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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.

            1. I have been back 3 times, and am giddy that we have this restaurant in our neighborhood. The food is really high quality, and prepared simple and very fresh. We arrived at 8 on a Friday night the last time, and the place was full. The hostess offered us the only two top they had, or a spot at the bar. She was very kind. We took the spot at the bar, and we thought the best seat in the house because we could see the action in the kitchen the whole time. We had the pork chop with polenta and greens, and the steak with broccoli and potatoes. Both were excelent. The pork was cooked perfectly, the polenta very creamy. The steak was a filet, and served with broccoli that was pan fried with garlic-great. We got smart and ordered a bottle of wine this time instead of by the glass. We were too full for dessert. I really love this place, the vibe the food and the staff. Im sure the menu will change often, to me it seamed very seasonal. I was at the Hollywood farmers market last week, and there were still alot of farmers with heirlooms.

              1. Have now been three time as well and each venture was a delight, starting with the most gracious hostess in the city through to the offbeat service and solid cooking. Exceeds Blair's by a bunch!

                1. Had a so-so meal there two or so months ago. The Paella was just not good. Bland and overcooked. I was looking for salt and pepper. And I never salt or pepper anything. I thought the design of the space was somewhat stirring and brave, but the food was such a letdown. I live two blocks away and haven't been back since.

                  Does anyone know if they've closed down? I driven past recently and not seen them open.

                  Not that I want to go back. Just curious.

                  1. In regard to Canelé in Atwater, I must agree with much of the comments from luswei and meganinlosfeliz... Osteria Nonni's never-changing menu, although predictable but good enough, had worn thin long ago and since I live within one block I was anticipating the pleasure of a cool new place to eat close to home. The menu looked inventive and interesting, though surprisingly limited, and being a vegetarian there was almost nothing suitable on the menu. The first time I went I did like being seated close to the next table (tables are crammed quite close together) reminiscent of European cafes, and initiated an instant conversation with the pleasant people at the adjoining table. On my second visit it prevented me from engaging in conversation with my dinner partner due the unending drama in overwrought valley-girl-speak of the 20-somethings sardined on my right side, fortunately we were at the end of the table so we were spared competition from the left. I ordered a tomato salad the first time I went and the squash salad and Nonni's spaghetti aglio/olio the second time, since that is the only vegetarian entree option. Friends I was with ordered the lamb and the beef bourguignon with noodles. The tomato salad was interesting and good, but the amount served for the price was disappointing... an entire meal could be had elsewhere for the price of this 'appetizer' sized salad. My friend said the 3 bite-sized lamb chops were edible but tasteless and not noteworthy, especially for the price. The second time I went, my other friend had a similar comment about the beef bourguignon, although there was a decent amount served this time, he said it was without flavor. The squash salad was tasty and the merging of squash with caramellized onions created a unique, roasted flavor which both I and my friend quite enjoyed. It was served with a small amount of arugula (?) which seemed a bit of a miss – not enough to make it easily combine with the squash, but too much to be a garnish. My pasta was overdrained, dry, undercooked, and overloaded with pepperoncini which killed ANY taste of the small amount of garlic... Garlic – the taste of which should the dominant in aglio/olio, was non-existant. Along with that, the pasta water had not been sufficiently salted leaving it flat and when I asked for some parmigiano I was given a small dish with a scant tablespoon which was again flavorless and obviously not of good quality ... at least the owner of Nonni's (who was not Italian by the way) knew how to properly cook pasta and infuse the correct amount of ingredients to create an adequate flavor for each of his dishes (maybe the new owner and staff should have taken some lessons from his cooks before opening). The wait staff was responsive when requests were made, but seemed disengaged and not too concerned about serving the clientele. Overall there seems to be a miscalcuation of ingredient proportions and lack of flavor to the dishes... but for the finale, as we were leaving the owner (?) asked how my pasta was and I replied that it was OK, but not great. She asked why and I politely tried not to get into a lengthy explanation, but she and the chef insisted. When I finally did give them my honest opinion, they became obviously annoyed and defensive, and with a 'what–ever' attitude the owner rolled her eyes and said, "well, thanks for telling us anyway" and turned away... surprising, why ask for and insist on an answer if you don't want to know?? Grow up girl and act professional...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mangiarebene

                      I had a bit of a disappointing experience too. But first, here are the positives:

                      -great atmosphere: i really liked being in that space
                      -salad with parsley, caper, etc: good, although a bit on the salty side.
                      -chocolate almond cake: pretty good, though not my favorite by a longshot
                      -beef tenderloin that my bf ordered: divine
                      -pommes anna (also on bf's plate): worth going back for alone
                      -nice wine

                      Now then, on to my main entree which was the trout. It was terrible. The fish itself had a nondescript flavor and it was waaaay too heavy on the butter. Then there were the other vegies on the plate, which were completely inedible. They had a chemical flavor, and they were totally saturated in oil. Gross. The boyfriend was kind enough to share his delectable meal with me, but I was not happy.

                      When I reluctantly said something to the waitress, she said she would tell the manager, and she also offered a replacement. At that point, I just wanted dessert. I expected a tableside visit from the manager, which didn't happen. And then I expected something on my bill to be comped. That didn't happen either. Our meal wasn't cheap and wouldn't have been even with my entree comped. But the good will from that gesture would have kept me from writing this rant. If you run an upscale restaurant and you find out that one of your patrons really likes the place but had a bad meal (which is exactly what I expressed), why wouldn't you just knock something off the check? It's a customer service thing that makes people feel warm and fuzzy and want to come back. Sure, I could've asked, but I think a place like that should really know better.

                      You know, this kinda wipes out all the positives for me. Bummer. I probably won't be inclined to go back.

                      1. re: icecream4meplz

                        It boggles my mind when restaurants do not comp dishes that patrons not only do not like, but do not eat and verbalize their dislike of. My first restaurant job was at a diner, and I recall my manager comp-ing dishes people had actually eaten 80-100% of (with the caveat we would remember them in case they made a habit of it). And that was at a little diner. I certainly expect better service at a nice restaurant, but often I am disappointed. Canele, as a neighborhood place relying on regular visits, should bend over backwards. I would think comp-ing the dish would be the bare minimum.