Yes, I was recently labeled “Gaysian” by an anonymous commenter, but this will not thwart me from proclaiming love for Chef Joseph Mahon – cooking gangster! – and Sommelier Dario Dell’anio at Bastide.
A month and a half of soft opening for lunch and book store hours, Bastide’s kitchen cum reading room produced the finest meal of this young 2010.
For those who haven’t been, or who’ve forgotten since they’ve been closed for the Nth time: there are kitschy decors, then there is Bastide’s interior. A vine-lined wall dissolves into tropical rain forest wall paper, which leads into a chic reading room. From there, one may egress to the garden room lined with pebble, and finally a Frenched double wide curved farm house door. The bookstore’s 2 reading rooms both serve as chow spaces during service.
The few bistro tables in the interior courtyard are granite, and the service pieces cling and clang as the meal progresses… Wait, seriously, let us stop here. Bottom line: the rooms are lovely, and all make you want to watch And God Created Woman film, naked, with a glass of brut.
The new chef, is throwing down mighty bites that is so Cal-French, yet whimsical. Frisee aux lardon? Nay, frisee aux fried f’ing chicken. Spinach Tart? Think creme fraiche of spinach(!) draping puff pastry, with a few hazelnuts and chunks of pancetta thrown in for further texture. Oysters? Topped with ketchup dribbled “freshly” table side. The Andy Warhol Campbell Soup light fixtures seems odd? Wait til you see onion soup with kidney beans and… no cheese.
Having observed the rather generous portions served as mains, and wishing to introduce the menu to another eater without breaking into the non-existent college fund, smaller plates, served “DINK” family style, were chosen. Since the red wine risotto as well as the tremendous scallops were sampled last time for lunch, those two dishes were skipped. The server quickly asked for permission to space, and pair, the courses as the kitchen see fit. Suuuuure!
Did the chef + server do a fabulous job! First up, grilled squid, shaved fennel, cucumber, drizzled with chorizo’d butter. Lightly composed, but tasty, and not overwhelmed by oils. The squid and veggies were warm and unmarred by char. If you like the grilled octopus at Cube, or the grilled cephalopod at Mozza, you will like Bastide’s octopus. This “course” was paired with the oysters, so we had alternating bites from the sea.
Next up, a shared “not a French” onion soup, braised with beef shanks and some kidney beans. There was no baked cheese, but there was a slice of marrow smeared crisped baguette. Keller might be caramelizing Bouchon’s onions for 7 hours, and I might even dislike kidney beans to a huge extend, but this is a fine balanced bowl of onion soup reeking of beefiness, but not in a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder kind of way. Chose to chew the beef shanks, however, and you might find your jaw becoming sore. The transformation of boring onions into something this magnificent borders alchemic.
This meal was finished off with shared frisee salad (with.. uhm.. fried chicken…) and the puffy spinach “tart”. Can we acknowledge the fact that “chicken and frisee” just kills “chicken and waffles”? It’s the carbophobe talking. Perfectly fried chicken, a bit pink inside, juices oozing slowly, not damaging the crunchy tho it was served on bare white ceramics, accompanied the salad. The frisee was lightly seasoned with a creamy buttermilk vinaigrette, and topped with poached egg served broken. Assuming the chicken was dipped in buttermilk, this plate could be renamed: “buttermilk served 2 ways”, or not. And for the Mrs, after the first bite of the bite the spinach tart (seen at the top of the post), she suggested the puff pastry should be marketed and sold as the “Best Crust Ever” at TJ’s. You can put compost on this pastry and it’ll still taste good.
All this, on the first day of dinner service at Bastide. The forever tablemate commented on the perfectly timed pacing, the thoughtful coursing as dictated by the kitchen, and near perfect sizing of all the non-mains for sharing. Adding to all that, the trio of house-baked breads (honey walnut, foccacia reminiscent of Chinese onion rolls, and a sourdough roll), the house churned butter served with a radish (!?), Christofle Hotel silverware stamped with Bastide’s insignia, the attentive, friendly, and not-quite-casual staff, all serve up a fabulous meal.
Dropping the gushy florid prose — I’m loving this place. Driving back down La Cienega, all I can think of is how to make/con/rob more money to eat at Bastide on the regular. Who says money can’t buy [some semblance] of (food) happiness? Restauranteur/director Pytka’s Bently Conti (with the orange rims) can still be seen valeted up front, and he was indeed “in the house” holding court at the Chef’s table, but looking beyond that, there was a meal that turned a crotchey day blissful.
NB: that’s 3 really positive posts in a row. I think that’s enough for Q1 of 2010, and enough to make the haters STFU with the “he hates everything” shenanigans.
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