French weekend: La Vie en Rose(mead), La Dijonaise - 'way long.
- Will Owen Jan 15, 2007 01:48 AM
We were all celebrating sister-in-law's birthday, mostly in French because that's what she is. Had 7:30 reservations last night at La Vie, and good thing too as the joint was packed, first time we'd ever seen it so. It was good to see them doing so well, but while the quality of the food and the friendliness of the service were both as good as ever, the ball kinda got dropped a lot in all the confusion: we pre-ordered our Grand Marnier soufflés at the beginning, as they ask you to, four of them. Somehow this got translated into ONE, so at the end of the meal we had to sit for another twenty-plus minutes waiting for the soufflés, while our espressos (which had come immediately) got cold...and I'm afraid they weren't particularly good even when they were hot. However, the other items were beyond reproach: the soup, a cream of lentil, was both rich and light; the salads perfectly crisp and perfectly dressed as always (though I do wish they'd bring them at the end, in proper French style!). Two of us had the sea bass and pronounced it wonderful; the rack of lamb was a generous five-rib portion for just $18, about what you'd pay for a fresh one from your butcher, and its consumer called it scrumptious; my roast leg of lamb was rare and delicious, with gratinéed potatoes in cream and some garlic-butter-drenched, crunchy-tender green beans on the side. The parents got the sweetbreads as they usually do and sucked'em right up, which I took as approval. Not being a soufflé person I got my regular chocolate mousse, and Mrs. O happily lapped up a Peach Melba. That plus a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages came to...who knows, since Pops never lets us see the tab, but no entrée was over $18, and most were around $16, so I'd guesstimate under $200 for the six of us, tip and all. Oh, and I must say that the bread is hugely improved over what they'd had before, certainly due to the proliferation of French-bread bakeries in the neighborhood.
Today we did a family field trip to Surfas in Culver City - Birthday Girl had been taken there once by one of her daughters, but neither her husband nor the parents had ever been. After a pleasant hour or so of browsing and shopping, we thought we'd give La Dijonaise a try, just up the street in the Helms building. At 1:00 the place was mobbed, so it took us a good half-hour to get a table for six, but as regular weekend dim-summers we're used to that. The rest of the family was delighted to find that our waiter's French was pretty good, so they made him speak and answer to it almost exclusively. At least he got a break with me...anyway, we put in an order for two merguez sandwiches (BDG and her husband), a paté sandwich (Mrs. O), French dip (Maman), and a pan bagnat (yo!). Pops looked up from the breakfast menu, which states unequivocally that service stops at 11, and asked if he could still get Eggs Benedict? Certainly, said the waiter, and so it was, and I must say it was a most attractive dish, and stunningly cheap ($5-something) besides, with real poached eggs and some delicious-looking cottage fries. All of the sandwiches met or exceeded expectations; mine was pretty good, with a good mix of tuna, HB egg, olives, tomato, red onion and lettuce on a split baguette, but lacking that nice oiliness one gets in the original Niçois version. Came to the unavoidable conclusion that they'd gone and used WATER-PACKED tuna - yuck ptooey! - in a misguided attempt to make it "healthier". Next time I'll bring my own can of tuna in olive oil from Surfas...
Of course we had to go check out the pastry counter, and wound up getting a good representation of the offerings: a lemon mousse tart, raspberry cream tart, mango mousse, cheesecake, and a spiky-looking concoction of chocolate ganache with cream in the middle. Espresso again, a little better here, and another concealed tab paid by Pops to a chorus of "Mercí, Papa!" This included all that I've mentioned, sandwiches mostly in the $6.50 range, along with three beers and an iced tea, so I haven't a clue. If you want to figure it out, go to <http://www.ladijonaise.com> and look over the menu; they DO have their prices included, a practice that should be more common.
Actually, I had estimated the tab at La Vie for the six of us to be about $300. We did, after all, have hors d'oeuvres (Snails), wine, main course, dessert.... Putting on my critic hat, I was disappointed to see that many of the snail shells were broken, and they were served at any old angle, upside down, etc. You'd never see that in France. Snails should be gorgeous recipients of golden-green butter that can be slurped from the shells once the little ex-inhabitant has been picked out. That said, they were good, although they could have used more garlic and shallots. The rack of lamb was delicious, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and pre-cut from the bone. My only disappointment was that I was in public where I was too shy to pick up the little ribs with my fingers, and gnaw on them.
But Will is right on with the rest. The Merguez sandwich at La Dijonaise was delightful. The merguez were very high quality. The merguez you get in France tends to be the North African version of "The Jungle", with all sorts of little undefinable crunchies in them. These were of uniform consistency, with just the right amount of spice an seasoning.
All in all, a delightful weekend, rife with discoveries. (for me, anyway)
Welcome, amuseguele. And thank you for not calling yourself "amusebouche", though of course I know you'd never do that!
I did forget to mention the three(?) orders of escargot, though that did figure in my tab calculations; I was sort of guessing at the snail price, as I'd failed to note it while I had the menu in front of me. Thanks for commenting on them, and for the evaluation of the merguez.
You DO need to get over that reluctance to pick up bones in public...I should take you to Tennessee!
Yeah, I've brought it up a few times, both a review or two and responses to queries about area French joints. To reiterate the gist of most of them: this is not cutting-edge cooking at all, but it is done well with fresh ingredients. The cost-cutting shows up in the fact that just about every plate has exactly the same accompaniments, and the coffee (as I noted) is less than superb. The decor is about two degrees fancier than the church basement where your Kentucky cousin had her wedding reception, too. On the other hand, you're getting good honest oldfashioned French food at bargain prices, the staff is friendly and eager to please, and you really don't have to dress up unless you have an urge to.
Most of the entrees are under $20 and come with soup, salad and tea/coffee. I'm not sure I can find this quality of French food at a lower price.