Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Menu at Next Door Lounge (Hollywood)

by: guest blogger @iam_robot

The Roaring Twenties are back– thanks to the recent popularity of The Great Gatsby, Downtown Abbey and Boardwalk Empire. The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and 30’s in America was intended to reduce public consumption by banning businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold them. With bars closed, young folks (commonly known as flappers and dappers) started going to “underground saloons” in basements or attics of other disguised businesses (cafes, theatres, soda shops) to smoke, drink, and dance without having to worry about breaking the law for doing so.  Given its name due to the necessity to whisper or “speak easy”, these underground saloons were outperforming legitimate saloons at an outstanding rate – at one point, every  closed saloon were replaced by half a dozen illegal joints.
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Situated strategically on Highland and Lexington Ave, The Next Door Lounge is reliving the forbidden excitement of the speakeasy era by serving up a mix of vintage and modern libations alongside a new menu of small bites created by private chef/ Food Network Star Nikki Martin. Cocktails are definitely the main attraction here. Vintage cocktails like Negroni, Manhattan, and Penicillin are served up with barrel aged spirits (Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Gin and Rum), fresh juices, and top shelf liquor by barman Zac Henry.
At the front door, I was greeted by a doorman dressed in a three piece suit and fedora, making sure my name was on the guest list and I was revealing the correct password “STOOL PIDGEON”.  Once I passed the reclaimed double doors and vintage curtains, I saw several intimate vignettes donned with leather couches, high back chairs, marble chess boards and antique cocktail tables. 
 The place was dimly lit and a big part of the lighting came from the west wall, where a black & white film was projected there. As my eyes were observing the regular crowd of hipsters and artsy locals, a pleasant cocktail waitress decked out in 1920’s fashion (beading, fringes, and feathers) guided me to one of the two long communal tables.  

I started the night with the Giggle Water – Matusalem Rum, Limoncello, Orange Juice, and Rose Prosecco. I inhaled this and granted I was giggling. Delicious!
First bite was called Dirty Lil’ Deviled Eggs. The deviled eggs are topped with an olive. Loved every bit of the olive – it’s infused with vodka & vermouth.
Second bite was called the Headless Horsemen, which are essentially feta stuffed dates wrapped in a bacon. One life lesson my father never told me: Everything tastes better with bacon; and dates are no exception. I couldn’t stop munching on these salty, sweet, crispy treats. Bacons were sliced thinly enough not to overpower the palate.
And before I moved on to my third bite, I was presented with another classic cocktail, the Negroni – with a twist: saffron gin, carpano antica vermouth, and Campari. Thought this was one of the boozier Negronis I had – the barrel aged gin definitely didn’t serve to disguise the alcohol; loved the interplay of Campari’s orange medicinal smell and Vermouth’s sweetness.  Just the perfect before-dinner cocktail.
Third bite was Kale and Artichoke Dip – Swiss + Cream Cheese, Crostini. Thought this was just okay – the dip wasn’t warm and this felt like something I could’ve made at home. I liked the creamy texture and sour tinge on the dip but it lacked overall saltiness.

Next up was a couple of wood-fired flatbreads: the Arugula Flatbread (roasted grapes, Greek Feta, and Rosemary Oil) & the Sausage + Maple Bacon Flatbread (bourbon onion confit, roast garlic, mozzarella and truffle Oil).
To be honest, the Sausage + Maple Bacon Flatbread was a lot better than the other flatbread. Probably my favorite dish for the night. the crust was crispy and mozzarella has wonderful subdued saltiness ; But the bourbon onion confit was the star here – sweet, succulent, smoky. The tanginess of the onion balances pretty well with the savory sausage and crunchy bits of the maple bacon. Next time, I’d probably skip the truffle oil and opt for crushed red pepper or jalapenos. Conversely, the Arugula Flatbread fell a bit short for me – the sweetness of the grape tended to mask the main ingredients.
After a couple of heavy bites, I needed a lighthearted cocktail brimming with sour accents and fruit; I opted for the Pistolero - Cabritos Reposado Tequila, Grand Marnier, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Jalepeno, Orange Bitters. The Cabritos Reposado Tequila definitely intrigued me but for the most part the drink feels slightly sweet, citrusy with a delicate balance of bitter and aromatic finish. Very good!
Feeling refreshed, I’m ready for my next bite. This time it’s a wood-fired lamb lollipop with Herbed Yogurt Dip. I thought the lamb was pretty good – robust in flavor though cooked a bit too well done. Really appreciate the yogurt presence here - the yogurt’s tanginess is the perfect counterpoint to the lamb’s smokiness.
Finally, after waiting all night, I finally had the chance to devour the world famous Next Door Lounge Burger – 100% grass fed beef, applewood smoked bacon, Bulleit bourbon onion confit, roast garlic aioli, buttered brioche. It was love at first bite! Again, the onion confit was the star here – sweet, crunchy, savory. Beef was done close to medium rare, allowing maximum amount of tenderness and juiciness. The intense beef flavor went very well with the creamy aioli and smoky bacon. Impressive!
And to end the night, I was presented with a beautiful display of Peach Cobbler with whiskey and rosemary whip. To be honest, it’s a bit too sweet to my liking. I appreciate the luscious and creamy texture of the peach mix. The cobbler was pretty great too – crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside. But the blend was just too sweet – after 3 bites I had this sweetness lingering on my tongue all night.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time here.  Not only the cocktails and food have interesting twist, I thought this place could be fun for a group hangout. Or maybe bring a date here – the leather accents, the red brick walls, and dim lighting created quite the sexy vibe. Most importantly, conversations can be heard at ease – live jazz wasn’t too loud and chatters didn’t echo throughout. Definitely this place is going to be one of my craft cocktail destinations for years to come. 

Next Door Lounge 
1154 N Highland Ave
 Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 465-5505


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