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Restaurants & Bars 7

Nook: ( somewhat long) Report Back

susancinsf | Feb 16, 200802:58 PM

In the thread below:


I asked for recommendations for a mid-range, celebratory spot for a family group with diverse tastes, on the west side, and based on several recommendations, decided to try Nook on Santa Monica Blvd. Overall, it was a thumbs up, and fit the bill quite well. I will return and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it myself.

Based on the descriptions I got from the LA hounds, I was afraid the atmosphere might be less than ideal though the food sounded wonderful. As it turned out, the atmosphere was a hit, food was mostly excellent but not uniformly so....(but more on food in a minute).

But first, a bit of background: part of my goal here was to get my daughter and her husband, who have lived on the west side for a few months now, to start to really appreciate the local food scene. This is of course partially out of selfishness: I plan to be spending lots of time in the neighborhood following the pending birth of my first grandchild, (and moreover often find myself at UCLA and environs for work) and would like to eat well while I am down here. But selfishness aside, it appears daughter, SIL and grandchild-to-be may be living here for a while, and I want them to eat well too!

Anyway, I digress, back to the report:

Nook is tucked into a hidden corner of a strip mall, but not that hard to find, and parking in the free lot was easy. Daughter and SIL live nearby, so we managed to arrive a few minutes early for our reservation, and were greated warmly, as if we were long-lost regulars.

I had been warned both in the thread and off line that Nook could be loud with closely-spaced tables, and was encouraged by one hound (off line) to try and request the large booth in the back. I did call and put in a plea for a quiet table, but nonetheless, while we were seated promptly, it was at a table along the side, not a quiet location. However, while perhaps living in SF has led me to low expectations, the table was not at all too close to the ones on either side and was actually quite comfortable. Yes, the room was a little noisy, but we could all hear each other, and the rest of my party said they thought it was a cute and cozy spot. Nice neighborhood vibe, a fairly diverse clientele. Definitely a place I'd want to drop by after work if I lived nearby; one had the sense that a lot of folks were doing just that.

The menu has a lot of sides and both mains and small plates, and is conducing to sharing, which to an extent we did, since our appetites varied quite a bit around the table. The wine list isn't huge, but it has some interesting choices by glass and carafe, and since it turned out wine-loving step-mom had to drive to Ontario after dinner, (and daughter and SIL don't drink) a carafe of Pinot Noir was more than enough...

Before getting to the food, a note about the service: it was consistently friendly and welcoming. Our water glasses were kept full, extra plates and flatware were brought when we indicated we wanted to share, etc.. However, that said, the overall pacing was definitely somewhat off: it took a bit of time to take our order, but then the first apps came out almost immediately, and the mains almost immediately after that (before we were done with our appetizers), to the point where I started to wonder if we were being rushed. Indeed, our server came over and tried to remove my plate twice before I was done....(grrr!) but then when it came time for dessert and then the bill, things slowed to a crawl again...

And one disclaimer: I have been fighting some type of allergy attack or respiratory thing, and my taste buds are a bit out of whack, perhaps partly due to the OTC meds I've been taking. For example, the wine tasted somewhat 'hot' to me but my stepmom thought it was fine (and she is much more knowledgeable and experienced about wine than I am) and some foods seemed a bit overly spiced to me (which is generally not a complaint I am likely to make). So, I offer a warning that my thoughts on the food should be tempered with the awareness that my palate may be a bit skewed this week.

So, finally, the food. Between the four of us, we tried:

-complimentary boiled peanuts brought at the beginning of the meal: we all agreed they reminded us of edamame, and all agreed they could become a minor addiction. thumbs up.

-calamari, fried rings and tentacles in a citrus/vinaigrette, with a creamy wasabi dipping sauce: outstanding! The calamari were flavorful and perfectly tender, perfectly cooked, not at all greasy, as good as I have had in a long time. An A+. The wasabi dipping sauce tasted too heavily of wasabi, but again, I think that could have been just me, as stepmom and SIL both raved about it (and normally I love wasabi. go figure). I'd go back just for the calamari...

-lentil salad, with pickled onions and chutney: the lentils were small and black of the variety that look like caviar, and were absolutely delicious, in a subtle dressing. Nice bed of spinach for the salad also. This dish would have been perfect except that we thought that the overly vinegared chutney overpowered the lovely delicate flavor of the lentils. I ended up scraping much of it to the side. This one I don't think was just me; I think the dish simply wasn't well balanced. Too bad, because it had hints of true greatness.

-Farmer's Market salad and Nook salad: I didn't taste either one but they both got big votes of approval around the table...

-mac and cheese: an absolutely HUGE portion for $7;Daughter took leftovers for lunch today. It was tasty, baked in a style I like (crisped topping, not too much excess sauce), but perhaps a bit on the bland side.

-fries with homemade aioli: again, a HUGE portion. thin fries, these were very good, though they could have been slightly crispier. Even though they were a popular choice we couldn't finish them!

-scottish salmon, served on a base of (I think) polenta: I forget the full description, but I had just a bite (this was SIL's choice). He polished it off and loved it, but I thought based on my one bite that it was overcooked. We debated about the polenta, as my stepmom insisted it was 'just grits'...but it was definitely of a different flavor and texture than the grits i had...I am presuming it had some cheese, though I couldn't figure out what type of cheese ...anyway, I should have been paying more attention to the dish description but wasn't, so can't give you more information than that..

Edited to add: the more I think about it, the more I am not sure what that base was....whatever it was, it was fairly tasteless (to me) served mostly as a presentation and a way to capture some of the sauce...and I didn't get it. But then, I wasn't really trying, since salmon, especially other than wild King salmon in season, is not a huge favorite of mine.

-shrimp and grits: apparently this signature dish is only available at certain times of the year. well, shrimp and grits are fairly hard to come by in my town, so I had to try them. A very generous serving: the shrimp were plump and perfectly cooked, as were the grits, and the sauce (also flavored with linguica) was creamy and delicious, and fairly spicy...yet didn't overpower the shrimp themselves. A big hit.

-key lime pie with blueberry compote and whipped cream: by this point we were fairly full and had trouble finishing even one dessert, but it was nice and tart, and the compote was excellent. I scraped the whip cream of my portion, since I think whipped cream is counter-productive to a good key lime pie. In any event, the texture was more of a cheesecake consistency than a true pie (and the crust was only on the bottom) but it was solid, if not outstanding.

-coffee was very good.

Total for our meal including wine, tax and tip was about $145, and it was more than enough food for four; definitely well within the price range I had been looking for...

So bottom line: a few ups and downs, but a success overall. Next time, I definitely have to try the ribs....

Best of all, this dinner choice did help me meet my goal of broadening daughter and SIL's local west side chow instincts: as we were walking out SIL said to me, 'you know, after eating there, I realize that I really need to start checking out more of the places in my neighborhood. I can't help but wonder what other really great places I am missing'.


Thanks, Chowhounds....

Nook Bistro
11628 Santa Monica Blvd Ste 9, Los Angeles, CA 90025

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