(Formatted with All Pictures here:
Thanks to Chowhound threads started by Mateo R and foodiemahoodie, I learned about the opening of Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica, the newest restaurant from former Bastide chef, Alain Giraud. Anisette just finished up a soft opening phase, and this past weekend was their first full weekend serving and debuting the Brunch Menu. And tonight (Monday, June 16, 2008) was their first night showcasing their much-awaited Dinner Menu.
A brasserie is usually an informal restaurant that can serve breakfast, lunch and/or dinner in a relaxed atmosphere, and that's exactly what Chef Alain Giraud and his business partners have created with Anisette.
Anisette occupies a gorgeous space, with warm décor, near the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica: Wood paneling, large mirrors and a classic brasserie look to it all, including a stylish long bar made completely of poured zinc(!) by Atelier Nectoux from Paris. On one end of the zinc bar, they display the fresh seafood for the day.
On our three visits, the hostesses were always charming and professional, reflective of the rest of the service staff each time.
Anisette's debut Dinner Menu did not disappoint, offering a beautiful and intricate selection of dishes. The entire menu looked enticing, but especially their Daily Specials portion. Currently they are listing the classic Cote de Boeuf for Two for Monday, Vol Au Vent Financiere (a dish made of Sweetbread stuffed in a house-made Pastry) for Tuesday, Duck a L'Orange for Wednesday, Blanquette de Veau Printaniere (a Veal Shoulder and Veal Short Ribs dish) for Thursday, Bourride de Lotte Setoise (a long-stewed Monkfish dish which the waitress said was amazing) for Friday, Gigot D'Agneau Flageolets (Rotisserie, Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb) for Saturday, and Homard Thermidor (Lobster Thermidor) for Sunday.
Besides their Daily Specials, the rest of their Dinner Menu offered up some standards and some dearly-missed French Classics, such as Onion Soup served with Cave-Aged Gruyere, Roasted Sweetbread "Jardiniere," Moules Frites, Duck Confit, some wonderful looking "Plates for Two" such as the Daurade Royale (a whole cooked Fish with Tomato Fennel and Lemon Confit) and a Rack of Lamb with a decadent-sounding Gratin Dauphinois. They also offered up fresh Seafood from their Oyster Bar, Plateaux de Fruits de Mer made up of various combinations of fresh Lobster, Shrimp, Oysters, Crab Legs, Clams, and Mussels (more on this later).
Anisette offers up an extensive Wine List, with a nice variety of Reds, Whites, Champagne and Sparkling Wines by the Glass. They also have a nice selection of bottles under $100, and a plenty over that mark. In addition they had a very extensive Specialty Cocktails section, so I opted to try a few. :)
I started with a L'Anisette, made of fresh muddled Mint, Lime, mixed with Anisette Liquor and Belvedere Vodka with a splash of vanilla bean simple syrup.
It had a nice bite to the drink, and the Anisette Liquor was standout, unfortunately there was probably a bit too much Vodka for my tastes, but it was a decent starter.
The first dish was the Provencal Fish Soup with Saffron Pearl Pasta and Rouille. The soup bowl was brought out first, with the slices of Toast, Saffron Pearl Pasta and other dry ingredients, and the Provencal Fish Soup was poured on top. It was a wonderful, extremely complex soup, really showcasing the essence of the fish, and the Rouille and Saffron Pearl Pasta added a nice touch. It was a tad salty for my tastes, but when eaten with some of the fresh Bread they provided, it was wonderful.
Their Foie Gras Sauteed, with Date Chutney on a fresh, house-made Brioche Toast was truly divine! Chef Giraud and his staff perfectly seared the Foie Gras, with a nice exterior, and the inside was perfect as well: soft, buttery, so amazingly good, especially with their house-made Brioche. It's the best version of a French-style Foie Gras preparation I've ever had in L.A.
Another dish that I was excited about trying was their Beef Tartar, made with freshly chopped Hanger Steak, topped with a fresh, organic Egg Yolk and served with Country Bread Toast. The presentation was very nice and simple, and after a bite, it was like being back in Paris again! The finely chopped Cornichons, Capers, Shallots, and the Worcestershire Sauce all were perfect complements to the freshly chopped Steak and the organic Egg Yolk. It was top-notch, and exceeded the one I had at Comme Ca. It reminded me very much of my favorite version of this dish on my last trip to Paris in February. Delicious!
