Went out with some old friends this weekend and had a really nice dinner at Em Bistro (8256 Beverly Blvd., across from Pan et Vino, (323) 658-6004).
Arrived at 6:30 for a 6:45 reservation and were seated immediately at a nice corner table. Obviously, not directly related to the food, but first thing I noticed was that the chairs in their dinning room are really comfortable. As I've aged and fallen further and further out of shape (thanks, in part at least, to this board), I've noticed that sitting for two hours or so while dining, my back, legs, etc., start to hurt; for me, the chairs at Em eliminated this problem. Also, the space is nice -- modern art on the walls, warm, soft lighting, soothing colors. The music was a bit loud, but midway through our meal they turn off the piped in sound as a live jazz band started playing in the next room, which made the sonic atmosphere more enjoyable. (At this point, I know I must sound like a genuine old fart, but, most of the time, I like to be able to hear the people with whom I'm dining.)
So, on to the actual eating. No amuse, but bread (olive and some sort of artisanal white) were served with butter and a tapenade made (I think) with eggplant, tomato, onions, garlic. The bread was actually one of the few things we were served that I didn't much like. It just wasn't super fresh or terribly tasty. Too bad, because the tapenade was quite good, and I would have liked to have had a better way of getting it from the little bowl it came in to my mouth.
Appetizers -- I started with an appetizer size of their pasta special, which was spectacular (and for which, looking over the bill today, I realize they neglected to charge me). Sautéed fresh chanterelle mushrooms, baby asparagus, tossed with homemade tagliatelle pasta. I love it when someone takes a couple of simple, fresh ingredients like this and combines them in a careful, intelligent way. This dish just shined. Also sampled some of the other apps that were ordered -- crispy fried oysters were crispy and juicy, lobster bisque was okay, but the sherry overpowered the lobster flavor, and foie gras with fig compote, which was sweet and rich and satisfying -- one of those dishes that fills up your mouth with flavor and makes you forget there are people around you for a second or two. Didn't try the Missus's spinach salad with caramelized pears or apples or something, but she said it was good. Also, saw somebody at another table order the homemade potato chips appetizer, which looked amazing and will be ordered on our next visit. Apps were in the $8-$12 range.
As for the mains, I had short ribs, served over creamy polenta with a reduction sauce and sautéed broccoli raab. I'm trying to avoid hyperbole here, but this was one of the best dishes I've had in months. The meat was meltingly tender, the polenta creamy and comforting, and the broccoli raab perfectly cooked and delicious. I absolutely loved every single element of of this dish, and they combined perfectly. I will be dreaming about those short ribs for weeks. Other items sampled (by me anyway) were the meatloaf, which was good but in which the bell pepper overpowered the meat a bit, and seared scallops with artichokes, which were very good. The main courses ranged from $20 to $30.
Desserts were good but not amazing. A solid tart tatin good caramel flavor with a nice homemade tasting vanilla ice cream, and a pear crisp, also with vanilla ice cream. I had a glass of a good house cab with dinner, and shared a port with my wife over dessert and coffee/tea. Others had cocktails and/or glasses of wine. Total cost of festivities for four, including alcohol, mineral water, and tax, was around $260. Service throughout was friendly and competent. (Also, I noticed that they have free corkage one day a a week -- Tuesday I think.) All-in-all, a fine meal that left me eager to return.