Nostalgia is a major component of eating. It’s why we cook the same dishes on holidays, stop at our favorite drive-thrus late at night, and keep going to those weird ’50s-themed diners. But just because a restaurant taps into some element of our past doesn’t automatically make it beneficial to the experience. Sometimes, you need to bring something new to the table, too.
That’s the case with Auburn, an upscale prix-fixe spot in Hollywood that reads like an homage to the fancy restaurant heyday of the early 2000s, when suit jackets were required, molecular gastronomy was exciting, and Michelin stars really mattered. But because there aren’t any elements at Auburn that you can’t already find at other LA restaurants, a meal here doesn’t feel nostalgic - it feels outdated.
Let’s start with what Auburn gets right. With its white slab floors, exposed wood beam ceilings, and a full tree growing in the dining room, the space is objectively stunning and looks less like a restaurant and more like a property you’d find on one of those Extraordinary Homes shows. A meal here is an experience - it’s definitely not a place where you burrow in and hang out with friends all night, but when it comes to impressing the sh*t out of people, Auburn’s space hits it out of the ballpark. It’s too bad the food is more of a routine single.
And that’s an issue at a place where dinner starts at around $100 per person. Auburn’s menu is designed to let you make all the decisions - there are three different prix-fixes to choose from (four, six, or nine courses), and you build your meal from their 12-item menu. On one hand, it’s an exciting exercise in freedom. On the other, a meal here is simply too expensive to be left wondering if you ordered incorrectly, especially if it’s your first time. At a restaurant where everything feels expertly designed, it seems odd to leave the actual dining up to the amateurs.
The good news is you really can’t order wrong at Auburn. But you also won’t find much in the way of greatness, either. Whether it’s a beautifully-plated bowl of asparagus or halibut wrapped in a ramp leaf, the food at Auburn tastes good, but there’s nothing remotely surprising or revelatory on the menu. No matter how well-cooked the two-inch strip of ribeye cap is, or how much you want to bottle up that celery broth in the hiramasa crudo, that magical moment when you sit back in your chair, exhale deeply, and feel at peace with spending an entire car payment on a meal never arrives.
Will you remember your meal at Auburn? Probably (especially when you glance at your bank account). But will those memories come with a twinge of nostalgia, and leave you longing to return? Probably not - there are more exciting places to get to first.
The crudo itself is good, but it’s the celery broth at the bottom that we could drink with a straw. A paper straw, of course.
This is a fairly forgettable dish and one that doesn’t exactly fill you up, either. If you’re doing one of the smaller prix-fixes, concentrate on another larger entree instead.
You’ll remember this dish because it tastes good and also because it’s when you’ll realize that even the entree courses at Auburn are about two bites of food.
Don’t get us wrong, this is a very good piece of meat. But considering it’s the most substantial dish on the menu (and one that you have to pay an extra $15 to get), getting a two-inch-long piece of ribeye placed in front of you is slightly humiliating.
If you’re one of those civilized people who can put their spoon down after two bites of dessert, this is a dish for you. If you’re not, you’re going to be scraping the bottom of the bowl wondering if there’s a Ralph’s on your way home.