- Fenix Restaurant, Chef Ken
- the Historic Argyle Hotel
by Nick Anis
|In 1976, at the
ripe old age of 21, Ken Frank made quite a name for himself
at the La Guillotine on Sunset Boulevard in the
City of the Angels, Los Angeles, as a grand
master of French-California cuisine.
||At 41, the gangly
Frank still has an innocent, almost boyish look
about him. He is much thinner and younger looking
than one might expect of a superstar chef risen
to the rank of Executive Chef for a worldwide
restaurant syndicate, the Lancaster Hotels and
Frank was born and
raised in Southern California. He left for France at age
16 with his parents and fell in love with French cuisine.
When his parents returned, Frank stayed behind and
apprenticed there. Two trips and two years later, with a
considerable amount of scullery duty behind him and a
keen understanding of culinary arts, he returned to
California as an already quite accomplished chef.
By most accounts his subsequent rapid
rise to culinary stardom he achieved international
recognition by age 21 did not change his good
nature. Twenty years later he remains polite, modest, and
dedicated to his trade. This culinary artist is also
known for his charity work, including supporting Love
Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), along with Dennis Weaver;
Share Our Strength (SOS), Project Angel and
Frank credits his inclination toward
community service to an experience he had at 23, when,
having bought the highly successful La Guillotine and
renamed it La Toque, he was unexpectedly beset by fire,
illness and, at the end, bankruptcy. Frank describes that
low point in his life as a humbling experience.
Whatever the catalyst may have been,
Ken Frank is quite a guy, and a magnificently
Frank now works his magic at the Fenix
(pronounced like that big desert metropolis in Arizona,
Phoenix), most days of the week, excepting only the few
days a month he sets aside to visit the other restaurants
he oversees as Corporate Executive Chef for the Lancaster
The Fenix, is actually part of the
spectacular Argyle Hotel, one of the Lancaster
Groups star properties. Argyle Hotel, which is
located in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard two blocks
East of La Cienaga, was built in 1927. The property,
formerly the Sunset Tower and St. James Club, was once
frequented by the likes of Jean Harlow and Clark Gable,
Errol Flynn, and Marilyn Monroe.
It has earned its status as an historic
landmark. A $40 million restoration that began in 1989,
plus continuing care by a full-time, resident craftsman,
have given the hotel some of the most stunning art deco
decor anywhere on the planet.
||The Fenix restaurant,
connected directly to the Argyle hotel building,
is every bit as stunning. During the day, four
rows of skylights delicately brighten the
uncluttered dining room and the lounge with warm
inviting sunlight. The dining room and patio are
on different levels. The patio with its poolside
dining area overlooks one of the best views in
Southern California. On clear days you can see
the LA skyline, with the sun reflecting off
windshields as motorists wend their way through
Los Angeles; the panorama extends all the way to
the mountains, the airport, and the Pacific
Ocean. At night, the city's glittering lights
below offer a sweeping vista for truly romantic
The Fenix seats about
120, depending upon the mixes of deuces and sixes.
Lunch is served 11:30 to 2:00 six days a week. The lunch
crowd consists mostly of business people eating light and
relatively quickly 1.5 to 2 hours for a full meal.
Dinners also are served six days a week, with
reservations available from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Dinner
patrons tend to stay anywhere from 2 hours to all night
an arrangement the management clearly doesnt
mind. An average meal is about $125 for two people,
The Fenix is the kind of restaurant to
savor, not just visit. Frank points out that regulars
often call ahead for assistance in menu planning and wine
recommendations. Frank remarked: "It's the best way
to come here, actually."
The full-sized black enamel tables are
complemented by conformable upholstered armchairs and
fresh floral arrangements, often tulips in art-deco
vases. Place settings consist of fine silver, crystal,
linen, and Venice china, by Mikasa. The chinas
simple, elegant Venice pattern of delicate black and gray
detailing with an eggshell colored center greatly
enhances the presentation of the food. It is the type of
subtle touch you will find throughout this restaurant. If
you have sometimes found art deco to be mostly just
garish, you will be in for a surprise and a fine visual
treat at the Fenix.
||Frank uses an assortment of
other china for specific dishes like the
scrumptious desserts. All pastries and other
desserts, including crème faiche and Tahitian
ice cream, are made on the premises.
If youre a traveler trying to
decide where to stay, take note that the Fenix
also does all cooking for the Argyle's room
service it even provides the treats left
on the pillows for evening turndowns. Guests of
the Argyle also have the privilege of being
served Fenix meals on Sundays something
mere mortals like envious food writers must do
|The Fenix is one
of the few eateries on this continent where you
can order an outstanding white wine, La Doucette
from Pouilly sur Loire in the Loire Valley, by
the glass ($9). It is similar to
Californias Sauvignon Blanc but not
quite as dry. It also is more floral, due to the
cooler weather and to the regional soil of
Pouilly sur Loire, which has higher gravel
content than does the Napa Valley. (France does
not allow blending of the additive Semillon that
would also make it less dry.)
||If you prefer an
outstanding red "food wine," as I do,
and have the budget for it, one of the
Fenixs best offerings is a full-bodied
Bordeaux. A model of balance and distinct in
body, the 1990 La Fleur De Gay wine from a small
(1,500 cases a year, 40 acres) winery in the
Pomerol District, owned by the elderly Marie
Robin. The Bordeaux is $180 a bottle, but worth
When at the Fenix you
would do well to try something
"French-Californian," dishes that fans of Ken
Frank like to call "Frankly French." These
include appetizers like seared foie gras on white
asparagus and endive with Sauternes ($19.00), chestnut
bisque with smoked duck ($8.50), soft-shell crabs with
mushroom-garlic sauce ($12.50), and porcini crusted
scallops with lobster crusted potatoes and saffron
($17.00) (see recipe, below).
