We were dining last evening (Sunday) with some people after a concert downtown and I picked Cafe Pinot. Hadn't been there in a long time, so it was a bit of a crapshoot. Cut to the chase: this place is still doing a great job.
We decided to sit outdoors in the courtyard surrounded by the skyscrapers towering over us and the dramatic facade of the L.A. Public Library on one end. What a beautiful setting on the first evening after daylight savings. One of our party, who hadn't been to the restaurant or the Library, kept gazing heavenward at the architecture surrounding us and just grinning at the lovely environment.
Everything is immaculate about this restaurant, from the bathrooms, to the tablecloths, even to the freshly painted patio heaters that could be adjusted to ward off the chill.
We ordered pretty simply. Starters of their "disassembled" Caesar salad (whole tender romaine leaves drizzled with dressing, grated parm, two nice anchovies and a toasted baguette slice), the beet salad and the endive salad. All nice. For main courses, two had the roast chicken with mustard sauce, hold the fries and substitute veggies please (wouldn't have been my choice; those fries were always killer). I had the Rhode Island striped bass with chorizo and littleneck clams (bit hesitant about fish on a Sunday but it was terrific and very fresh). My husband had the lobster bolognese, a pasta dish that was good not great.
Service was impeccable. And for the substituted veggies on my friends' chicken entrees, the chef did a beautiful medly of sculpted vegetables along with a generous portion of fat spears of imported white asparagus, which was being offered that evening separately as a special appetizer for a pretty high price, as I recall. So that was a total freebie.
The wine list is long and studded with interesting bottles. I picked a Vire-Clesse from Verget because the person who wrote the wine list had the smarts to add "Vieilles Vignes" to the wine name. It turned out to be a North Berkeley Wine selection and was a delicious, beautifully balanced Macon with great character. Also, my friends aren't big drinkers. Any other restaurant would have rushed us through this bottle, overpouring to the non-drinkers to push a second bottle on us. Our waiter masterfully restrained his pours so that the bottle served us all handily and lasted the entire meal. A true professional.
Desserts, a "chocolate decadence" flourless chocolate cake and a creme brulee, were textbook and excellent.
Total was $111 per couple before tip. Money very well spent.
I should mention one negative, which may bother some people. The Library plaza is a popular hangout for street people, particularly on a Sunday. It is a bit odd to be savoring delicious food and French wine in the open air while the homeless are shambling past the dining area just beyond the protective hedge. At one point a guy came in when no waiters were around and begged from a few tables. This doesn't bother me. Street people are a fact of life in Los Angeles, unfortunately for them. But if you like to be insulated from unpleasantness, take a table inside.
700 W. Fifth St.
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