First Look: The Church Key's Pig's Ear Cheetos, More

By Lesley Balla  |  October 24, 2013
Credit: Lesley Balla

The last time we were in the restaurant space at 8730 Sunset Boulevard, it was a dark music-thumping NYC-import nightclub that pretended it was a restaurant. The Church Key has changed all of that. The new restaurant with Steven Fretz (XIV, Top Round) overseeing the kitchen and Devon Espinosa (Pour Vous) behind the bar opens tonight, a big, open space where servers in vintage airline outfits roll carts through the restaurant serving frozen Lemon Drop pops and canned cocktails that you open with a church key, and snacks like pig's ear Cheetos - exactly what it sounds like, crispy thin pig's ear chips covered in powdered orange cheese - and falafel balls with truffle tahini. The space is super swank yet comfortable, white brick walls, fireplaces, a big bar in back, tables of every height and Modern-style couches and chairs of every texture and color. It actually looks like our dream house. 

Fretz, who came from Michael Mina's restaurant group and opened XIV for SBE back in 2008, most recently opened the casual Top Round Roast Beef concept with some of his Mina buddies. But he's more than a good roast beef sandwich and frozen custard. He has a serious pedigree and technique to match, so when dishes like tapioca-crusted tai snapper on crispy bamboo rice cakes, sunchoke agnolotti with big plump chanterelles and brown butter, or a lovely ahi tartar studded with pomegranate seeds comes to the table, expect good things. Espinosa is an ace with the cocktail list, creating both fun and novel things (the aforementioned Lemon Drop pops and canned Negronis), but also delicious drinks like a chai Old Fashioned or the layered Pink Lips dotted with Champagne bubbles and pomegranate seeds. The Church Key officially opens for dinner tonight and serves dinners and drinks daily from 5:30 PM to 2 AM (the carts roll until 1 AM). Take a look at our sneak peek of some menu highlights below.

  • When the dim sum cart rolls around, you'll get a stamp on your card - chicken for whatever chicken special might be there; pigs for the pig's ears; fish for crudo or some other sort of carpaccio, etc.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Pig's ear Cheetos are exactly that: chicharron-like thin slices of pig's ears, fried and then coated with a powdered bright orange cheese. And yes, just like Cheetos, the cheese gets everywhere and stays there. Served from the dim sum cart only.

  • The pig's ears comes with an avocado mousse for dipping. Highly addictive.

  • Falafel and truffle tahini dipping sauce on the dim sum carts.

  • Fretz uses fresh garbanzos so the falafel are bright green inside.

  • And if you see the Benton ham cart spinning around the room, stop them.

  • Sunchoke agnolotti with brown butter, hazelnuts, chanterelles and Beaufort cheese. Also, do note the plates - they are gorgeous.

  • Tuna tartare gets a little oomph from pomegranate seeds and fresh, house-made papadum.

  • Tapioca-crusted tai snapper on a crispy bamboo rice cake that has a tint of green. The rice cake soaks up the slightly sweet white soy vinaigrette quite nicely. 

  • Pierogis! Stuffed with creamy whipped potato, pan fried so they're a little crispy on one side. Served with apple butter and creme fraiche.

  • Lettuces tossed with a champagne vinaigrette and topped with seared manouri cheese, pickled onions, grapes and pears.

  • We love the "love" silverware. 

  • Lovelies come go around the room with vintage airplane carts to make drinks tableside. Here she's making boozy ice pops, Lemon Drops and Appletinis frozen with liquid nitrogen. 

  • Slurp 'em up!

  • Pink Lips: Grey Goose La Poire, lime, pama espuna, champagne and pomegranate.

  • Shot in the Dark: Dolin Blanc, Buffalo Trace bourbon, pineapple, absinthe rinse.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    The Harlequin with Bonal, a French aperitif, raspberry gomme syrup and lime.

  • Desserts come courtesy Ian Opina, who was sous pastry chef for Hatfield's for the last five years. The milk chocolate semifreddo with hazelnut dacquoise and malted meringue is excellent.

  • If people can bottle cocktails, why not can them? The canned cocktails are made in-house and served tableside. Pop holes with the church key and pour the drink into your glass.

  • Canned Negronis.