As a rule, if we don't have reservations on a weekend night, I won't go out to eat unless we get an early start. We didn't get an early start, but the weather was just too nice last night so i waived this rule. I was rolling through my feeble memory banks for some place that was different, out of our rotation, and would hopefully have enough variety to keep our daughter's interest (our son is our ChowPlow so no issues with him). And of course, it had to be something off the obvious list that would have almost no chance of seating us in a reasonable amount of time.
I recalled Hounds carter and prawn making favorable mentions of Tapenade in Little Osaka. It seemed to be a unique place for that neighborhood with a lot going for it:
- Non-Asian cuisine in a neighborhood neck-deep with Asian eateries. Hopefully this would make Tapenade a not so obvious choice for those attracted to this neighborhood.
- chef with strong chops.
- a variety of small plates and entrees with an emphasis on quality ingredients and competent technique.
- slightly off Little Osaka's grid, located in the Olympic Collection building at the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle. In the event that Tapenade didn't work out, we'd still have a lot of other eateries close by to choose from.
We walked in really without any specific expectations other than hoping the food in general would be "good." The hostess was very warm and cordial, greeting us and offering us any open seating that we liked. It was about 7:30PM and the restaurant was about half-full - this part was attractive to me because of the immediacy of seating. The space was nicely laid out, giving the majority to a nicely spaced interior with a large four-sided bar in the center, but more than enough of an outdoor patio area in front to take advantage of the good weather we all live here for. The seating is spacious, comfortable and has a casual Franco-centric feel to it. Since the evening was quite nice, we opted for the patio.
Looking over the drinks menu, they have a handful of beers on tap, a wine list with more than enough options to choose from, and some house-made lemonades that were adult enough for non-drinkers, yet approachable enough for kids as well. I think corkage fee was $15 - pretty reasonable.
The food menu has six sections (apps, salads, vegetables, to share, entrees and desserts), each having about six to nine selections. The majority of the dishes are southern European with a California sensibility to them. Furthermore, there's enough variety in the menu to please most types of eaters.
We ordered the crispy brussels sprouts, warm eggplant caviar, bacon-wrapped dates, flatbread, grilled squid with beans and chorizo, lamb agnolotti, sea bass, yogurt panna cotta with passion fruit coulis and the walnut bread pudding. All were prepared with a deft hand and with first rate ingredients. The portion sizes for most dishes were more than generous enough to share. Our daughter who is the local vegetable hater, was wowed (as were we) by the brussels sprouts and eggplant caviar. The grilled squid was so sweet and tender, and the beans and chorizo added nice dimension to an already pleasing dish. The lamb agnolotti was cooked perfect and served with a lovely truffle sauce. And the sea bass was a huge portion, perfectly cooked. The saucing in general was perfect for our palates. Not heavy with subtle nuances that complimented the dishes without overpowering them.
Service here is very warm, attentive and receptive. Our lovely server did a great job of organizing our various dishes and pacing them in a sensible order. On one hand, I hope this place gains more attention as the food and service makes for a very enjoyable meal. On the other hand, if it does gain more popularity, walking up and grabbing four seats on a friday night might not be in the cards anymore.