Many chefs base their cooking on a place that exists solely in their heads. It often borders the Mediterranean, but if you were to take a thumbtack and map, you would never be able to pinpoint it exactly. David Myers, the 28-year-old chef at Jaan, in Beverly Hills' überchic Raffles L'Ermitage hotel, has found his culinary Xanadu somewhere in Asia. But this is not another fusion restaurant. Myers' cooking is Asian in its minimalism, more about subtraction than addition. It is the perfect match for a clientele that may be accustomed to the best but insists on having it in its most essential form.
Raffles L'Ermitage has an updated Somerset Maugham-like rakishness that would be equally appropriate in the original Raffles in Singapore. It's luxurious enough to host heads of state, but shaved heads are more likely—the hotel is a big entertainment-industry favorite. Off its cool, sleek lobby is Jaan (the name is a Cambodian word meaning "bowl"). Entering, you walk past vitrines stocked with magnificent wines. The Pinot Noir selection alone offers both a Musigny from Faiveley and, closer to home, an Adelsheim bottling from Oregon's Willamette Valley. The dining room is airy and bright, with such decorative touches as silk slipcovers, variegated calla lilies on the tables, and lighting fixtures inspired by Cambodian shrimp traps. The windows face a tiny courtyard with a few tables, a modernist fountain, and leafy California sycamores. The surrounding neighborhood is particularly lovely in late spring, when the jacaranda trees are in purple bloom. All this contributes to an elegant calm that hotel dining rooms often have (sometimes in deadly abundance), and Myers adds an edgy culinary flair that such places usually lack.
A meal at Jaan manages the magic trick of being broad in its perspective yet highly focused on the plate. It may begin with razor-thin scallop ceviche with sweet onions and yuzu, mounded on a rectangular glass plate that is tremblingly delicate. Halibut with a topping slice of big-eye tuna is served over eggplant purée spiked at the last moment with wasabi. Game, so difficult to tweak, here returns to some version of the basics: A slice of Scottish hare saddle, another of foie gras, a bit of slow-cooked partridge and confit potatoes, it's almost abstract in its composition but held brilliantly together by the French rigor of the jus. Myers may end the meal with a single hot chocolate beignet accompanied by a scoop of peppery coffee ice cream that riffs on Java, intriguingly combining the flavors of the island.
Myers trained with chefs like Chicago's Charlie Trotter, New York's Daniel Boulud, and Los Angeles' own Joachim Splichal, but this is the first time he has been the main event, and his desire to succeed is clear. During meals, he rushes around the dining room in Campers (which look like lug-soled bowling shoes), unable to hide his enthusiasm when a table orders his special five- or 12-course tasting menu, Vision of Jaan. That is, after all, when the chef gets a chance to improvise with dishes like slow-cooked Maine lobster and gingered white corn, or poached beef fillet with black "forbidden" rice.
Myers' interest in things Asian was piqued while working at Gérard Boyer's three-star Michelin restaurant in France's Champagne region in 1998. There he says he learned to fillet fish sashimi-style from a Japanese chef, who would prepare it for the kitchen meal. The experience led to a fascination with the pared-down, transparent, lapidary quality of Japanese cuisine that is apparent in Myers' work at Jaan. "I have lots of Japanese cookbooks at home," says the boyishly handsome chef. "I can't read a word of what they're saying, but I can see it and I can feel it." Dinner, $110. At 9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills; 310-385-5344; fax 310-278-8247.
Restaurant prices reflect a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverages and gratuity.