We were the first ones in, and others flowed steadily in throughout the night. Very casual, relaxed, simple decor. I noted a bit of the "opening jitters" vibe with some of the waitstaff, but it didn't deter or detract at all. In fact, I appreciated how down to earth and relaxed all the waitstaff were, no stuffiness at all and a genuine enthusiasm about their job, which is hard to find in L.A.
The menu is tiny, small wine list too but everything well chosen and everything on the menu sounded fantastic. We started with a couple cocktails...I had a strawberry/black pepper/vodka concoction and my girlfriend had a pomegranate/bitters/prosecco fizzy thing. They were both good...mine was a touch weak and didn't really detect any black pepper (I have a weird thing with super pungent, mouth filling flavors so it's hard to find things that are quite up to par for me that others wouldn't find offensive)
We ordered the octopus and croque madam as our apps, and the seabass and hangar steak/short rib for entrees. Our amuse bouche promptly arrive; a devilled quail egg mixed with smoked trout, and a tomato/watermelon/coconut water shooter. This was a highly unusual but fabulous combination I never would have thought of...the smoked flavor of the trout and the smooth, mouth filling sweet nutiness of the coconut was absolutely fantastic. Like a previous poster said, I could have eaten a few of these. We did wines by the glass that night, we started with a Nuit St. George and a Marlborough Blanc. Bread was fabulous, sinfully soft and crispy with a little melted parmesan or gruyere on top. They were almost like croissant rolls.
Our apps came out promptly. I was somewhat disappointed in mine. Nothing was particularly wrong with it. The charred octopus lacked a little flavor. It was very fresh and properly cooked, as were all the veg, but there was no theme in the dish, nothing stood out. It was octopus, fennel, hearts of palm and other odds and ends mixed together on some sort of root puree, with threads of citrus zest on top. It was very very light and delicate, perhaps a little overly so. I think if the octopus had a little more char on it or some of the veg had been caramelized it would have helped give it some oomph.
My girlfriend's croque madam stole the show. It was hamachi and prosciutto on I think brioche, perfectly browned with a creamy/mayonnaisey vinaigrette drizzled all over. Hamachi and prosciutto...never would have thought. The prosciutto was so perfectly thinly sliced that the sweet and saltiness didn't overpower the fish, it was absolutely perfect balance. Really delicious.
By this time more people were trickling in, the usual mixmash of trendy and underdressed found in L.A. I'm sorry, but I can't help but feel a little annoyed at the whole tshirt and shorts thing...I think it's highly disrespectful towards the restaurant. So much effort and painstaking detail is given toward the diner in fine dining, the least one could do is show up in something that fits in the environment better than thrift store ware.
We chatted a bit with our server whose name escapes me, she was very good and friendly. She was knowledgeable about wine pairing and helped me narrow down my choices for the entrees. We went for a Sangiovese Romagna and I think a Burgundy which I can't remember.
Our entrees arrived. My seabass was cooked perfectly. When I say perfectly, I mean it was cooked on one side, the skin was perfectly flat, not curled and shriveled, the skin was wafer thin and crispy, the flesh side was medium rare on the surface, medium in the middle, and it was seasoned perfectly. It was one of those things that takes some serious time on a fish station to master. The rest of the dish followed suit; absolute harmony. It came with creamy coconut rice studded with crab, and some sort of sweet onion cooked way down but not caramelized, and oven dried tomatoes. The crab rice was delicate and light and accented the fish, while the tomatoes provided errant bursts of acidity to cut the richness of the rice. I was in heaven. My partner's beef was just as good. The steak was cooked perfectly, I think maybe sous vide? It was cooked the same temperature all the way through, as if by slow and low. The short rib was fatty and melting, all of this over smoked potato puree and some onions, maybe the same as on mine...very very good. The wines were perfect...the entrees were perfect...food coma time...
We were listening in on the diners next to us, and it seemed almost everyone were fellow industry folks. The guy next to me was a chef de cuisine in the valley, the table in the corner seemed like restaurant owners, the people two tables over were chef/owners I think. Everyone seemed very pleased, a good sign. The guy next to me had the foie gras, and I did spot a vein he pulled out of the terrine...nonetheless he pronounced it fantastic.
For dessert we had the beignets and the chocolate/peanut butter souffle. I would agree with the "naughty on a plate" a previous poster described it as. What was it served with? I can't even remember anymore...things get a little hazy here. I remember the beignets were fabulous. Crispy, chewy, sugary, yeasty, heavenly little doughnuts with a eau-de-vie ice milk, which was a surprising little punch of anise. We had a Sauternes and ...it wasn't a Banyuls...but another french red dessert wine, it escapes me, but it was fabulous with the chocolate.
Coffee (french press!) and an espresso and one of the most pleasureable dining experiences I've had since L'Auberge Carmel, tax, tip, came out to about $245. I consider that very reasonable based on how much we had. 3 courses, wine pairing, cocktails, coffee...I've spent the same at Lucques and it didn't even compare.
I saw Quinn and Karen afterward and they were quite possibly the two most down-to-earth chefs I've ever met. Quinn emphasized to me, "Yeah, we're just trying to take out a lot of the pretention that's out there right now." I think this attitude is reflected in the service and food, and it was really refreshing to hear. I'll definitely be back here soon.