I have a weakness for Duck Confit, and was anxiously awaiting this dish. Anisette's Duck Confit is served with Potatoes Lyonnaises, fresh Seasonal Vegetables (from the local Farmer's Market), and a Pommery Mustard Sauce. The Duck Confit arrived and looked amazing already. I took a bite, and it was wonderful. The Duck meat was tender with a nice crisped outer skin, but it was a little salty at times, but only just a tad bit so. It was still very good.
But the show stopper would have to be the Potatoes Lyonnaises, a classic French dish of slices of Potato and Onions baked like a pie (which is what the Duck Confit was sitting on top of). It looks so simple and plain, but Anisette's version is truly *stellar*! It's so wonderfully rustic and simple, but so soul-warming and delicious! It paired perfectly with the saltier Duck Confit, and when combined with the fresh Baby Carrots, the whole dish tasted just right! (I could eat the Potatoes all night and be happy! :). Overall, I enjoyed the Duck Confit more than Comme Ca's version, and while it fell short of my favorite place in Paris, it exceeded all the others that I've had there.
I tried out another cocktail at this point, their Belharra, made of muddled Cucumber, Agave Nectar, with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor. Unfortunately, like the L'Anisette cocktail earlier, there was just too much alcohol for my tastes, and not enough of the other fresh ingredients. It was decent, but I would've liked to taste more of the fresh Cucumber.
Next up was the Provencal Beef Daube (Beef Cheeks), served with Glazed Root Vegetables and Pommes Puree. Chef Giraud uses Australian Kobe Beef for this dish and it was obvious from the very first bite: Beautifully tender and delicate, maintaining the inherent taste and texture of Beef, but in such a unique way different from a heavily marbled piece of A5 Wagyu Beef, for example. The Red Wine reduction was outstanding, and really elevated the Beef Daube. And this is another example of where Chef Giraud's usage of only fresh vegetables from the neighboring Farmer's Market makes a real difference: The fresh Peas and Beans were wonderful, sweet and so vibrantly fresh, that whenever you bit into some of the Kobe Beef Daube with the fresh Peas, it only elevated the dish even higher. Outside of Urasawa's A5 Wagyu, this has become my new favorite Beef dish! (^_^)
The Farmer's Market Vegetables "En Papillote" (baked in Parchment Paper) came next. This is the classic cooking technique of cooking various ingredients in Parchment, and the dish arrived in a beautiful, striking, pillow-like shape. Our server cut it open to let out the steam, and immediately the aroma of fresh vegetables came pouring through. These were all fresh vegetables from the local Farmer's Market, and was served with a delightful Sauce Mousseline, made of Clarified Butter emulsified and lightened up with Fresh Cream. It was a wonderful dish and a nice pairing with any of the entrees throughout the night.
Their Black Cod Mediterranean is served with Piquillo Peppers, Clams, and Chorizo, and at first I was worried that it might be a boring "throwaway" dish to offer something lighter on the menu. When it arrived, I could see a nicely seared piece of Black Cod, but I was worried it might be dried out. One bite and all my worries were allayed: The Black Cod was perfectly prepared, with the crispy, tasty outer skin, belying the super-moist, buttery goodness inherent in the Black Cod. The Black Cod seemed like it could use a little bit of salt (but I actually liked it that way), but when combined with a bit of the sauce - rich and salty from the Chorizo - it was perfect! Further, when combined with a piece of the Chorizo and the whole dish became even more savory, salty and zesty (but a bit too salty for my tastes). In essence, this was a really interesting way to allow the eater to control how much salt they wanted with the Black Cod: By itself (nice and light), with a bit of the sauce and clams (a little bit saltier than by itself, and perfect), or with the Chorizo (even saltier and zestier). A word of warning that the Black Cod has bones in it (not too many), so those that don't like to fuss with fish bones, should be wary. But overall, it was very enjoyable.
Anisette offers up a nice Dessert Menu, with classics like Profiteroles, Chocolate Mousse, and Foret Noire (Black Forest Cake). According to the server, Pastry Chef Mehdi Boudiab's signature dish is the Vacherin Glace, made of Lavender Ice Cream, Raspberry Puree, fresh Strawberries, Chantilly Cream and Meringue Peaks, so I had to try that out. :) The Vacherin Glace arrived and was stunningly beautiful as you can see in these pics. It tasted just as good as it looked, with the Meringue Peaks providing a nice foil to the creamy goodness of the Lavender Ice Cream and fresh Strawberries. I'm not a dessert person, but this was very good.
