I took a friend to Cafe Was in Hollywood last night for her birthday. She picked the place. It's French-inspired food. Decorated in a burlesque, 1920's Moulin Rouge-style...it looks more lounge and club than restarant. There's a grand piano in the middle of the main floor that revolves as someone sings and plays blues music. There are cute red velvet booths, but most of the seating is available on the main floor...with table squished together so closely, I would imagine it would be uncomfortable on a super busy weekend night.
We arrived on time for our reservation, and were seated immediately. We had an up-close view of the revolving piano. Our energetic waiter introduced is to the menu and made some drink suggestions. I had the Champagne Suzy (Mumm's Champagne, St. Germain Elderflower, and lemon twist), and it was quite delightful...not overtly sweet, but bubbly. My friend chose the Fleur de Mal (Svedka vodka, Rose Champagne, lime juice, and lemon twist), and she found it to be lovely. With our drinks, they delivered gougères in a little paper bag. The gougères, while good....were not hot enough nor was the crust crispy enough to provide a textural balance with the melty, cheesy inside. I've had better.
The amuse bouche consisted of two different bites. Tuna tartare on a freshly fried potato chip with a little avocado cream and caviar. I really didn't taste much of the tuna...I felt like the avocado cream and the saltiness from the chip and the caviar overpowered it. I knew I was eating tuna, but just didn't get it. Then there was an applewood bacon-wrapped majool date with balsamic vinegar...now that was fantastic. Soft, just sweet-enough majool date and smoky, crispy bacon....in one word...YUM. The balsamic added additional level of sweetness.
For our appetizers, we got the tomato basil soup (because they were out of corn chowder...I know right, the beginning of dinner service, and they're already out of stuff) and escargot. I did not try the soup, though my friend said it was good. The escargot was cooked in a mixture of butter, garlic confit, lemon confit, and capers. The mini dutch oven was then covered with a pastry/pie dough and baked. The dough was doughy rather than flaky and tender, though it had a lovely color. The escargot inside were perfectly cooked and tender. The sauce was good, but overwhelmed my palate with lemon and capers...I missed the garlic. My friend, however, thought my appetizer was better than the soup after trying escargot for the very first time...yay...I've converted one more person in the world.
She selected the braised short ribs with oxtail ragout, polenta, crispy-fried onions, and wild argula. The short ribs while tender, were still not as tender as I'm used to...versions at Bouchon and Daniel Boulud are in a class of their own. The polenta was so creamy, my friend mistook it for mashed potatoes, and I found the oxtail ragout to be a little lacking in flavor. I had the Bouillabaisse with bouchet mussels, shrimp, scallops, halibut, fines herbs, saffron, aioli, fingerling potatoes, and a crostini. The mussels were wonderfully cooked...soft and tender. My shrimp and halibut were horrifically overcooked, the scallops were inconsistently cooked. The broth of white wine, butter, saffron, and herbs was quite delightful with little bits of tomato here and there, but the addition of the aioli confused me...and it tasted more like mayo from a jar than aioli. It made the broth creamy in a way that wasn't too delightful. I was less happy to dip the bread to get such a strong sense of the aioli. We also added an order of fries to our dinner...and they were lovely to eat with the dipping sauces, but not by themselves because they were oversalted...though the addition of herbs to the fries was nice.
Dessert was rather interesting. She picked the apple caramel beignet with vanilla ice cream.
It was a gigantic beignet...more like the size of your hand. The dough had wonderful color, and was crispy on the outside and creamy in the center...the center also included an apple caramel mixture that was quite nice because the caramel had bitter notes in addition to the sweet.. It paired quite well with the ice cream. I had the warm valrhona white and dark chocolate bread pudding with six-spice ice cream and turkish espresso dressing. The bread pudding was served in a container that looked more like it was for pot de creme than bread pudding....and I didn't find white and dark chocolate at all...it was more like french toast in a cup. The six-spice ice cream was interesting, but I could only indentify cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.
Service was pretty good. Our server was very friendly and quite knowledgable about the menu. He checked in on us quite often and did whatever we could to make sure we were happy. However, there were certain things that I found strange. While we were chatting during our meal, they came by to ask if we were done or to clear the table for us...just because we're having a conversation, it doesn't mean that we're done eating. The table across from us complained about their wineglasses being dirty, and the waitstaff had to come over twice with replacements before that table was happy. After my escargot arrived, our waiter asked if it was oversalted...a very strange question from a waiter...once the fries arrived at our table, I understood why he asked...the chef must have a heavy hand...but I didn't notice it with any of the other courses...the tuna tartare was more undersalted than anything else...it was to the potato chip's and the caviar's credit that it was seasoned at all. Water glasses were not always refilled in a timely manner.
My friend found it to be a wonderful birthday dinner...being that it was her first time trying a more upscale menu with things she usually doesn't eat. I thought that there were some good points, and some eh-kind of points, I was more glad that she had a good time and discovered that escargot, polenta, and oxtail ragout are not intimidating things. But I'm not sure I'll be back here, again. Maybe for just drinks and canapes/appetizers...as the bar and the ambiance was nice...but definitely not for dinner.
1521 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028