I've lived within walking distance of La Frite for the past 25 years but have eaten there only about five times, each time leaving with the vow that I would not return to eat such poorly prepared food.
I was happy to learn that Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was going to do a number on the place and was happier still to get a reservation for the night of the finale -- when all the changes GR had wrought would finally be put into place.
All the reservations were for 5:00 p.m. Having watched previous episodes over the years, I came prepared to expect long delays in service and knew I should not expect a normal restaurant experience.
Still, I was surprised on a number of levels. First, the service was actually quite decent. We were approached by our waiter almost immediately after being seated and were brought the bottle of wine we ordered very quickly.
La Frite's new menu from GR is a perfect example of modern French bistro fare. Unlike La Frite's older menu, which suffered from trying to offer everything under the sun, this one is much better focused while still offering a great variety. There is also an emphasis on crepes.
My wife ordered the country pate to start and the crepe cordon blue for her entree. I asked for the mousse of foie gras de canard to be followed by moules dijonaise.
Both of the appetizers were terrific. The country pate had a lovely rough texture and was beautifully served with pickled slices of fennel, radishes and cornichons. My foie mousse was served in a small glass bowl topped with a Sauternes gelee. Absolutely delicious.
Although the entire restaurant was seated at the same time, there was an empty table next to us for some time. After a while, a couple was seated who clearly had no idea what was going on; they'd just randonly stopped by to get a bite. They looked at the new menu and were disappointed that the old menu was gone. The husband had a Croque Monsieur that looked great and which he seemed to enjoy yet they said they would probably not come back because they missed the old menu. They had no idea who Gordon Ramsay was and said that although they lived on the Westside, they preferred coming to restaurants in the Valley, like Le Petit Chateau.
Their entire meal had been served quickly and without a hitch. We were still waiting for our entrees while the tables surrounding us had been served theirs, even though they ordered after us. I was starting to think that we were about to become the evenings' designated disaster.
We watched several tables send back their entrees. One problem in particular seemed to be that diners expecting Brie in their crepes were not getting any.
Our waiter was apologetic about the wait but unspecific about when we could expect our food. One of the young women at a table next to us that we had been chatting with commented how remarkably patient I was. I had to explain to her that I was very likely the least patient man she had ever laid eyes upon.
It was now about 7:40 and I could take no more. I went to the bar and asked for my check. The manager (owner?) was very solicitous and asked if we had been at the particular table he was pointing to. When I said yes, he said there would be no bill. I thanked him for his graciousness, tipped the waiter and we left.
On a side note, it was interesting to watch how well the production team did their business. They moved effortlessly around the crowded restaurant capturing snippets of conversation at every table without seeming to be there. GR was also very pleasant and made a point of visiting with every diner.
I think the changes made to the menu are a dramatic improvement but I'm not sure the restaurant is committed to keeping them. The restaurant has been there 35 years and serves a customer base that I don't relate to. I'm not sure they will like the changes. For my part, though, I want to go back. And soon, before they revert.
15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Le Petit Chateau Restaurant
4615 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91602
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