LAReview

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image
7.7

Herb Alpert's Vibrato Grill & Jazz

American

Bel Air

$$$$Perfect For:BirthdaysSee And Be SeenSpecial Occasions
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There comes a time in every Angeleno’s life when they realize: LA is not like the movies. Maybe you’ve lived here all your life and have yet to see a celebrity. Perhaps you were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or were dragged to The Bungalow. And although it’s hard to look beyond the smog, rising gas prices, and Midwestern transplants who love declaring how “fake” everyone in their insular little group is, there are also entire other worlds that exist in Los Angeles—wonderful pockets that make you feel like life is being captured on 35mm film. Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill is one of those places.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Started by the legendary trumpet player—best known for albums like Whipped Cream & Other Delights and The Lonely Bull with the Tijuana Brass—this Bel-Air jazz club whisks you off your feet and transports you to a glamorous world.

You enter from the parking lot of a Bel-Air shopping mall, and weave your way through rows of Aston Martins, Porsches, and paint jobs so glossy, you can almost make out your reflection. People are wearing suits, jackets, and dresses likely purchased at a department store. And once inside, you’re hit with a wall of sound: We’ve seen big bands with trumpets, trombones, and guitars perform Stephen Sondheim tributes, MCs tell stories that made us cry, and we were nearly hypnotized by a buff man with a single hoop earring who played the f*ck out of a sax solo.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

For a place so focused on music, the food here is surprisingly edible. Sometimes even good. The tuna tartare tacos are encrusted in three different types of dyed fish roe and a dollop of avocado crema (scream), but come packed with plenty of high-quality, fresh-tasting fish. Skinny metal skewers string together pieces of filet mignon that melt in your mouth. And the truffle mac and cheese—which doesn’t have a strong truffle flavor, by the way—tastes nice and smoky, like something you’d eat at a fancy backyard BBQ. A good rule of thumb? The more outlandish, the better.

Basically, if you can imagine eating a dish at a tourist trap restaurant in Honolulu, order it.

However, the opposite also holds true: the more standard dishes, like caesar salad, New Bedford scallops, and crab-stuffed lobster tail are often boring, expensive letdowns. Stick with cocktails and a few appetizers to share with the table.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

But then again, you’re not really here for food, are you? You’re here because it’s your sister’s birthday, or to celebrate a special anniversary. Maybe you watched all of Cowboy Bebop and got hooked on high-energy jazz music. Or perhaps your best friend in the entire world is going through a breakup and you knew a sensual saxophone solo would cheer her up. You’ll see couples snuggled together in booths near the stage and back tables packed with friends, families, and people cheering so loudly, you assume they must know the performers personally. Candles bathe the room in a heady, suggestive orange/red glow. It’s a wonderful, magical, and quite frankly, gorgeous experience—just the way you knew Los Angeles could be.


Food Rundown

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Ahi Tuna Tacos

There’s nothing natural about this dish. With deep-fried wonton wrappers stuffed with tuna paste and covered in garishly dyed tobiko, it looks like something concocted on a cooking competition show, or a prop from a Coen Brothers film. How do they get the avocado crema dollop so picturesque? And why does it look like wasabi? No one really knows, but this dish is surprisingly delicious. Order at least one for the table.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Radicchio Salad

The best salad option here (the caesar is a bit weak). It’s made with Belgian endives, pink lady apples, and candied walnuts, so expect a decent amount of crunch. Plus, it’s drizzled in a raspberry vinaigrette, which gives it a nice sweetness to combat the endives’ bitter flavors.

Calamari

In line with our rule of thumb, “If you can imagine eating this at a Hawaiian tourist trap, order it,” you need this calamari. Will it change the way you think about seafood or squid? Nope. But damn, is it crunchy and fun to eat.

Shrimp Cocktail

We’ll never say no to a shrimp cocktail (you have read our guide, haven’t you?) and this is no exception—the coastal prawns are big and meaty, and the cocktail sauce will make you think “Yup, this is cocktail sauce.” It’s basic and perfect and exactly what a shrimp cocktail should be.

Filet Mignon Skewers

Every time a server or food runner came to our table, they told us this was their favorite dish. And who could blame them? Thick, hefty chunks of filet mignon are strung onto a metal stick and smothered in Sriracha aioli, soy sauce glaze, and chili oil. It's an absolute luxury.

Crab Cake

Have you eaten a crab cake before? Did you like it? Then you will enjoy this dish.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

New Bedford Scallops

This is where Herb Alpert’s starts to lose us. The main courses are pretty lackluster, take these scallops, for example. When we had them, they were a bit rubbery, and overwhelmed by the heaviness of the cauliflower puree. Unless you have a major scallop stan in attendance, go ahead and skip this.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Crab-Stuffed Lobster

Again, messy. The crab and lobster meat explode out of the shell, sitting on top in a big, wadded up mass. It’s hard to cut into and the flavors get lost with all the béarnaise sauce and random purple mashed potatoes. Love the broccolini though.

Truffle Mac N’ Cheese

It’s listed as a side dish, but this could definitely be an entire entree, if you try hard enough. There are three types of cheese here—smoked mozzarella, taleggio, and cheddar—and it tastes as soul-warming as anything else happening on stage.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Specialty Cocktails

Herb Alpert’s is best for celebrations, so specialty cocktails are a must. Our friend declared the margarita was “as strong as the ones her aunt makes” and others are made with fun ingredients like apple spice syrup, Thai basil puree, and hibiscus salt.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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