Notable entrées include Texas black antelope grilled
with cabernet foie gras sauce ($32.00), rack of lamb
roasted with whole grain mustard and garlic ($28.00), and
Atlantic salmon broiled with zucchini scales on a
cannelini bean ragout ($26.00).
|We found the service to be
very good. Unlike some upscale restaurants where
you get ignored if your waiter isnt
available, it seems routine at the Fenix for
waiters to cheerfully help keep watch over each
others tables. Besides our helpful and
friendly server, Jaime, we enjoyed visits from
the Fenixs very French, and
charming, day manager, Guillaume Reynet, and
another server, Ursula. Each of them was not only
charming, but had an impressive depth of
knowledge about the menu and the wine list.
|On advice from Jaime, we
sampled the Texas black antelope. It was
remarkably good. Between the absence of any trace
of gaminess and the positively delicious seared
foie gras sauce (a red wine chalet sauce finished
with foie gras instead of butter) we were left
wondering if it was Antelope or filet mignon
which turned out to be our next course.
||When the filet mignon came, it
was a rich cut of dry aged choice beef that was
delicious but slightly overcooked; a subtle
difference between slightly pink and slightly
gray, probably due to this particular cut being a
little thicker on one end than the other. Between
the delicious sauce, the tender meat with light
marbling, and our eagerness to compare the beef
with the antelope, we devoured it just the same.
But on this occasion the antelope was definitely
One of the elements that
turns these and other Fenix dishes into masterpieces is
the sauces. Ken Frank is not only a gifted chef,
hes a renown saucier who makes delicious fine
sauces. Laments Frank, who makes all his sauces the
traditional way with butter, wine, stock and herbs, and
simmers them into a magical glazed blend of color and
flavor: "Unfortunately, sauce is becoming a lost
Eureka! Mr. Frank, I have found
it. Its at the Fenix.
|Dessert was much more of a
contest. My companion had the most popular
dessert in the house, Franks trademark
chocolate Concorde cake, layers of chocolate
meringue and chocolate mouse sinfully rich
and deceptively light.
||I opted for the
heavenly cherry tart with crème fraice ice cream
made with a brown butter filling instead of the
traditional pastry cream.
In addition to making
extraordinary deserts, entrées, and sauces, Frank also
has a flair for blending a variety of luxury ingredients
like foie gras, lobster, caviar, and truffles, into
signature dishes and sauces that delight and astound the
palate. He has gained wide recognition for his highly
original French-Japanese blended creations and for his
always-elegant presentations. Frank has mastered the
delicate balance between presentation and flavor.
Presentation is always important, of course, but far too
many places use beautiful visual arrangements to mask a
lackluster flavor or poor presentation. This simply does
not happen at the Fenix.
According to Frank: "The trick is
for it to always taste as good as it looks." It is a
trick Chef Ken Frank has thoroughly mastered.
- Fenix at The Argyle
- 8358 Sunset Boulevard
- West Hollywood, CA
- Valet parking
- Mon-Sat 11:30am 2:00pm,
4:00pm to 10:00pm
Anis is a computer and
technology writer and the author of 24 books who also
writes about travel, food & wine, entertainment,
skiing and family recreation. He writes for Ziff-Davis,
Microtimes, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Travel
Watch, TravelGram, and Restaurant-Row. He is responsible
for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published
by the Long Beach Press Telegram. Nick is a member of the
Computer Press Association, The International Food Wine,
and Travel Writers Association (IFW&TWA), and the
North American Ski Journalists Assn. (NASJA).
Nick can be reached at NickAnis@travel-watch.com, Phone: 909-860-6914, Fax: 909-396-0014.
| Top of Page
- 12 large fresh sea scallops
- 3 tablespoons porcini powder
- 2 baked russet potatoes
- 3 tablespoons lobster butter (see
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- Saffron threads
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 finely diced chalet
- white pepper
- cooking oil
- wild mushrooms sautéed with
finely chopped garlic
To make the lobster butter:
- Chop the head of a cooked lobster
into small chunks with a cleaver.
- Place in a small sauce pan and
just cover with cold water.
- Add 2 sticks unsalted butter and
simmer all together until water has evaporated.
- Carefully strain off the lobster
- Keep refrigerated until reedy to
use. (keeps a long time, nice to have on hand!)
To make the saffron sauce:
- Reduce the white wine, a few
saffron threads and d diced shallots in a
saucepan until almost dry.
- Whisk in the stick of soft
unsalted butter to make the sauce season with
salt and fresh ground white pepper and keep warm
until ready to serve.
To make the lobster crushed
- Slice the baked potatoes, open and
scoop out the flesh with a fork.
- Crush with the fork mixing in the
lobster butter, If you add a little chopped
lobster meat it's even better.
- Verify seasoning and keep warm.
To sauté the scallops:
- Pull off the small crescent shaped
muscle from the side of the scallop, season with
salt and pepper and dredge what will be the top
side of the scallop in the porcini power.
- Sauté in a hot pan with a little
cooking oil, crusted side down until it is nicely
- Turn over and finish cooking on
other side until done.
- Make a ring of crushed potato in
the center of each plate.
- Top with scallops and pour saffron
- Garnish with some sautéed wild
mushrooms and a spring of chervil.
- Serve at once.