Well, after the Virbila mini-review on Thursday, this place has officially become a scene. We had called earlier in the week for reservations for last night (Sat.), but were told that the restaurant was "fully committed" for the evening. Then I was asked when we wanted reservations for. When I replied "6 PM, because we have an 8 PM show to get to," I was told if we got there right at opening, which is also 6, there shouldn't be a problem.
Slightly before 6 PM we walked up to the restaurant and there was a line! I haven't seen a line outside a restaurant (other than Manny's El Tepeyac at lunchtime) in I don't know how long. A line to get into a restaurant in Culver City. For those of us who have lived in the area for over a decade and have watched it grow over the years, that was certainly a unique sensation.
Anyway, for a place just opening, with a lot of buzz, they were operating very well. True to his word, our host led us to a table for two against the wall. Our server, a friendly woman, with a Paltrow-esque vibe, offered us cocktails almost immediately. We asked for a wine and beer list, and were told "it was still at the printer's", so we each opted for a beer on tap: Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam.
I really like the feel of the main room -- the wood burning ovens in the kitchen are fully visible and when flaming, offer a warm, welcoming glow that is also enhanced by the dark woods and large oriental rug. It reminded me of the Darwin (anyone remember the Darwin, way back when, in Santa Monica?), though smaller, and made you feel like you were sitting in someone's very nice living room. Good thought was put into the design and it really works. Though I generally like the feel of pubs, so that was working for me at least.
Overall, the food was not a thrill. Two cute little loaves of garlic bread arrived, with a nice subtle flavor. A little too subtle actually, and we, big bread lovers, didn't bother finishing them. We started with a selection of the cured meats: prosciutto, the winter salami and the soprasetta, all of which were very good, but the bread it is to be served with never came (we were told it was "in the oven," but they never brought it). That we had served with the butter lettuce salad, which was a good size dinner salad, with bacon, bleu cheese and a very good vinaigrette. Actually the salami and the salad together were an excellent combination, and other than dessert, the two best dishes of the evening IMO. By the way, the Ipswich Clams were on the menu last night, for those who have been wondering.
After those two, we also shared the shrimp flatbread and the fish and chips. Both had almost no flavor as far as I could tell, and seemed to be overpeppered with either cayenne or black pepper as something of an afterthought. The breading for the fish, while light and crunchy like a tempura, was too spicy and overwhelmed the flavor of the fish, with the exception of the shrimp. The dipping sauce was excellent though -- sort of a blend of tartar and remoulade almost, with a bit of a kick.
The grilled shrimp flatbread simply didn't work -- the small shrimp had no flavor and the tuscan beans and hummus gave the dish a mushy, bland quality, which was even more obliterated by what seemed to be an at-the-last-minute-because-it-tastes-like-nothing addition of black pepper, and resulting in half the dish being left on the plate. Sorry about the run on sentence there.
We forged on to dessert and shared the pear buckle, which is like an individual warm pear pie, topped with whip cream. Really really good. Right now, Ford's only offers three desserts: the other two are a flourless chocolate cake and butterscotch pudding.
I had a glass of Fonseca Bin 27 Port which was fine --they need a selection of dessert wines however.
Here's my take on Ford as a chef -- he's derivative -- he didn't come up with the organic/original ingredients idea, but he ran with it at Chadwick, and the result was nice, not thrilling food. Similarly, there's really nothing new about Ford's Filling Station -- AOC has been leading the charge on the cured meat craze for a while -- and while Ford's cured meats are certainly nice, they are not house made. Total bill for two pints, the salami plate, butter lettuce salad, flatbread, fishnchips, port and pear buckle with 20 % tip was a little over a hundred bucks. Reasonable prices.
By the time we left at 7:30 PM the place was swarming with people eager to eat there, exchanging industry kisses left and right. When the honeymoon ends, hopefully his food will have made a couple of additional steps forward to become at least a solid neighborhood eatery. Right now, I could see myself wandering in there for a beer and some salami and salad at the bar (though I'm not sure they serve food at the bar), but I would not wait for a table at Ford's.