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Review: Campanile (long)

heinous | Apr 25, 200805:21 PM

I know this restaurant isn't new and has been discussed a lot on the boards, but I've gotten so much great information from people on this board; I'm trying to be better about sharing my food experiences with whomever might be interested.

the occasion:
Casual dinner with good friends Allan, Ron, and Sandra. Tuesday night, 8:00pm.

the arrival:
It was a Tuesday night, so it wasn't crowded. Our reservation was for 8:30, but we ended up getting there at 8:00pm. We were greeted pleasantly by the hostess and seated right away.

the bar:
My friend Allan (a constant partner-in-food and a Scotch lover) got there even earlier and was having a drink at the bar. The Scotch prices were very reasonable. Nice pours, too.

the room:
The dining room was quite empty. There were only a few other tables going. The building was commissioned by Charlie Chaplin as a home for one of his brides, but he himself never lived there. He used the space for offices (presumably after he was on to the next bride). The main dining area used to be the courtyard of the house. It's now covered over with glass, but maintains an outdoor feel because of the archways and the original fountain near the entrance. It's a lovely space, somewhat unique because of its long, narrow shape, but not crowded or stuffy at all. There are private dining areas in the rear and on the second floor as well. The kitchen is open - a row of cooks faces the dining room. The atmosphere in the kitchen was exceptionally quiet. Then again, it wasn't a busy night.

the food:
On the table was bread from La Brea Bakery next door, which was fine. Not particularly different than what you get at the market, so no advantage from it being attached. Really good butter though, which a sprinkling of coarse salt on top.

I started with the beet salad ($15), which was quite nice - a variety of baby beets, baby arugula, carrot ribbons, gorgonzola (particularly good), topped off with prosciutto, all dressed lightly with lemon, olive oil, and salt. There were a lot of beets, which is nice, but actually the beets could have been seasoned a bit more. Allan's foie gras appetizer ($23) was very good. The foie gras was a decent size, nicely seared with a berry glaze - great flavor and texture. Our friend Ron started with the Bibb Lettuce and Herb salad ($11), lemon vinaigrette and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. I didn't try any, but he loved it. It looked great - vey fresh, lightly dressed, simple. His palate is pretty reliable.

For a main, I had the baby lamb ($35) - three medallions and two chubby little chops. Quite a bit of meat, actually. I gave one of my medallions away and ate the other two and was done. I had asked for the lamb rare/medium-rare. The medallions were more a medium, but they were still fine. The chops (which Allan and I ate in the car later) were perfect. Really nice flavor on them - your standard garlic and rosemary, but very good. The lamb was on sort of a rough ratatouille of vegetables - good flavor and texture. Pan juices to moisten.

Allan's grilled prime rib ($38) was excellent. Perfectly rare with a great crust, which is hard to achieve. I personally didn't care for the tapenade crust (I just don't like that flavor), but it was a unique take on a grilled steak. The portion size was substantial - I would say at least 16 oz. It came with stewed flageolets on the side. They were only OK, and I didn't really feel that they related to the dish. It was just a beautiful piece of meat with a bunch of beans next to it.

Ron had the braised short ribs ($32). They were very good. As with most short rib dishes, it was moist and tender with a heavy sauce of reduced braising liquid. The ribs themselves were nicely gelatinous, but quite fatty - it seemed more so than usual. As he cut into them, a pool of oil collected around the plate. Portion size was good. He didn't finish, and he's a big guy. (Allan and I also ate the remains of this in the car later.) The side was a mushroom risotto. Not bad, but a bit mushy and bland. It really picked up a lot of the oil on the plate, so it got quite greasy. But still tasty. :)

Ron's wife Sandra had the hand-made papardelle ($23). The pasta itself was fine, but could have used a bit more seasoning in the dough itself. It was simply dressed with tomatoes, burrata (I think), and herbs. Nice. She really enjoyed it, but she likes her food a bit bland.

On the side, we ordered sauteed pea tendrils with crispy garlic ($8). This was fine, well-seasoned and with good garlic flavor, but not different or better than a similar dish at a Chinese restaurant.

We opted out of dessert. Too full! The portion sizes were substantial.

the wine:
The list is extensive and covers the US, Europe, and Australia well, with a few selections from South America. They had an Alsatian dry muscat, which I've been looking everywhere for. But it wouldn't have matched the food. I chose a the 2003 Topanga Vineyards Syrah from California's Central Coast ($65). It was a nice and full-bodied, fruity and on the sweeter side. It was quite an easy-drinking wine and worked well with the food. Sandra typically finds red wine too challenging, but enjoyed this one. We had two bottles.

the service:
Our waiter was tall and trim with gray hair and a distinguished look. He was pleasant enough, but at times, I couldn't tell whether he was being condescending or clever - but it didn't matter. He was attentive but unobtrusive, and we had everything we needed.

the bill:
$410 (all inclusive) for 4 people.

It was a very pleasant dinner that actually surpassed my expectations. I would return. However, for the same price, a more unique experience can probably be had elsewhere, depending on what you're looking for. Next time, I would try the Thursday Grilled Cheese night, Friday Night Flights, or Monday Night Supper.

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