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Sep 26, 2007 10:14 AM

Canelé: Good food, shame about the service...

We finally got out to Canelé in Atwater Village, which has been lingering with Hatfield's and Jar and a few others on the To-Try List for some time now. We got in just after 9:00 P.M. to a restaurant that appeared packed, but they had a four-top for us hidden behind a half-wall on which the menu was written in chalk, tucked sort of in a corner along a banquette.

For some unexplainable reason, I was expecting a room in soft earth tones, some sort of beige or taupe. After all, the place is named for a little golden French baked good. Instead, the walls are painted a vivid scarlet. Bare bulbs hang from the ceiling, hunks of distressed wood appears as beams and tables, and oversized mirrors and photographs line the walls. The décor in no way reminds me of a delicate little canelé - something heartier and meatier like "Steak Frites" would seem a more fitting name. The tables are cheek-by-jowl - "Fat people definitely can't eat here," quipped one friend - and we had to squeeze in to get to our seats.

Unfortunately, our service left much to be desired last night. Our waiter, who appeared to be taking orders for the entire back half of the restaurant, took our drink orders fairly quickly. We told him when he brought our drinks we were ready to order, but, rather than take our order then, he said he'd be right back. But it was not until after we flagged down a bus boy nearly fifteen minutes later and told him we were ready to order that the waiter made he way to us - this after much waving of hands and menus towards anyone to get their attention. We had been sitting over twenty minutes at this point. As he made his way to us, he stopped at two other tables that had already been served just to check on them - this really did not make the table of hungry customer who had been gesticulating like air traffic controllers for a third of an hour happy. After we placed our order, one of our party inquired if there we could have more bread to stave off our hunger: They had just run out.

I was the only one with a starter - I had the pissaladière - and it arrived fairly quickly. From the time I finished my starter, it took another twenty minutes for all the plates for the whole table to come out, so we were famished. (They really should not have a clock in view of the diners.) We decided for dessert, too, and, again, the hand-and-menu-waving routine went into effect, until we realized that the only real way to get service was to snag the bus boy. One friend believed that our waiter was just standing at the espresso machine with his back to us long enough hoping we'd just give up wanting anything more. While the front of the house had the hostess and another waitress pitching in to serve a much smaller area, the back section had one waiter selectively serving taking orders, one guy bussing, and one woman hanging by the register, talking to the waiter, chatting with guests, and not doing much else.

It has been a long time since I've wanted to cut my tip below fifteen percent. Even when were put in the back room at Osteria Mozza, I cut it to fifteen percent on the dot. But last night, we all agreed to cut it back to around ten percent. This restaurant was too small for us not to be seen, and the tables right beside us got really excellent treatment as we were told to wait. The theory we formulated was that our tip was sacrified while others were puffed up. Honestly, there was no reason the relatively simple meal should have dragged out the two hours it did.

So would I return to Canelé after all that trouble? Yes. Because the food was really good.

The wine list is short but interesting, with California, France, and Italy represented. (For champagne fans, it's nice to see that one can get a glass of Drappier for $12 here.) There is also a short selection of beers for $4 each, with one at $6 for a pint. We had a good white Bordeaux at $28 for the bottle, but stemware sticklers should be forewarned: Canelé uses stemless Riedel O glasses.

The menu is short and simple, and someone expecting French cuising from the French name is in for a disappointment. Aside from the pissaladière and boeuf bourgignon, the food is simple American bistro food. The pissaladière with herb salad is a small onion tart. The onions are wonderfully sweet, and the pastry is buttery and flaky. It could almost be dessert. This was a hit with everyone at the table. The herb salad was really just flat-leaf parsley tossed with lemon and olive oil, nothing to write home about. One change from the online menu is that gazpacho has replaced the chilled potato-leek soup. I spied the heirloom tomato salad on a neighboring table, and it looked really delicious.

Two of us each ordered the Nonni's aglio olio, a big plate of vermicelli with parsley, garlic, and olive oil. A ramekin of grated parmesan came on the side for use to add to our taste. The pasta was cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of garlic. It was perhaps a bit oily, but it really hit the spot. In each of our dishes, we had a little piece of a pepperoncino. Both of us who ordered it agree that, if we order it again, we'll ask for more pepperoncino next time.

One diner go the oven-roasted pork chop with mashed potatoes and cabbage and apple slaw. (She was persuaded to get it instead of the roast chicken after another diner proclaimed, "No one goes out for chicken!") The potatoes were creamy with small lumps for authenticity, not elastic or overmashed. The slaw was slightly tart and refreshing, and the pork chop was just slightly pink inside. The delicate flavor of the pork really came through, making for a really excellent comfort meal. Our other friend got the beef tenderloin with pommes Anna and creamed spinach. The flavorful tenderloin came rare and fork-tender, but the pommes Anna - a sort of cross between a potato pancake and a gratin - was the real hit. Available as a side dish, I won't miss that dish next time.

