Last night we tried Violet, a little restaurant on Pico just west of the 10 fwy in Santa Monica.
Always looking for that good neighborhood place , that I won't leave thinking...I could have made that better myself.
Violet has a nice website, we checked it out, and the menu seemed interesting.
I won't go into details about the decor at Violet, I'll just say it is more functional than cozy... the room is large and tables well spaced.
Started with excellent crusty bread, sweet butter and a tiny dish of fleur de sel. All good.
I know that with seasonal / market changes you expect an online menu to be outdated, but the menus we were given were in a completely different "small plates" format. There was no order to the items in the listing, as if they had been "shuffled" This is not indicated on the website, where the dishes are separated into tastes, salads, pasta, meats.
For a "small plates" format, few compelling choices, or things that seemed as if they would complement each other well.
The protein options are served with starches, but are these garnish or sides? It wasn't clear.
We ordered NY Steak ( with carmel onions and fries, $17) and the Duck Breast (with gnocci and wild mushroom ). We wanted to try the mac and cheese, but it seemed redundant with the fries and gnocci. So to get something a little bit cheesy to start we ordered goat cheese wonton. In retrospect we should have ordered a salad or something green, maybe the sauted spinach. But the salads ( including a "Chinese Chicken", which I think of as the default menu item of insecure chefs) just did not tempt us.
The "crispy" goat cheese wontons were oily and reminded me of uninspired catering appetizers, 3 on the plate hidden under microgreens and a ramekin of wilted julienne cucumber in sweet/sour.
The NY Steak was OK, nice onions and a tiny pile of nice crispy fries.
My duck was gristly , and the mushrooms, possibly fresh porcini , included woody chunks of stem, not very appealing. It came with about 6 small gnocci.
Both items are portioned enough that two people could just share tastes, but are on the small side for an entree.
Overall the food was just OK. Not anything I can rave about, and maybe at that price point I shouldn't expect much. We decided that we were better off not having ordered more things to taste, as nothing we tried really sang. Violet seems to be attempting the simple, small menu, small serving formula that works if done right, Hungry Cat would be an example of this working, in my opinion. But none of the flavors and ideas come up to the job at Violet.
I have nothing against "small plates" as a dining option. It's funny but today in the LA Times Food section there is a short article discussing the trend, and mentioning Violet.
I always thought of small plates as the sort of dishes one gets at a tapas bar or osteria. Generally, these places offer a great variety, and each dish is fairly simple, and if you are lucky, sings with its own pure flavor. Then you can pick and choose which combinations you are in the mood for.
I think the LATimes article opened my eyes to what the meaning of "small plates" is to chefs now: an opportunity to do tasting menu type platings. I have never fully appreciated the idea of tasting menus, just too much, and too little, at the same time. If a chef is going to design their menu this way, the flavors and quality need to come up to the concept.