I rarely drive into Hollywood for dinner — only when something very special takes me there. And I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the décor in a restaurant; I’m mostly focused on my comfort level. I usually am most attentive to the food. But when my friend Paul McCloskey invited us to dinner at a restaurant called East, in which he was an investor, knowing that he had very good taste, we agreed to drive to Hollywood Boulevard to see the new restaurant. And he invited his girlfriend, Ashley.

That night, as luck would have it, there was a movie opening (“When in Rome”) and part of Hollywood Boulevard was blocked off. The sidewalks were jammed with tourists gawking at the theater and looking at the stars both embedded in and on the sidewalk. We parked in the Hollywood-Highland building, which was conveniently located and very up-scale. Then we walked east, through the crowds, past Highland, into a less up-scale area.

The entrance to East itself is spectacular. Flames shoot out of a rock garden in the window. A huge stone-studded door opens into a modern, gray lounge. Paul and Ashley were waiting at the bar. Ashley was also spectacular — everyone’s image of a beautiful blond ex-New York model (which she is, although she was born and raised in Missouri).

We were led through the restaurant, past wood-carved and stone walls all of a natural texture, with a canopy of live trees under a 65-foot skylight with views of the night sky above, creating an airy quality to the room. We were seated in an enclosed booth looking out over floating candelabras in a church-like setting. It is stunningly beautiful.

Oh yes, what about the food? That too was very special. And no wonder, the chef is Keven Alan Lee, who was formerly the executive chef at Lutéce, one of the top restaurants in Las Vegas (in the hotel Venetian). His concept at East is to offer a raw bar with special sauces, such as chili garlic, miso mustard cream, and southwestern chipotle lime, plus a number of unusual dishes appropriate for sharing. Some of his specialties include:

• Thai red snapper served whole with a spicy citrus tomato and pepper concasse.

• Organic, free-range chicken with five spice, chicken confit and bamboo rice, little marinated lamb chops.

• The “dinosaur egg,” diced albacore tossed in a unagi sauce, encased in a half avocado, topped with sesame seeds.

• Steamed duck confit, seared and plated with ginger gastrique and orange brown butter.

• Prime skirt steak, layered on top of a crispy wonton chip, topped with queso fresco, black beans, tomatillo and ancho chili sauce.

And that’s just a few of the dishes we shared.

We had a good bottle of wine, but there’s no sense in talking about the wine list because it’s just in the process of a complete overhaul. But the overhaul is in good hands and I know there’s not going to be any problem with it.

Prices at East are very reasonable, but because of the nature of the menu a group of four people might order as many as eight different dishes to share around. With drinks, you should expect to spend $30-$40 per person for a full dinner. But many folks come in for a late night drink and a light snack.

East is the darling of David Judaken, owner of the Syndicate Hospitality Group that operates a number of the very exclusive late-night clubs in town. In a few months, one of his clubs will open up next to East.

I suggest you try it before that.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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