I'd heard a lot of great things about Joe's in Venice but had not eaten there until Tuesday night when a former colleague dropped into LA unexpectedly from New Jersey. He's a well-travelled foodie in the Chowhound mold, owns an impressive collection of wines, reads reviews like Zagat's but makes up his own mind about things. I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian, non-drinker who has tried on-and-off to see what the upscale restaurants in the city will do for someone who doesn't eat meat, fish, or poultry.
We had an 8:30pm reservation on a Tuesday night and were seated promptly. My friend, there are those who call him...Tim, had arrived a little early and was dually impressed by the restaurant's 27/30 Zagat rating and was puzzled by the low prices he'd seen on the menu. This would be a recurring theme through the evening.
When I made reservations, the hostess told me about a special truffle menu that was vegetarian and also about a mushroom ravioli appetizer that could be made into a main course. We decided against a la carte. Tim went with the tasting menu, I decided to try the truffle
We were first served a small piece of smoked trout in a light dressing. I passed mine along to Tim who was impressed by the flavor of the and the delicate vinaigrette-style dressing which he said complemented the fish without overpowering it.
Next up was an espresso cup with a small serving of cream of carrot soup. The flavor and aroma was influenced strongly by a spice that was most likely paprika. Tasted good but the carrot flavor was not
There was also a choice of breads as well as choice between regular and mineral water. I drank black coffee throughout.
I askeds Tim specifically for his opinions of the tasting menu in order to relay them to this list and he obliged. Herewith a parallel description of the two menus.
Chico/Amuse - I assume that these were the two servings mentioned above
Foie gras terrine with date puree, tangerine and pomegranate sorbet.
20 vegetable salad, truffle vinaigrette, ementhaler sauce
Tim thought the foie gras was excellent and the helping substantial. Pairing it with a sorbet appeared to be a good decision as he thought the contrasting tastes went well together. The twenty vegetable salad was as advertised. Roots, beans, and the like with a shaved truffles on top. I know next-to-nothing about truffles. I tried a few shavings by themselves, trying not to get the dressing on them. An earthy flavor, not pungent as I had thought it might be. The salad
itself was very large and took me a while to finish. The dressing was creamy and not surprisingly resembled bleu cheese (if you looked at it just right and really wanted it to resemble something) although it,
too, was not overpowering as dressings often can be.
Roasted calamari with garlic and chili, mache greens, baked tomatoes, white beans Winter truffle ravioli in truffle broth
At this point, the presentation of the food began to set in. The calamari dish was a riot of color and looked like something Picasso may have arranged. The seafood itself was warm. Tim thought this was ingenious, if indeed it was intentional. He said that squid is usually served either hot or cold but not usually in the middle. The texture and flavor were to his liking and again the combination of ingredients worked well together. The pair of ravioli came nicely
apart with minimal effort. I believe the stuffing was substantially mushroom, not being able to specifically distinguish the truffle flavor. The broth had a pleasant, sharp taste that I can't otherwise
describe. The overall color was an appealing light green.
At this point we were talking about old friends and the past many years so I didn't get detailed comments on the Lamb Loin roulade with basil mashed potatoes, baby carrots, and lamb jus. There was nothing left
on his plate so I assume it was up to par with the preceding dishes. My truffled potato torta was good on two counts. One, I like potatoes a lot. Secondly, it came apart with knife and fork without falling
apart completely as dishes rsembling to it often do. Lasagnes, anything in a pastry crust, etc. Speaking of crust, this was a deep, golden brown, nice and crunchy. The potatoes inside were firm and not mushy. The stew was quite strongly flavored, like the preceding broth but even moreso. Combined with the artichokes, it lingered longer than what had come before it. Not unpleasant, just a different experience to which I could become an accustomed.
There was a small chocolate torte with a dollop of cream and a berry for a dessert amuse. Never have had a pre-dessert dessert before that helping.
Although not a chocolate fanatic, Tim thought very highly of the bitter chocolate souffle with winter spiced ice cream and vanilla cream drizzle. My chocolate clementine parfait looked like something
out of Gehry's studio: A swoop and swirl of white chocolate surrounding a semi-solid filling that fortunately was not overly sweet. The froth and clementine slices supplied a contrasting edge in
color and flavor.
Selecting Joe's required Tim to schlepp to Venice from Pasadena where he's visiting. It was a risky choice in case it didn't work out; Tuesday traffic being what it is. His opinion was that a restaurant of that caliber in most other cities would charge at least 50% more
and that he has paid that kind of tariff willingly.
Wine: He had two or three glasses of one of the house red wines but we didn't get into how it went with the food.
Presentation: It seemed a shame to break up some of the beautiful symmetries we were served but, what the hey.
Service: Professional and unobtrusive. Our waiter, I thought, tried to affect a little bit of a gruff demeanor. A hazy perception and not to imply a complaint. The bus-staff were very pleasant, describing each plate before setting it down. The truffle salad was so large, it took
me a long time to finish it. The staff somehow knew when I might be done and held our next course until the right time.
We picked a late time to account for any possible traffic jams. By the time we had finished, around 10:15-10:20pm, we were probably the last to leave. We were never rushed, nor did we feel like we had
to pick up the pace. We were able to have a good conversation without having to raise our voices, even though the dining room was full when we began the meal.
Value: I was the guest so I didn't inquire about the total. The truffle menu was $56, the tasting menu $62. Clearly Tim was very pleased with the bang and the bang-for-the-buck. I think that the food at Greens in San Francisco is a little more subtle with a broader
mix of flavors. But, that is a specialty vegetarian restaurant. The truffle menu was, to me, very well thought out and I enjoyed it. As far as the price, $56 seems a little steep but I realize that truffles are incredibly expensive so, I wouldn't have minded
paying that on my own. We were both impressed by the generous portions. I once had a dinner at Woodside Restaurant a few years ago when they did a month of vegetarian Mondays. I would rate the two meals as a dead heat.
I know several regulars at Joe's who've said that the kitchen enjoys the challenge of special-request diners. One related the story of going with a couple of pals and requesting a macrobiotic meal. Which they were served and which was excellent. I expect that I
will return to Joe's in the future. And, after a few visits, perhaps enter a request for a custom dinner. Not macrobiotic, that's
a) not really cricket
b) the person who did it knows the owner well
But, perhaps, something centered around a particular vegetable in-season or flavor.