For Breakfast, Anisette offers up three preset “International Breakfast” choices, from FRENCH (Coffee or Hot Chocolate, Fresh-Squeezed Fruit Juice, Corbeille of Breakfast Pastries, Jams and Marmalade) to ENGLISH (Coffee or Tea, Two Eggs Any Style, English Bacon, Sausage, Grilled Tomatoes, Fried Bread, Black Pudding, Mushrooms), to AMERICAN (Coffee, Two Eggs Any Style, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Hash Browns, Breakfast Sausages, Pancakes), as well as a pastry basket LA CORBEILLE (A Selection of Freshly-Baked Breakfast Pastries, Vanilla Butter, Jams, and Marmalade). However, their “Specialities” portion of the menu truly shines, from a Smoked Salmon Plate (with Michel Blanchet Salmon, Brioche, Lemon Cream Cheese), to freshly-made Crepes to a variety of egg dishes. One thing to note is that Anisette only uses Organic, Hormone-Free Eggs.
During our first visit for breakfast, our server mentioned that they had a special pastry, not on the menu, an Almond Croissant. He went on to explain that if the Pastry Chef had extra time, he would try to make a special pastry for the day, and on that Sunday it was the Almond Croissant. I had to order it to see how their freshly-made pastries were (there’s just something heart-warming and delightful about freshly-baked / homemade pastries :). The Almond Croissant arrived and it already looked amazing! Taking a bite and it was easy to see that Anisette was well on its way to being a wonderful Breakfast & Brunch destination: Delightfully *fresh* and flaky, yet at the same time, moist and decadent, without being too oily or heavy. The Almond Croissants (and all their pastries) are made from Normandy Butter, and the fresh Almond Paste, slices of Almond and Powdered Sugar all combined for the best Almond Croissant I’ve ever had.
I also had their Japanese Cherry Tea, a loose leaf blend of Japanese Green Tea, Rose Petals and Essence of Cherry. It was very fragrant and yet still maintaining the foundation of the Green Tea. On another visit I tried their refreshing Amore Tea, a flower bouquet of organic White Tea infused with Wild Roses, Organic Peppermint, and Seasonal Botanicals. All-in-all, they have seven different types of Teas to choose from, in addition to variety of choices for Drip Coffee, French Press, Espresso and Mocha.
Their Anisette Omelet was made up of Organic Eggs, Mushrooms, Red Peppers, Goat Cheese Feta, Spinach and Wild Arugula, with the vegetables all sourced from the local Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. It was visually stunning, and had a taste to match, with the slightly spicy and bitter Arugula working well with the Goat Cheese and other ingredients, all complemented by the eggs.
We also ordered the Belgian Waffles, which turned out to be a beautiful presentation in decadence: Four slices of Belgian Waffle, with fresh Bananas, topped with Dulce de Leche and fresh Blackberries, Blueberries and Raspberries, and all served with a side of Nutella, Maple Syrup and Crème Fraiche! Chef Alain Giraud stopped by and thanked us, and in our conversation, he said that he wanted to make “the most decadent Belgian Waffles” he could, and joked that maybe next time, he’ll top it with some Foie Gras. :)
For their new Brunch Menu, they included some of the items from their Breakfast Menu, such as their Anisette Omelet and La Corbeille freshly-made Pastry Basket, Organic Yoghurt with Granola and Fresh Berries, etc., and added some wonderful new dishes such as the Petit Beef Filet, with Fried Organic Eggs, and bringing in Entrees from their Lunch Menu like their Brasserie Burger (with Pancetta, Brie, Avocado and French Fries), Croque Monsieur (or Madame), Poached Scottish Organic Salmon with Sauce Mousseline amongst a great new Appetizers.
We started with the Michel Blanchet Smoked Salmon, served with their fresh Brioche and Lemon Cream Cheese. In general, Smoked Salmon can be too salty or smoky at times, but the Michel Blanchet Smoked Salmon lived up to its reputation: Wonderfully tender, rich, yet light, a delicate smokiness that never owerpowered the Salmon itself, followed by this beautiful savory and sweet taste. It was complemented perfectly by the fresh-made Brioche, and their house-made Lemon Cream Cheese with hints of fresh-chopped chives was beautiful as well!
