Thanks to all who made suggestions for places near the New Beverly Cinema. We went to The Den at Opaline for the first time and loved it. Went late, around 9:15, and there were plenty of open tables. Sat down, ordered a 1/2 liter of red and noshed on the seasoned nuts that are at every table. We decided that we might want to hit several places in the neighborhood so we ordered light (we had time to kill- the movie didn't start until midnight). Started with the baby beets w/ goat cheese and fresh mint. Beets were sweet and the abundance of fresh chopped mint really complimented the dish. After this we ordered the Sauteed Santa Barbara Sardines with Fingerling Potatoes, Lemon & Parsley and the Warm Mushroom Salad w/ Arugula, Reggiano and Citrus Vinaigrette off of the regular appetizer menu, and the Duck Confit, Red Onions, Arugula and Raclette Cheese pressed sandwich off the Den menu. The Sardines were very well sauteed (maybe slightly overdone) but their oiliness went so well with the warm, round flavor of the potatoes. When the waiter brought the sandwich, we had 2 plates (both of which had a whole sandwich on it) and said "I put 1/2 of the duck and 1/2 of the mushroom sandwich on each plate so you could each try both." We told him that we had actually ordered the warm mushroom salad, not the sandwich, and he didn't miss a single beat and said "oh, that's alright. These sandwiches are so good I would love for you to try the mushroom one, on me!" It was such a nice gesture and he brought the salad out about 90 seconds after that. Both sandwiches were great- a bit oily but they come with these amazingly vinegared, pickeled veggies (carrots, bell peppers and red onions) that could cut the oil on anything. I mean they are make-your-cheeks-hurt vinegary but so addictive! Such a great compliment to the duck sandwich which was filled with tender chunks of confit and was on crisp grilled bread. The mushroom salad, however, was the real winner of the meal. The combo of fresh arugula, the seasoned warm wild mushrooms, shaved reggiano and orange wedges was a match made in heaven. We ate every last bite. Service was excellent, atmosphere was nice and relaxed, and the food was great. 1/2 liter of wine, 2 small plates and 2 appetizers (+ complimentary sandwich) = $60 before tip. Great deal.
Since we had the extra sandwich we didn't really want more food but decided to go up the street to Grace for more wine and a little dessert. We sat at the bar and nibbled on their seasoned almonds; husband went for the marinated olives. We ordered a 1/2 bottle of zin and husband got the Vegan Caramelized Banana and Hazelnut Cake w/bitter chocolate sauce and hazelnut cream while I opted for the famous Jelly Doughnuts w/vanilla custard and buttermilk strawberry ice cream since I had heard so much about them. The cake was very good but similar to banana bread. The doughnuts were downright mind blowing. Three perfectly fried pillows of dough coated with sugar with a bowl of not-to-sweet vanilla custard and a small scoop of ice cream. The "jelly" in the doughnuts just poured out when you cut into the doughnut and tasted like the sweetest strawberries- pure and fresh. This alone is worth a trip back. But at $95 for 2 desserts, 1/2 bottle of zin and 2 glasses of cab, we probably can't go every weekend!
Saturday night was my best friend's bridal "shower," which I had just planned as a nice dinner out with close friends. After spending the last 2 weeks thinking of a place, I decided on Bistro Verdu- I had been there once and liked it, it's clear that the hounds love it, and none of my 3 companions had been there before. Seemed like a nice and quaint place to gab with the girls and eat some good food. Good choice, right? I couldn't have been more disappointed. Surprising, I know. After being there and reading all of the reviews I thought it was a slam dunk. Not so. Bad....horrible. Maybe the fact that it was a special occassion made it seem worse (I had even mentioned the occassion when I called to make the reservation. We had 7:30 reservations for 4, waited outside for over 35 minutes before FINALLY getting seated. Still not too upset at this point because hey, it's a small place and people linger. Started off well with the cheese plate (which inexplicably were missing the seasoned pecans that the menu said it came with) and the rock shrimp ceviche. The cheese was good and came with a basil marmalade which went well with all of the cheeses. The ceviche was also quite good and were really accented well with roasted bell peppers. The bread basket was not so great- we were so hungry when we arrived that we dove into it only to find slightly stale and dry french bread. Anyway, three of us (including the bride) ordered the salt roasted pork Tenderloin Prime Rib with Apple Butter and Horseradish Au Jus, while one ordered the Grilled Salmon with a corn salad mix. The three of us waited excitedly, picturing a nice soft and tender piece of meat surrounded by a slighty spicy meat reduction. What we ended up with was 3 rounds of tough, extremely salty pork laying in what appeared (and tasted like) cranberry sauce- red, fruity and sticky sweet. No Au Jus on this one. The pork was so salty that it was practically inedible. When the waitress came to ask how it was, I had to be honest and told her nicely that we really couldn't consume this since it was so salty. She was very understanding and offered to change our order- so we all did (and trust me, we were red-faced and felt awful but she made us feel much better- i would have kept it if it wasn't like eating a salt lick) and decided on the steak. Steak came and we again rubbed our hands together in anticipation.......the steak was black. Burnt. Crusty. Chewy. Again, inedible. So we ate our 5 spears of asparagus that it came with (it didn't come with anything else), skipped dessert and called it a night. The salmon was "just ok" according to my friend. The steak was so bad that it made me regret sending my pork back because at least I could have eaten the potatoes it came with. I left a 30% tip to the waitress so she would know that it had nothing to do with her (she was bound to see the three uneaten plates of steak) and left. I don't know what happened, but I'm pissed because let's face it- a best friend's bridal shower won't happen again and I wanted it to be special. As much as I hate to close the door on a place that is close to home and reasonable, I'm afraid I won't be going back anytime soon.
The next morning hub and I went to Cafe Du Village on Larchmont. I think the sheer beauty of their blueberry pancakes made up for the bad experience at Verdu the night before. Fluffy and just bursting with fresh blueberries; crisp on the edges and tender on the inside. I could just wrap myself in one of them. Good coffee too.
Cafe Du Village
139 1/2 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA