all know how the story goes.
After a Covid-19-enforced closure, the restaurant threw back open its doors in June with a revamped menu and increased vigor to redefine the way that plant-based ingredients are used in American cuisine. The re-opening also brought an upgraded wine list geared towards large format, healthy farming practice wineries, and a laid-back mezcal and tequila-centric cocktail menu, intentionally distancing itself from the pretentious elements of current cocktail culture.
The chef refined his craft under the mentorship of acclaimed chef Thomas Keller at thee-Michelin-star The French Laundry in Napa Valley. Fraser then followed the path of many acclaimed chefs before him and headed to Paris. With stints at lauded eateries Maison Blanche and two-Michelin-starred Le Taillevent under his belt, the LA-born chef returned stateside and opened Compass in New York’s Upper East Side.
However, it wasn’t until Fraser opened one-Michelin-star Dovetail in 2007, followed by Nix in 2016, that he really landed on the US culinary map. Both veg-focused eateries are now closed with Nix, like so many, falling victim to the pandemic.
But, despite the closure of Nix, Fraser’s culinary empire remains solid. As well as Ardor at the West Hollywood Edition, the chef’s portfolio boasts The Loyal in New York’s West Village, four restaurants and bars inside The Times Square Edition hotel and the North Fork Table & Inn in Long Island.
Ardor however marks something of a homecoming for the chef. The result is a menu filled with passion and exuberance, brought to life by an all-female line of cooks, something Fraser is keen to champion: “Driving female executive chefs in the industry is something we love to promote,” said the chef.
Ardor returned with the “most popular dishes alongside new creations, developed in recent months.” explained Fraser. Each item on the menu is approached simply, using ingredients sourced hyper-locally through partnerships with farmers. “We work closely with Girl & Dug Farm out of San Diego County. They have amazing produce and we work together to build new dishes around their products,” said Fraser. The team at Ardor also frequent LA’s food markets scooping up fresh and seasonal fare to take back to the kitchen and transform into modern, clean, shareable dishes with a global edge.
Although Ardor’s offerings are crafted around vegetable components, this does not mean that meat and fish are off the menu completely. Crab, tuna, bass, lamb and fillet mignon all make appearances, albeit embellished with a plethora of vegetable and herbal accompaniments.
It is however the vegetable dishes that really set Ardor apart. New additions to the menu include the Middle-Eastern-inspired Tandoor carrots, which see Californian table carrots cured for 24 hours before being steamed and roasted. Served on a bed of hummus with a smoked paprika vinaigrette, the dish includes fried eggplant and is finished with parsley, mint and dill.
The new Arugula farro risotto features an array of pureed green vegetable goodness which gives the dish its punchy appearance. Served with an arugula, radicchio and frisee salad with white balsamic vinaigrette and lemon zest, it is completed with a parmesan and Calabrian chili vinaigrette.
There are also playful touches, with the Terrarium desert created by blowing sugar as you would glass into a sphere. The globe is shattered to reveal edible flowers, dill, vanilla-honey served over orange gelato surrounded by a delightful whirl of spun sugar.
Stylish and contemporary, Ardor blends perfectly into the fabric of the effortlessly stylish Hollywood hotel it calls home. Reflecting the restaurant’s connection to nature, the plant-laden dining room features warmly lit timber screens and ceiling beams creating an elegant but laid-back ambiance. The greenery continues outdoors on the inviting Napa-inspired terrace; a calm oasis just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Sunset Boulevard.