Their Warm Goat Cheese with Beets in a Hazelnut Dressing was another hit (depending on your love for Goat Cheese, of course :). The Goat Cheese is served slightly warm on top of a salad of fresh (locally sourced) Beets and Arugula. The Goat Cheese was beautiful, having been warmed up, and combined nicely with the slightly bitter and herbal flavors from the Arugula and the sweetness of the Beets, and it was all matched perfectly by the fresh nuttiness of the Hazelnut Dressing.
The Feuillete of Scrambled Eggs with White Crab Claw Meat arrived next. Made with another of their freshly baked, house-made pastries, the Feuillete is like a rectangular puff pastry, Anisette serves it with the center stuffed with Scrambled Eggs and topped with a generous portion of White Crab Claw Meat. I took a bite and literally had to shut down all my other brain activity: This was *amazing*! The fresh Scrambled Eggs, the light sweetness and freshness of the Crab Meat, combined with the mind-blowing fluffy, buttery, and airy goodness of the Feuillete Pastry has made it my new favorite Breakfast dish! (After freshly-cooked Bacon, of course (^_~).)
Next we tried their humorously named Eggs In Purgatory, made of Poached Eggs, Tomato, and Bacon Brioche, topped with a fresh Tomato Sauce. One look at the dish and we had to smile; it was easy to see why Chef Giraud named it so. The Eggs were perfectly poached, with a nice cooked-liquid yolk, and the outside still very tender and moist. The yolk, fresh Tomato Sauce and Bacon Brioche were well matched and delicious. This dish has to be eaten quickly, or else the Brioche will start to get soggy quickly.
We also tried some items from their Oyster Bar, ordering up some Malpeque and Kumamoto Oysters, along with Carlsbad Mussels and their Shrimp. It was served with four sauces: Mignonette, Cocktail, Marie Rose, and Tartare. Their Marie Rose is a house-made variation of the classic, using Spanish Saffron in addition to the Mayonnaise, Ketchup, and Lemon Juice. The Kumamoto and Malpeque Oysters were extremely fresh and wonderful. Their Shrimp was well done, but I felt it was a little overcooked. My companions thought they were perfect as is. Lastly, the Carlsbad Mussels were the only disappointment from the batch: They were decent, but lacked the amazing sweetness that can be found on the Grand Plateau at Comme Ca, for instance.
For its first “official,” full weekend in operation, Anisette’s service was excellent, with multiple servers taking care of us and being constantly attentive to our needs. When served my Tea, the server brought it out and recommended to let it steep for about four minutes. Four minutes later, he appeared and poured the Tea for me. From that point on, whenever our cups were near empty, a server would appear and refill our cups for us, without once having to ask for any service. Besides Chef Alain Giraud, we also had the Manager, and two other servers checking in our meal and making sure everything was good; a little surprising to see, where most restaurants in L.A. seem to not care or are too busy to take in customers’ feedback.
During our second visit (this past weekend for the debut of their Brunch Menu), they were completely packed, and the service had some slight hiccups (e.g., our appetizers and main courses came out, all at once, flooding our table).
But for the first night serving Dinner tonight, the service was again, impeccable, with waitstaff captain, Yannick Cueff, providing outstanding service for a brasserie, along with my regular waitress. Every dish was served and paced correctly, and they were always making sure my glass was full (whether for tea or bottled water, etc.). They were very accommodating in every way.
Of course, having just opened they have some growing pains, so we’ll see how the service stabilizes (I’m hoping more towards the first visit’s and tonight's dinner service instead of the second visit :).
Anisette Brasserie is one of the few restaurants in L.A. offering Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and Dinner that excels in each of those categories: From a wonderful, light Breakfast Menu, to enjoying a weekend Brunch with some stunning dishes, to the great Dinner Menu, filled with wonderfully-executed, classic French dishes, Anisette excels.
Speaking with Chef Alain Giraud after dinner tonight, he's always wanted to open a brasserie, even back in the days of Bastide. He's wanted a way to bring the classic French food he's grown up with to a new audience and create a place where it's immediately clear to the customer what kind of restaurant it is from the moment you walk in: a classic French brasserie. Every visit to Anisette Brasserie has consistently been wonderful. With the Pacific Ocean just a couple blocks away, and beautiful decor that's down-to-earth and very "Paris," Anisette is a wonderful destination for any time of the day. Anisette Brasserie has delivered a wonderful bit of Paris to L.A., providing great French food, without any of the fuss. Highly recommended.
*** Rating: 9.1 (out of 10.0) ***
225 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 395-3200
Hours: Sun - Thurs, 8:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. (last seating at 11:30 p.m.)
(Hours subject to change.)
225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401