So we’d been hearing a lot about Pete’s great mac-n-cheese and other worldly delights from our “lofty” friends and this past Friday after a long, hot week, we decided to give it a try. The SO and I were thinking of a nice cool place to have a wind-the-week-down drink and dinner so we motored on down to 4th and Main around 6:45pm and got a parking spot on the street and a table inside, no problem. Unfortunately, there was no a/c, so maybe that’s why; thankfully there were ceiling fans moving around the warm air. There were handfuls of folks sprinkled throughout the small but stylish dining room, but with the hoopering and hollering (literally) going on at the bar, clearly the crowd was here for happy hour. (Note for the squeamish: the locale is on an [albeit developing] edge of skid row, with a beefy security guard placed prominently at the door).
The heat notwithstanding we settled in and ordered a couple of drinks, which were delivered promptly along with huge glasses of water (always a plus in my book) and we surveyed the tastefully appointed room: floor-to-ceiling windows were left unencumbered while large drapery panels divided the rest of the interior space. Tables and booths were scattered below colorful drippy chandeliers, surrounded by richly painted and stenciled walls, dark wood paneling and oversized mirrors and set upon an antique tiled floor. The whole thing was very “café” and comfortable.
On the menu, I remembered a number of items detailed on this board and elsewhere so we decided to take a sampling (read: make pigs of ourselves). The SO ordered beef carpaccio starter while I opted for the mac-n-cheese (of course), normally an entrée, as an appetizer. Well both were huge. The SO had a full plate of paper-thin melt-in-your-mouth beef with aged parmesan shavings, arugula and fried capers. It may have been the heat or his mai tai, but he thoroughly enjoyed this dish--to the point where I thought he might order another--specifically commenting on how the crunchy capers were a nice foil to the soft meat (I thought it just plain odd but not a caper fan here). Meanwhile, the macaroni and cheese was served up in its own crock, with a considerable portion of baby greens on the side. The bubbly concoction was white and creamy with a light crust. The mix of white cheddar, asiago and goat cheese was smooth and rich, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the fresh tarragon in this dish – traditionally I’m a purist, but the herb really worked here. I finished off the salad but only worked through half of the mac-n-cheese as our entrees were up. Maybe the second martini probably loosened me up so I accepted the entrees crowding out our appetizers, but this normally is a major pet peeve of mine (IMHO the waiter should keep the chef informed to control the flow of dishes).
The SO chose the linguini with tiger prawns, looking forward to the white wine and garlic sauce. Unfortunately, while the shrimp were sizeable and fresh, and the pasta plentiful and cooked al dente, the sauce itself was scant and lacking in flavor – pretty disappointing. On the other hand, my Hellman burger (I guess I should have inquired why it’s called that), was perfectly prepared: medium rare, juicy and nicely dressed. The side of shoestring fries, crisped and tasty, were served in a stainless steel cup with a side of tomato aoli (not very garlicky to me), a presentation simultaneously dramatic and fun. While the sandwich itself sure didn’t seem to be a full 1⁄2 pound of beef as the menu declared it was sufficiently large, especially on the heels of the “starter.” In fact, I was stuffed. With the SO abandoning his linguini, we scanned the dessert menu where I considered the bread pudding, apple strudel, lemon ricotta cake and peach pie but prudently opted out of all; the SO ordered chocolate ice cream, as is his custom (not house-made).
By this time, the lights had dimmed, the bar quieted down and a few more tables filled up, including Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) and his girlfriend/fiancee (?), seated next to us. The owner came by and asked us how everything was yet we had to flag down the waiter for the check. All-in-all, decent service with yummy-ish comfort food. The total with tip was exactly $100. We’d consider going back pre-concert or theatre (intrigued by both the Lake Superior whitefish and the pork chop with potato pancakes) or for a brunch with friends.
Pete’s Café & Bar
400 S Main St
Downtown Los Angeles CA 90013