Friday, January 29, 2010

dineLA: Cafe Was (decent)

My friends K&B tasted a bacon wrapped date from Cafe Was at LA Magazine's Food Event in Malibu last year, loved it and insisted that we try the restaurant proper. Fine by me, it's close to work. It's French food, I can never decline. The dineLA menu and prices looked reasonable so we decided to check it out last night.

The restaurant is owned by Ivan Kane of burlesque show Forty Deuce. The name of the restaurant stems from a neon sign "Always open" that only had the W, A and S letters working. That same sign now lights up the entrance to the restaurant.

The decor is very bohemian and moulin rouge with its dark setting and red booths. Live music starts at 7pm which includes a guy playing on a revolving piano. The crowd is young, Hollywood and trendy. It was fairly empty around 7ish but it appeared that every seat in the main room was filled by the time we left at 9.30pm.

Champagne Suzy with St Germain Elderflower, Mumm Cuvee and lemon twist.
It was served in a huge glass. I usually down bubbly drinks pretty quickly but this lasted me a good 30 minutes. The drink was lovely: bubbly and sweet.

While waiting (alone) for the rest of my party to arrive (20-30 minutes late), I decided to order a canape to hold me over.

Quiche de Canard which is duck confit with herb creme served in a crispy pastry shell. The duck was tender and shredded. The herb creme was rather subtle so the quiche wasn't too heavy. A perfect $4 bite. My guests arrived in time to steal a bite of this.

Gougeres were served in a paper bag and were fresh and airy with a hint of cheese.

Amuse Bouche which included bacon wrapped date with Roquefort and tuna tartare.
Greasy fried bacon with the sweet date and surprisingly mild cheese was a perfect amuse bouche. The tuna tartare was served on a homemade potato chip with a bit of avocado cream and cubes of fresh tuna.

Next up were appetizers. A choice of the soup du jour, beet salad or escargot. The soup didn't sound appetizing (roasted tomato) so none of us ordered it.

Escargots with garlic confit, European butter, capers, lemon confit and brioche en croute.
I liked the portion and the presentation. The snails were soaking in butter and garlic, which is a good thing but I didn't like the addition of capers in the sauce as it added a tartness to the dish. The pastry needed some salt and butter. It wasn't rich and flaky and instead tasted doughy and bland. Such a pity because a good pastry would have made this dish exceptional.

Heirloom Roasted Beets with goat cheese, arugula and lemon oil. Simple and fresh ingredients.

Entrees were served after a unbearably long break. Perhaps I was anxiously waiting because I was a bit dissatisfied with the escargot dish.

Duck Leg Confit with forbidden black rice, heirloom carrot julienne, berry gastrique, hydroponic watercress.
The duck itself was cooked well. Not the most succulent and tender piece but at least it wasn't dry. I was excited to try the forbidden black rice but was disappointed to find that it was tasteless. Where's the salt again?!?

Vintage Natural Short Ribs with ox tail ragu, pinot wine jus, anson mills polenta, pea tendrils and onion confetti.
The meat itself was cooked perfectly. The short ribs were rich and tender. The only thing missing was, you guessed it... salt. I am just surprised by the lack of seasoning. Braised short ribs are usually on the saltier side because they have been simmering in sauce for hours. With the addition of salt, the dish was much improved. In fact, I really enjoyed it after that. Flavorful, satisfying, comforting dish.

Bouillabaisse with bouchet mussels, jumbo shrimp, lobster, halibut, fines herbs, saffron, aioli and fingerling potatoes.
Once again, this needed salt. To be honest, I've never ask for salt in a restaurant but this time, I had to. It would have been a waste of seafood if I didn't enjoy the dish. A couple taps of the salt shaker made the dish so much more flavorful. You really need to season appropriately if you are making a bouillabaisse because the seafood tends to taste mild and sometimes on the sweeter side so you would need some salt to balance it out. I liked the selection of seafood and it was cooked perfectly.

Finally, on to desserts. You can't under season desserts, can you?!? As a mater of fact, yes you can!

Lavender Crème Brûlée with spring berries and rose essence ice cream.
Tasty dessert but not one of the better ones I've had. The custard was a bit thick. I could barely taste lavender in the creme brulee. The original dineLA menu listed a pumpkin creme brulee which would probably have turned out better.

Gâteau de Pain. Warm valrhona white and dark chocolate bread pudding with six-spice ice cream and turkish espresso dressing.
This needed some salt as well because it was bland. I don't think I've ever tasted a bland bread pudding. This did not have the rich, soft, moist consistency of a bread pudding. Good effort on the presentation though. Like the espresso dressing on the side.

Apple Caramel Beignets
Huge triangular pastry that was buttery and delicious. The pastry was fresh out of the oven and the chunks of apple in the filling were warm and sweet. The vanilla bean ice cream had a crunch to it.

Overall, I thought the food was decent. It wasn't great by any means but it wasn't a bad meal. It was also a good deal at $34 for three courses. I really enjoyed the Champagne Suzy. The ambiance at Cafe Was was fun and unique. It'd be cool to have a party there perhaps on the second floor balcony overlooking the dining room and pianist. Dining at Cafe Was is a different experience, something that fits very nicely in with Hollywood. With the right amount of seasoning in their food, the night would have been better.

Hits: duck quiche, gougere, beignet, dining deal, ambiance
Misses: under seasoned food
Rating: **

Cafe Was
1521 N. Vine Blvd.,
Hollywood CA
(323) 466-5400

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