Food News

Anatomy of a Bad Meal at Latitudes Beach Cafe

Last week I checked out Ron Duprat's restaurant in the Hollywood Beach Marriott, Latitudes Beach Cafe. I high hopes for Duprat's food after catching the Haitian-born chef on this season of the Bravo series Top Chef, even if longtime critic Gail Shepherd had once ravaged the place with such a scathing review you can still hear her pounding on the keyboard as you read it. But that was years ago. Certainly the affable Duprat has come a long way since then, enough, at least, to get chosen to appear on one of the only truly real food shows on television anymore?

Sadly, no. As you can see from my capsule review in this week's paper, Latitudes is still not just bad; it's the restaurant equivalent of a David Lynch mind-fuck. Our meal was so awful, my dinner guest and I could do nothing throughout but sit there with our maws agape, just trying to decipher how someone classically trained and who obviously knows how to cook could allow this kind of garbage to pass through his kitchen.

Oh, and laugh. Laugh the pain straight away.

Truth is, though, if papa New Times not been picking up the check -- if I had been an ordinary customer drawn in by the promise of a Top Chef meal -- I would not have been laughing. I'd have been livid.

So, in the interest of those customers plunking down their hard-earned bucks, here's a recap of our experience with Latitude's four-course "Top Chef" prix fixe menu.

Course One, A Harbinger of Things to Come

After snagging a seat on Latitudes' attractive deck facing the Hollywood Broadwalk, we tucked into two starters: first, a lobster and crab cake with black bean and corn salsa and a spicy mayonnaise sauce. This was unequivocally the best thing I ate all night, as the cake was seared nicely and full of tender flakes of crab. The lobster, however, was pretty much absent from the equation, and the black and bean corn salsa reminded me of the stuff that used to come atop Taco Bell Santa Fe gorditas (hey, I was once a broke college student too). My dinner guest's basil, tomato, and mozzarella pizza, though, was insipid; like school lunch pizza had been left in the rain to rot. The crust was an inch thick of undercooked dough, the bottom of which was so wet and gummy it stuck to the plate. On top, a flaying of basil leaves added during cooking had dehydrated into flavorless basil jerky, and half-inch wedges of roma tomatoes looked like they were leftover from a salad. The menu promised pesto, but none was present, and the ropey mozzarella made Polly-O look like burrata. When our waiter picked up our half-eaten plates we thought he might ask if we enjoyed our starters. He was unsurprised; apparently, a veteran at Latitudes.

Course Two, a Journey Into the Surreal

Moments after our first plates were removed, our second course showed up, a chopped salad with roasted tomatoes and blue cheese and a yellow tomato soup with avocado and basil. The salad was overdressed with "apple vinaigrette" and the soggy mixed greens were close to turning. There was supposed to be apples in the salad, but instead there were just four slices browning along the outside of the dish. Nothing could have prepared us for the tomato soup, though. The pale yellow broth came in a shot glass on the center of a small white plate, and looked something like flat Mountain Dew. At the plate's edge was a Japanese soup spoon filled with minced avocados and red onion. I tried to spoon up the soup with the standard spoon given, but apparently no one thought that spooning soup out of a narrow shot glass would be a functional disaster. The liquid was stiff and balmy as the humid air, and tasted like a watered-down version of the gelled matter around a tomato's seeds that you ordinarily remove when you concasee it. It had no seasoning whatsoever, but oddly enough, the plate was a sprinkled of salt and pepper. Someone has a sense of humor! Not everyone found it funny. "This tastes like dish water," my companion gasped.

Course Three, Desent into Madness

By this time we were hungry, exhausted, and badly in need of some real food. But we'd get none of that as our entrees arrived. In front of me, a fillet of miso sea bass on top of a bed of citrus rice... at least, that's what I think this is. The pearl of sea bass was stringy and overcooked, devoid of that brilliant fatty juice that well-cooked fish exhibits. Underneath that was a sliver of dessicated bok choy, cooked far past brilliant green to an unappetizing gray. The citrus rice tasted nothing like the tart juice of fresh fruit, but was chewy and globbed together with what tasted like Parmesan cheese, to say nothing of the miso and ginger butter, so beyond salty it could make a crab pucker. I pushed the plate aside after struggling through a few bites, and focused on the tagliatelle with "lobster essence." I couldn't even discern the objects in this bowl of gray-green slop. There were chunks of lobster, I think, but they tasted nothing like the buttery-sweet shellfish I know. The pasta itself was disintegrating it was so overcooked, and was studded with huge chunks of age-old roasted garlic. Absolutely putrid. Again, our barely touched plates were swooped away by the wait staff with nary a word. Calgon, take me away.

Course Four, Enough Already

I wanted to run, scream, plea with my waiter to make it stop, but the final dessert course arrived too quickly for us to collect our belongings and flee. Our waiter had said he loved Duprat's rum cake, because "it doesn't taste like most rum cake I've had." That's because, my friend, it was not rum cake. No, this round of cold citrus meringue had no rum, no spice, no cake to speak of, save a tiny square of pound cake below the jelly. Worse still was my passion fruit creme brule, a hot-on-top-cold-on-the-bottom custard that had separated somewhere in the middle. It was also unset, runny as a splash of condensed milk and nearly the same in flavor. Don't ask me where the passion fruit comes in -- again, I couldn't taste it.

So there you have it, Latitudes in all its gory detail. I can't say for sure what's up with Ron Duprat. After meeting him at the Whole Foods charity event two weeks ago, I can definitely say the guy knows how to cook -- he made a fillet of sea bass over roasted potatoes that was just brilliant. But he must not know how to manage a kitchen for squat. It's not that he's an absent chef, either: he told me he's "not one of those chefs who doesn't cook," and that he's in his kitchen almost every night.

So where's the quality control, Ron?