A few really cool restaurants have opened recently that people have been absolutely abuzz about. You get e-mails from friends discussing how you should make plans to visit the new spot and that all they have heard are amazing things about it. You may have even read about it in the paper, that the spot was opening and that you needed to go there. One of these places is Mohawk Bend, former abandoned movie theatre turned restaurant. We’d heard whispers that we had to go there so last night we decided to stop by. The results were really, really okay in a “Well, this is all okay.” kind of way.
Let’s set this on the table: nothing was bad at Mohawk Bend. But, on the other side of the coin, nothing was good at Mohawk Bend. It was all very in the middle: nothing inspired a religious conversion and nothing made us vomit. But, between the open, fake outdoor ambiance, the crowd that was at a median age of 52, and the food that was good-not-great-well-it-was-okay, it was all right down the middle. There are no complaints about the place, but there are also no high compliments. It was all OK.
We got to Mohawk Bend eager to eat. We had had a beer elsewhere and were in a place where, if we didn’t eat, we would probably pass out. We tossed around a few places and settled on Mohawk after approaching it on Sunset Blvd. We were excited! We had heard it was a cool spot! We were anxious to see what it was all about! Walking in, our expectations were still just as high. Yet, we did notice there were three distinct parts that seemed to segregate the restaurant: the cool, not Echo Park outdoor seating area, the communal/not communal main dining room, and the fake outdoor seating back “patio.” The music blasting were songs by The Human League, Lionel Richie, and other eighties superstars you never forgot but didn’t want to hear at a dinner. We look over and notice a large potted tree that is…dead. All the leaves are browned and nearing a point where they are going to fall in an entree. It was a point of concern.
After spending a few minutes with the menu and the restaurant, it’s very clear that something was off. There were stickers in our (fake) candle votive from 1975, our waitress was a little too casual, our beers had distinct “Fill To This Point!” markers, and all of the other restaurant patrons were at least twenty years older. These are not bad things, no, but they were definitely a little strange. It was a Tuesday night at 9:15PM and we were at a restaurant in one of the arguably youngest, coolest parts of Los Angeles; but, it was filled with a lot of people who we would call Aunt, Uncle, Mom, or Dad.
The menu wasn’t expensive, no. Nothing made us sweat, wondering how much our bill would be, no. There was not really a justification for the older audience. And, of course, that is not a bad thing at all. The thing was it was strange for such an arguably “cool” and “young” restaurant to be filled with mostly people with graying hair. There seemed to be something incongruous about the place.
But, oh well! We ordered our food with our heads up high, excited to see what came from our cool calamari starter and fish and chips and “Dork” (duck and pork, get it?) sandwich entrees. The calamari came with a black squid ink aioli. They were pretty okay! The lemon that came with it was even fried! That’s cool! We didn’t finish it, though. It wasn’t that it was bad (it was actually a little cinnamon flavored with an interesting pepper accent), but it wasn’t good (it was slightly over fried and boring after five bites). We also weren’t even three bites in before our entrees arrived ten minutes earlier than expected.
They looked great, though. Fish and chips with rosemary fries and a Dork with togarashi (what?) fries, both with a light looking coleslaw. We were excited to eat them and even shared them with each other. The fish and chips were light and the rosemary fries were a delight. The Dork was amazingly flavorful (Bobby even exclaimed, “Oh. My. God.” on first bite) and the togarashi fries were sweet and spicy. There was a homemade delightful pickle and coleslaw that was fresh, traditional, and new. But, like the calamari, after a few bites, we were over it. It got boring. It was all look, all jazz hands, but no substance: it was a show without a message.
The food exemplified exactly what was going on with the restaurant: it was all show, all flash, but not something that you wanted to hang out with longer than you had to. We didn’t even finish our meal and just asked for the check, feeling maybe full but sure we wanted to escape the Duran Duran blasting over us and the dead, large potted plant. We walked out with -$60, passing through more fiftysomethings and a few twentysomethings, all people who were there before we were arrived and were still there.
On the walk back to the car, we asked each other, “Did we miss something? Were we just not as hungry as we thought? Was there something we needed to order?” We didn’t have an answer. Everything was perfect, but everything wasn’t perfect at all. We enjoyed having visited the space, but had no desire to return there ever. It was a place you gave a two star review on Yelp, a place you tell your friends you went to and was “Hipster Chuck E. Cheese”: it was a place you go to just to say you went there.
The thought of reclaiming a space that was abandoned and a locally historical spot (a 100 year old theatre, retrofitted for 2011) is great and we support that more than any other new business. But, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It was unremarkable but unmistakeable. We wanted to give them some design advice, music direction, and some cooking tips, yet we’re not restauranteurs. Mohawk Bend is a place you go to one time because you have to go there. Returning there is a different thing because, well, there is no reason to return there.