All I know about mid-century cocktailing, I learned as a kid from ancient, stolen Playboy magazines. Searching for the naughty bits, I would occasionally alight on soft-focus photographs of the quintessential bachelor pad: wood paneling, deep shag carpeting, and a vinyl-upholstered bar. So alluring.
Gold Dust Meridian feels like it fell straight out of the pages of those Playboy magazines. The building itself looks like a low-slung Swiss ski chalet, all brick and exposed beams. The interior is dimly lit and filled with soft-toned wood, punctuated by flickering candles. High-backed, conspiratorial booths lining one wall are perfect for a smoldering evening of cocktails and vaguely salacious conversation with friends or lovers. If you're still not getting the vibe, a nude velvet painting hangs just inside the door.
The food menu at Gold Dust Meridian is brief—just right for cocktailing. Options range from deviled eggs to ahi tuna, with all manner of morsels in between. The theme here is "food you'd bring to a swingers potluck," and is meant to keep you going between scorpion bowls (60 ounces of booze and fruit).
The spinach and artichoke dip is mellow, cheesy, and addictive, but doesn't come with enough bread. Requesting more bread will add a dollar to your bill—shameful. An appetizer of skewered, bacon-wrapped prawns is adequate. But unfortunately, overwhelming bacon and pepper masks any flavor of prawns, which only offer weight and texture. The deviled eggs, a perfect drinking food, don't really have the necessary kick and would benefit from heavier mustard to really put the devil in their hearts.
Despite a few benign appetizers, the menu does offer some standout entrées. The best is seared ahi tuna with peanut udon noodles and lemon grass sauce. The tuna is perfectly prepared. Encrusted in pepper with a delicate even sear, the center's left fresh, flaky, and tender. Cut into thin strips, deep tuna flavor works delightfully against spicy peanut noodles and light lemon sauce. The presentation is whimsical and creative, with drops of multi-colored oils floating in white lemon grass sauce, creating psychedelic swirls on the plate.
Another fine creation is the tarragon chicken salad sandwich. The cubed chicken mixture has hints of sweetness and summery tarragon roundness. It manages to be both light and substantial, punctuated with occasional red grape halves that add a fruity complexity. The sandwich is a delightful afternoon meal when accompanied by deeply chicken-flavored egg drop soup, spiked with ginger for occasional high spice.
But let's be frank, the real reason you'd slip into the sweet dimness of Gold Dust Meridian is to drink classic cocktails. They aren't necessarily adventurous or unique, but they are solidly mixed with reverence for the original recipe. The sidecar is a perfect example, with just the right balance of Grand Marnier, cognac, and citrus to create a deep liquid caramel glow on the tongue. If you're interested in something a bit more romantic, there is a fine list of champagne cocktails to complement that candlelit, pre-coital sparkle in your eyes.
Gold Dust Meridian offsets Hawthorne's rootsy aesthetic with another side of the 1960s fetish that endures on the boulevard. It's the perfect place to drink like the original playboy or playmate, listening to jazz in a swinging bachelor pad before retiring to the bearskin rug.