Went with another couple for a much needed adults only night out at Joe's in Venice/Santa Monica.
We had a 6:45 reservation and the place was quite full already when we got there. The hostess was willing to seat us without our friends being there yet, but we waited at the bar and had a very nice vodka martini.
We were seated on the back patio -- they sure do stuff the tables in there -- we were right up against either a wall, another table, and a busboy station. Our server was a guy who has been there for years (one of us recognized him from her last time at Joe's, two years previously), and he was friendly enough, but he seemed remarkably either uninformed or uninterested in assisting us with wine choices, food descriptions, food choices or anything other than taking an order. It then occurred to me that servers suffer burn-out too, and this guy epitomized it.
Joe's has a pretty extensive menu that takes some time to absorb. They offered two tasting menus, neither of which we indulged in -- one was their 4 course winter truffle menu for $75, and the other was about an 8-10 course tasting menu that looked very interesting for $68. The menus are a bit overly descriptive (eucalyptus-something emulsion, for example), and sort of overwhelming, and when the server has no motivation to clarify anything without being asked, it was a bit of work to figure out what to order.
However three of us settled on the soup special to start, which was celery root in vegetable base, no dairy, and lumps of unbelievably succulent lobster floating around in it. This was a great dish. My partner started with the "butter poached lobster" appetizer (which I also had) which was very good. The tasting menu also offered a "roasted lobster" with a "chorizo-date" stuffing, which after being pressed to describe, our server offered that the stuffing was a small addition to the half-tail sized dish and we were welcome to delete it if we wanted to. In fact, he offered to allow us to delete anything we wanted from these dishes (when I asked about the lobster in the soup he responded by saying, "well if you don't like lobster, we can take it out," which wasn't what I was wanting to know at all), which I found curious, given the meticulousness and apparent pride in the descriptions.
For mains, I had another appetizer, porcini mushroom ravioli, which was fine, but nothing super distinguished, my partner had a roasted duck appetizer which she liked very much and our friends had entrees: monkfish (which was a nice piece of monkfish) and "crispy chicken," featuring the aforementioned eucalyptus-something emulsion, which John was very intrigued by, unable to identify, but he cleaned his plate nonetheless.
The wine list was--I don't know--off putting? Instead of classifying wines by easily recognizable categories or varietals, it classed them as "aromatic whites," or "chardonnays" (guess NONE of them are aromatic, eh?), or "soft reds." We are all wine collectors and drinkers, and we all looked at the list with varying degrees of puzzlement and vexation, and settled on glasses of mediocre sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, instead of deciphering the list.
The one white that intrigued was a white Guigal Ch. du Pape, which is very hard to find, but I didn't want to pay $100 for it, nor did we want to plunk down $75 for a Montelena chardonnay.
The most our server could offer when he heard our choices was, "would you like to try the Sancerre?" I was the only one mildly interested in that and we chose not to. The wines took way too long to arrive, and when my partner wanted a glass of red to go with her duck, our server was nowhere to be seen, and checked in way too late.
We split two dessserts -- the cheese assortment plate and a rosemary cake. The cheese plate is done very nicely, with 5 cheeses placed nicely apart, and a drizzle of a different sauce leading away from the cheese to the opposite end of the plate where small piles of nuts or fruits were waiting. I would have liked our server to identify each cheese, sauce and nut/fruit, but he delegated the serving task to a busboy who delivered it with no fanfare, and certainly no explanation.
The bill total, including tax and tip (18 %) was $260. That included 3 martinis, 5 glasses of wine, 3 soups, four appetizers, two mains, one cheese plate ($12), one dessert ($8) and three coffees. This was very reasonable, given the amount of food we had --
However, in light of other restaurants such as JiRaffe offering similar cuisine at similar prices, I have to say that I prefer JiRaffe to Joe's at this point. And I think that preference has as much to do with non-food aspects -- the spacing of the tables, the service, the wine list, but I also felt the Joe's food was just a bit too busy. They're sort of on that Josie bandwagon, where they want to feature a variety of themes with each dish. Sometimes that 's a little too much.