This LAX hotel restaurant defies expectations in the kitchen and the dining room

By Richard Foss

Costero’s flair for contemporary presentation emphasizes the care of its kitchen

The environments in which we eat influence our opinion of the food, and it can be interesting to see how architects try to make dining spaces energetic, homelike or tranquil. It can be difficult to trace the inspiration behind modern architecture, but I found perhaps the unlikeliest of influences in a most unexpected place: the Sheraton Hotel at LAX.

Costero California Bar + Bistro, not far from the hotel lobby, has conventional furniture but is visually broken up by huge square pillars decorated with unusual geometric patterns made all the more odd by lighting that accents the oblique angles in the design. I was trying to think of what megalithic structure they reminded me of when one of my dining companions, a film buff, said “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” He’s right — the 1920 German expressionist horror film is famous for its odd backgrounds that distort reality with strangely angled shapes.

Not that Costero is anything to fear — it’s a beautiful space serving unusually good food for an airport location, which makes for a less interesting move but a place definitely worth visiting in real life.

Two menus are offered: one of upscale bar food, the other of more eclectic small plates. There is very little overlap, and we found things to like on both.

From the bar menu we selected a California Cobb salad; an order of charred shishito peppers with lemongrass aioli, fleur de sel and rice wine vinegar; a flatiron steak; and a pizza with prosciutto and arugula.

Shishito peppers are a notoriously unreliable ingredient, and a chef once told me that in any batch nine out of ten will be mild and the tenth will try to kill you. This was true, and we played shishito pepper roulette, enjoying the cool lemongrass mayo when we hit the inevitable scorcher. If you tolerate heat it’s a great way to start a meal with tangy bursts of flavor.

The Cobb was a good full meal over lettuce, with the red onion, tomato, egg and avocado complemented by Point Reyes blue cheese. The traditional bacon was omitted, but that quality cheese made up for it, and to find it in a large $12 salad was a delight.

Square pillars with striking geometric patterns call to mind the milieu of German expressionism
Photo by Richard Foss

We were a bit less thrilled with the pizza, which appeared to have a premade crust that was simply topped and put in the oven to heat. Traditional pizzas do take much longer, but the wait is worth it. This was good by the quickie bar pizza standard, but since everything else we had was more ambitious it paled by comparison.

The flatiron steak came with a mountain of thin, crisp fries and was a good-sized piece of meat, but it arrived medium-well rather than the medium rare I requested. A manager who was walking around the restaurant checking on things stopped by and I pointed this out, and he immediately whisked it away to get another one. It came back perfect in a puddle of rich demi-glace, and we demolished it happily.

From the regular menu we tried a starter of grilled Spanish octopus and what was described as a curry-braised short rib.

Octopus is a tricky thing to cook and this was just a wee bit overdone, but the flavors were unerring. There was a little smokiness that paired well with the Korean-influenced aioli and kimchi vinaigrette, and it was worth a little extra jaw muscle exercise.

The short rib wasn’t what I expected, as it was a component of a stew that included red pepper, baby potatoes, scallions and a broth in which curry was a minor element and was balanced with sesame salt. The portion looked small but was filling, and was very successful as an Asian fusion experiment.

One of the other surprises of the evening was the fine cocktail selection, which included one item that caught me by surprise. The Costero Jumper was described as a mix of bourbon, lemon, raspberry puree, cinnamon and hellfire bitters. I ordered it on a whim expecting a duel in my mouth between sweetness, cinnamon and whatever torture could be referred to as hellfire bitters. Instead I enjoyed a finely calibrated drink in which the whiskey was complemented by a kiss of spice and sweetness. This great drink might disappoint those who want their taste buds cleansed with fire, but it was a delight to savor.

Dinner at Costero was far above the standard I expected. It’s actually worth a visit for a local, which is not something I’d say about any other eatery on Century Boulevard. The food is very good, the price modest, and while you wait for things to arrive you can try to puzzle out what was going on in the head of the person who designed the place.

Costero California Bar + Bistro, 6101 W. Century Blvd., Westchester (310) 642-4820