As we enter a new decade, a longing for the past has seemingly permeated every aspect of our increasingly plugged-in and algorithmically curated lives. One mustn’t look further than the triumphant return of Indie Sleaze or lowrise Miu Miu miniskirts to see that we are craving the comfort of the past as we emerge from dark and uncertain times. Horses pays homage to these moments of glitz, grunge, and glamor. It honors the pre-web era, a time before streaming juggernauts took over real estate on the Sunset Strip, and Nicolas Cage could still be spotted staggering out of Spago in a world-class leather jacket in the best possible ways.
It starts with the facade itself, an electric Yves Klein blue that stands out starkly on an unusually dark and quiet stretch of Sunset Boulevard. The doors swing open to reveal a dining room brimming with vibes uniquely LA yet missing from the city’s dining rooms for the greater part of the last decade. The well-worn bar, pea-green chairs, and canary-yellow banquettes are tightly packed with diners sipping Vespers, discussing the latest gallery opening, debating the LA Times 101 List, or simply celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday.
The excitement in the room is palpable, and for good reason. The kitchen team, led by Chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian, is a force to be reckoned with. Johnson earned rave reviews for her no-frills cooking at the NYC bistro Mimi before decamping for LA to help open Freedman’s, where her cooking garnered a James Beard nomination and Food & Wine Best New Chef award. Aghajanian’s equally impressive resume includes time at international fine dining heavyweights such as Noma, while Terence Leavey, the restaurant’s general manager and wine director, comes with experience from new LA institutions like Vespertine and old stalwarts like Spago.
In other hands, the menu, which crisscrosses Western Europe, drawing culinary influences from Spain, Italy, and France, might have proven to be a disaster. However, the team at Horses executes the tightly written menu down to the letter. Starters like a generously dressed endive Caesar topped with breadcrumbs rather than croutons and dusted with an ample amount of mimolette stands out in a city full of unorthodox imitations of the Tijuana classic. The restaurant strikes gold again with another nod to LA dining culture: a featherlight lavash draped with smoked salmon and garnished with bright watercress sprigs that certainly gives the venerable classic at Spago a run for the money. The pasta dishes rotate seasonally, which is to say quickly, but the pillowy gnocchi resting in a pool of taleggio fonduta appears to be a winter mainstay, and we’d happily indulge in it once a week if we could score a reservation. Desserts by pastry chef Hannah Grabba are outstanding. It would be a grave mistake to overlook them no matter how many slices of the sobrasada panino you’ve consumed. The restaurant’s homage to L’Ambroisie, a light-as-air chocolate tart accompanied by a churned-to-order milk sorbet, is an indulgence that hardly feels like one. But if stomach space truly is sparse, the stracciatella ice cream loaded with amarena cherries, easily the best scoop in the city, will do the trick.
It’s easy to see why Horses has quickly become the most sought-after table in town. The cooking at this new institution is free-spirited, and the vibes are free-wheeling. There’s also an earnestness to the experience that has been sorely lacking in LA for some time. Horses is undeniably the place to see and be seen, and if given a chance, we’ll be the first in line to grab a seat at the bar and indulge ourselves with a world-class meal.
Address: 7617 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (West Hollywood)
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 5:30PM-12AM
Price: Small plates $17-48, Entrees $27-38
This review was written by In The Loup contributor Ash Narayan