Patina Defines Luxury Dining
by jen jones donatelli
If “all the world’s a stage,” Joachim Splichal provides the proverbial concessions. Known for its affiliation with arts and culture, his ever-growing Patina Restaurant Group includes more than 50 restaurants across the nation in venues like LACMA, Lincoln Center in NYC, and the San Francisco Opera. And for many French dining aficionados, the undisputed star of the show is Patina—Splichal’s flagship restaurant in Downtown’s Disney Hall.
“Patina defines luxury dining on the West Coast; it’s on par with the likes of Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, and restaurants that epitomize fine dining throughout the world,” says Adam Rosenbaum, the group’s vice president of restaurant operations. “We have a very loyal following among oenophiles and foodies who want the Michelin-star experience.”
Among those devotees are Disney Hall subscribers, Downtown loft dwellers, high-profile politicians such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and celebs like Scarlett Johansson. According to Rosenbaum, the restaurant attracts many celebrities involved in high-profile cases (thanks to its proximity to the courthouse), as well as boldfaced names from the orchestra and opera. “If you want to see Gustavo Dudamel and the stars of the classical music world, drop by Patina after any LA Phil concert,” says Deborah Borda, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. “When we go to Patina for post-concert celebrations, it just feels like family.”
Though Patina is indeed a popular pre- (and post-) theater destination, the entertainment starts during dinner itself. The dining room’s rich walnut wood is carved into a curtain-like shape, and the chef’s table gives groups a visual passport into the lively kitchen. Many dishes are presented with a flourish, such as the côte de boeuf (which is cut and deboned tableside). “In a sense, it’s like you’re going to a show,” says Splichal, who founded Patina in 1989. “The chef is the star and delivers you incredible creations.”
At the end of May, a new “star” was born when Charles Olalia took over for decorated chef de cuisine Tony Esnault. Along with creating a new three-course seasonal “market menu,” which was launched in June, Olalia also debuted a revamped dinner menu in September. Many signature dishes are still intact, but Olalia has infused a dash of contemporary flair into Patina’s traditional approach. “Before, the menu was very classic French—now it’s a little more playful,” says Splichal.
Though time is at a premium between his many ventures, Splichal dedicated many hours at Patina this summer working with Olalia to develop new flavor profiles and realize their shared vision. Mentoring up-and-coming talent is certainly nothing new for Splichal, as many Patina alumni have gone on to make an indelible mark on the LA dining scene (from The Foundry on Melrose’s Eric Greenspan to Republique’s Walter Manzke to The Royce’s David Feau). Last year this all-star cast reunited at Patina for a seven-course alumni celebration dinner, and Splichal says it’s been “amazing” to witness their collective success.
Themed nights like the alumni dinner are trademarks at Patina. In recent years, the restaurant has also enlisted the help of John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative adviser, Walt Disney Imagineering, as well as David Henault, Nicolas Feuillatte cellar master, to host on-site wine dinners.
Though it’s clear that Patina is a high-end restaurant, Splichal says his aim is to strike a balance between refined and relaxed—an approach that regular patron Bob Sutcliffe appreciates. “Joachim feels that every guest has the right to be a VIP,” says Sutcliffe, managing director of Craftsman Capital Advisors. “To Joachim, the hospitality side is as important as the culinary side.”
Like any good work of art, Splichal sees the restaurant as a work in progress, hence the name Patina. Says Splichal, “‘Patina’ means getting better with age, and I believe everything needs time to develop into the perfect restaurant. But you never truly hit that peak—you’re only as good as your next meal.” 141 S. Grand Ave., LA, 213-972-3331
photography by jessica sample; ian kopaloff/filmmagic/getty images (johansson); john m. heller/getty images (villaraigosa)