While the space itself looks industrial, the mix of sofas, armchairs and even chaise lounges lends a more casual vibe-- almost like you're kicking back in the loft of a (very, very) cool friend.
What first caught my eye about The Church Key was its cocktail menu crafted by mixologist Devon Espinosa, who won my heart at Pour Vous. For The Church Key, Espinosa has created an eclectic menu of updated classics and even canned cocktails. Who needs bottles?
Shot in the Dark: Dolin Blanc, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Pineapple, Absinthe Rinse ($10.00)
Pink, frothy and sweet but still potent, the Shot in the Dark was one of my favorite drinks of the evening.
Fashioned Chai: Apple Jack Brandy, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Chai Syrup, Orange Peel ($10.00)
Harlequin: Bonal, Raspberry Gomme, Lime ($9.00)
Golden Lorraine: D'usse Cognac, Benedictine, Clover Honey, Lemon, Anjou Pear ($14.00)
This smooth, fruity drink was my favorite of the night. I sipped from Justin's, then needed to order one of my own.
Fretzy: Alto Reposado, St. Germain, Reagan's Orange Bitters, Grapefruit Peel ($10.00)
In addition to the items on The Church Key's printed menu, there are also off-menu specials on "dim sum carts." The server even stamps a card for you as with traditional dim sum when you order a plate off the cart.
Falafel Croquettes with Truffle Tahini
Pig Ear Cheetos with fluffy guacamole
The only thing more impressive than the perfectly-captured Cheetos flavor is the surprising amount of work that goes into this dish. To make these bite-sized crisps, Chef Fretz presses together dozens of pig ears over night to create a thick block and then shaves them paper thin before frying them. I couldn't stop eating these.
Salt and Vinegar Brown Butter Popcorn
Fried Scallops with passion fruit gelee and peanuts
Hamachi with Lup Cheong
Lamb Belly "Pastrami"
The menu items are more sizable and meant for sharing because, let's be honest, sharing small plates and getting two or three bites is a drag.
Benton's Country Ham with Fig Mostarda, House Pickles and Grilled Sourdough ($15.00)
Here, Tenneesee country ham is aged with salt and brown sugar and cured for ten months before being shaved tableside into a mound of porky goodness. I alternated between piling everything into a crostini and eating the components separately, and both methods proved equally tasty.
Ahi Tuna Tartare with Pomegranate, Greek Yogurt, Cucumber, Pappadam ($15.00)
Justin, my seafood taste tester, enjoyed the Mediterranean influence imparted to this familiar dish.
Frog Hollow Pear Salad with Manouri Cheese, Frisee, Black Walnuts, Poached Pear Vinaigrette ($12.00)
Despite the abundance of heartier options on the table, this sweet, refreshing salad with slivers of pears and wedges of creamy manouri cheese was so delightful that I nearly licked the plate clean.
Crispy Pork Belly with Gochujang Glaze, Cashew Butter, Radish, Sesame ($13.00)
I appreciated the bite-sized pork belly's unique preparation, which yielded a taste and texture that reminded me of char siu.
Sunchoke Agnolotti with Beaufort Cheese, Chanterelles, Brown Butter ($13.00)
"Peking" Quail Stuffed with Red Rice, Apples, Parsnip Puree, Sansho Truffle Jus ($18.00)
This beautiful, glistening bird was not part of the preview dinner but was generously prepared by the chef at the request of my friend Darin of DarinDines. I teased Darin for going rogue with his special order, but this plump, perfectly lacquered bird turned out to be one of my favorite bites of the night.
Tapioca-Crusted Tai Snapper with Broccolini, White Soy Vinaigrette, Rice Cake ($22.00)
My dining partners all raved about this snapper, which was crispy on the outside and delicate on the inside.
Mixologist Espinosa has also crafted a menu of "Odder Pops," boozy adult popsicles made with liquid nitrogen that riff on the Otter Pops of your childhood.
Our awesome, photo-bombing server
It's Not Easy Being Green and Yellow Polka Dot Bikini: our slushy, boozy "Odder Pops"The Odder Pops signaled a tasty transition to dessert.
"Sticky Toffee Pudding" Date Cake, Toffee, Candied Orange ($9.00)
Moist, dense and sweet, the sticky toffee pudding was a winner, especially when topped with the accompanying creme fraiche whipped cream. "Sweet treat," indeed!
Earl Gray, Black Sesame and Pumpkin Mini Creme Brulee
I can never say no to a creme brulee, and this trio hit the mark...
...so much so that our server hunted down another pumpkin one for me. Hellooooooo, gorgeous.
I left The Church Key very full but also eager to return for the other menu items I've yet to taste. Thank you to The Church Key for a delicious visit!
*Food and drink were hosted.
The Church Key
8370 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069