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Disappointment at Canele

Encouraged by the latest comments on chowhound, my husband and I decided to check out Canele in Atwater Village. I had waited a bit after it opened to allow them time to work the kinks out. We are dying for a great neighborhood place near us, so hopes were high.

We arrived a bit after 8 PM on Friday. The restaurant was full - we waited about 30 min and were then seated. My impressions:

Food was well prepared but the menu just didn't seem inspired to me. For one, it seemed unseasonal - it's November and yet the menu says summer (gazpacho, almost all cold apps, fish served with cold salad, etc.) Further, while I thought for the most part the food was well-prepared, the food/flavors just didn't come together.

The service was ok - a bit rushed, which one might expect. In light of that, I would appreciate more information on the actual menu to minimize the need for questioning. For example, the wine list often does not indicate what varietal the bottle is - only where it is from. I did like the environment - cool setting with the exposed brick and open kitchen. Had the vibe of exactly the type of neighborhood spot I long for and feel L.A. does not have enough of.

Thoughts on the specific food:

Pissaladierre (sp?) - an onion tart of sorts with an herb salad - this was good. Not awe-inspiring, but solid. Liked this.

Celery root salad - this was ok, but oversalted--and I am a huge salt fan. Could have used pepper or some other seasoning so it had a flavor other than salt. Even w/o the salt problem, I would not go out of my way to have it again.

Seared calamari - this surprised me because I thought it would be served warm, but instead it was cold and reminded me of an antipasto dish. My husband liked it because he felt it was very fresh. I just didn't think the flavors worked and perhaps also am not a huge fan of chilled calamari.

Snapper w/ blue lake beans and olives - snapper was perfectly cooked. However, the accompaniments added nothing to the fish. There were only a handful of beans, some chopped olives, and then quarters of heirloom tomatoes. I did not expect the tomatoes, and though I think I might have enjoyed this more while dining outdoors when it's 80 degrees out, it left me cold.

Pork with polenta and bitter greens - my husband really enjoyed the preparation of the pork and the polenta was well made. However, we both agreed that overall the dish was not very flavorful, other than the greens.

Overall, a disappointing dinner for us. I would love to see a hot soup on the menu instead of gazpacho--I know it's L.A. but it's still fall--and something other than cold salads as alternative appetizers. The entrees seem ok menu-wise, though obviously we were not thrilled with the accompaniments to the meat and fish.

I really want this place to succeed. Given the crowds, maybe it will anyway.

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  1. Sorry you were disappointed -- I liked the pissaladiere and the calamari quite a bit, and I loved the clams with beans that they offered me because they were out of the snapper. However I agree that they need to step up the wine service a notch, and keep adding to the menu. I think that Canele is a great addition to the neighborhood, although I won't be able to afford to go there very often.

    1. I was there for dinner two weeks ago on Sunday, and my experience was about 180 degrees from yours! We loved it.

      First off, while the menu does still have a summery feel, all the dishes we had that had the heirloom tomatoes were fantastic. One of my friends got the heirloom tomato salad, and it was delicious. Two friends got the celery root salad, and for the most part, liked it (one thought it was a little too garlicky). I had the green salad, and it was one of my favorite salads in a long time. The dressing reminded me of a perfect french vinagrette that you'd be served in a bistro in Paris.

      The entrees -- two people got the snapper, and ate their plates clean (this dish came with the heirloom tomatoes, too, which, despite the season, were perfectly ripe and very flavorful). I got the beef tenderloin, and it was one of my more memorable dishes in a restaurant in ages. The beef was perfectly cooked, and was served with a side of *perfect* potatoes anna and a garlicky roasted brocolli rabe-like green that was to die for. I could have eaten a whole plateful.

      For dessert we had a chocolate cake with ice cream. I'm not a big dessert fan, and I almost licked the plate clean.

      On the down sides:

      -- The portions were a *little* on the small side, but with a starter, an entree and portions of a dessert, I was satisfied at the end of the meal. We were pleasantly surprised by the bill, which came out to around $35 per person including tip (four apps, four entrees, one dessert). However, we did not drink any wine, which probably would have elevated the bill to around $50 a person.

      -- I'd avoid going before around 8 p.m. on Sunday night. We got there a little after 7 p.m. and had to wait close to 45 minutes for a table, because the restaurant was FULL of families with little children, giving the place a Chuck-E-Cheese vibe. I don't know if this was an anomoly or de rigeur for Sunday nights, but personally, I'm not interested in finding out and so will time my visits to avoid such a possibility in the future. Or, maybe they should start taking reservations. Other than waiting for a table, we didn't have any service issues, and found our waiter pleasant, helpful and prompt.

      Over all, I was really impressed with the flavor and quality of the food, and look forward to going back again. One friend who has been there three times already somewhat echoed your concerns -- he said he wants to wait to go back until they update the menu, because he's sampled all the dishes he's interested in trying on the current one.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DanaB

        I concur with your assessment.

        About the tomatoes and the other poster's concern about "seasonality" ... with this year's weather, yes, tomatoes are still in season here in SoCal.

        1. re: Eastsider

          To clarify, had no issue with there being heirloom tomatoes on the menu. Love 'em - and they were ripe and flavorful, just as the other posters said. Issue was IMO they added nothing to the snapper (and in fact were the main side dish despite not being mentioned on the menu). Felt a little disjointed - like when my husband and I buy fish at Whole Foods and throw together a salad on the side, without really putting much thought into accompanying the fish. Clearly I'm in the minority here, so Canele seemingly has nothing to worry about on that score...although, it may have other issues b/c I did see a few dishes sent back during our dinner.

      2. Did anyone notice a sort of plug on "Brothers & Sisters" a few weeks ago -- Rachel Griffith character had purchased caneles. It seemed to me that this was an odd thing to drop in the show (had nothing to do with anything) and that it might have been a subliminal plug for the restaurant, like one of the writer/producers had a vested interest in Canele.

        Anyway, back to the food, we haven't been yet -- seems very heavy on fish, is that a correct assumption?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Silverlaker

          It's a pretty spartan menu. Around 6 starters (I recall the green salad, the gaspacho, the heirloom tomato salad, calimari, the celery root salad and an egg dish), and a similar number of entrees (including the beef tenderloin, the pork/polenta dish, the snapper and several others I do not recall). From what I do recall, there are at least two meat dishes. Oh, and they also still have Nonni's garlic and olive oil pasta dish.

        2. No, the main dishes are not heavy on fish at all -- the menu is fairly small and it's basically one of each protein -- one chicken, beef, pork, fish and lamb dish. Normally that kind of menu doesn't appeal to me but everything tasted so good that my doubts were overridden. Not a lot of vegetarian options, though.
          I definitely agree on the Sunday night kids thing, although the night we were there it really emptied out by 7:30 or 8. We thought we'd try going early at 6:30 to avoid a wait, but that seems to be prime kid time on Sundays.

          1. I agree that the accompaniments to the snapper, which I had Sat. nite, were less than inspired. The snapper itself, though, was terrific.

            Among the accompaniments were fresh heirloom tomatoes. If they're serving those as sides, you can be sure tomatoes are still in season, and so gazpacho would not be out of season.

            I also thought the service was excellent. I was disappointed in the wines offered by the glass, though -- not inspired selections and not much variety available.

            The menu tends toward meat, not fish. Of the seven dishes available, there were two beef, one lamb and one pork, and two fish, the snapper and a shrimp paella.