We tried three of the desserts. One person claimed the peach crumble "tasted like potpourri." I thought it was fine, if a bit uninteresting. The flourless chocolate cake with toffee was like a big, fancy brownie. (Both came with vanilla bean ice cream.) The orange butter cake (my choice) was definitely the more interesting choice, but it was also the least favorite at the table. It tasted of orange and butter, and there was a tartness to the crème fraîche on top. But something about it was just a bit odd. We all agreed that next time, if we want dessert, we'll have the flan.

Or we'll just grab fistfulls of canelés. There was a whole tray of them. It doesn't appear that anyone was taking them. I was the only one who was looking for them from my group. A friend went back for them, and the waiter offered to back the whole tray - maybe about thirty - of them up for her. (Now that the restaurant was completely cleared out, it was easier to give us service.) The canelé at Canelé are small, about a third of the size of the ones at La Brea Bakery or Boule. There was one larger one that was darker. I thought it might be chocolate; it turns out it was just burnt. The flavor of Canelé's canelés are bland, the texture more dense. They aren't the uniformly smooth, light pastries from La Brea Bakery or the wobbly, decadent ones from Boule. But I suppose that's okay. They really are an afterthought.

Hopefully Canelé can get the service issue together. There was a huge table in the front window having a good time, and most other tables seemed to be getting good attention. We were the last table to come in for the night, so Canelé is probably not the best place to walk in for dinner after 9:00 P.M. We were also the hardest table to get to, but certain things, like stopping to schmooze other tables on the way to take our order, were genuinely unacceptable. But nothing crossed our table we didn't like. The entrées, the wine, and the pissaladière were all things we loved. "I'd like to come back and sit at another table," someone said. And that's how we all felt. Canelé has great food, and we're going to try and see past one night of poor service.

Dinner for four, with one starter, four entrées, three desserts, one bottle of wine, and two beers, was $135.30 before tip. Street parking is ample.

3219 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039

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  1. Have also had service issues from time to time as the place gets slammed from about 7-9pm every night except Monday when closed. The big table in front, window adjacent, is the communal table, and thus not one check, but it might represent 3-4 different checks, and potentially 2, maybe 3, different waiters covering those checks. Thus the staff is running from front to back to kitchen frequently. A couple of servers are quite good, while others need to keep more focused on the business at hand.
    Fortunately, the food is so good in a comfort food kind of way and Jane and Corina are two of the nicest owners you will ever want to get to know. Never had a dish that I would not want to reorder, save maybe the herb salad due to its simplicity. Corkage here is another wine option that should not be overlooked either.

    1. I've now been to Canele 6 times and I'm happy to say that I have no need to go back again..thank goodness a new place opened in the spot that used to be Bistro Verdu.
      See, Canele has been a handy spot to go to after teaching classes 2 blocks down the street. Their food is good but the service has always been BAD, sometimes, horrible, once, laughable. I wound up having to go there when Bistro Verdu closed, and 1-2 days a week, I have no energy to cook.
      I've gone back because of the location, the simple and fresh salads, and being able to get a single glass of refreshing Prosecco...oh, and the cute caneles at the end of my meals.
      Now that BASHAN opened in the old Verdu spot, my tummy and my sainity have been saved the torture I have endure at Canele.
      I really wanted to like the place because I had many many many great years/meals at NONI, unfortunately, the service never got any better since they opened.
      Oh well, they'll do well thanks to the location and the good food.

      3 Replies
      1. re: tatertotsrock

        Bashan, eh? I'll look into that. Canelé was a pretty quick drive from me in Guatema–, er, MacArthur Park and my friends in Eagle Rock, so having more options in between are always good.

        1. re: Woolsey

          Hi Woolsy,
          I'm in love with this place...I feel like a stalker! I went again for dinner last night.
          Finally tried the corn ravioli. Holy sh!t!!! They were soooo good.
          Had a class of Albarino with my John Dory w/Mexican Shrimp and Bacon-y goodness...oh, and I almost forget, had the oysters too...mmm!
          You'll love it!

          1. re: tatertotsrock

            It may be some time until I get there, though. I mapped it, and it's in virtually in La Cañada. I don't think I've ever gone to La Cañada...

      2. I was with woolsey at Canele and his account for the service seems a little inaccurate. In fact, it was much worse. When the bus boy notified the waiter that we were ready to order, after waiting almost 30 minutes, he makes his way over to us. BUT he stopped to chit chat with two other tables! Like there was a 40 minute mandatory wait for ordering and we were shy 10 minutes. If the food wasn't so darn tasty, I'd never return.
        The pork chop was perfect!

        5 Replies
        1. re: jocey

          We gotta find out what that Club Tee Yee is across the street. Any bar with a name and neon sign like that demands further investigation...

          1. re: Woolsey

            It's Club Tee Gee, actually -- the sign is in kind of odd lettering. It's a great small old-fashioned bar -- not really a dive, because it's clean and has a fairly low quotient of smelly old men. Very friendly, good drink prices, good mix of ages of patrons. Obviously, there's no Arcade Fire on the jukebox and no microbrews -- just order a gimlet or some shots of tequila, listen to something nostalgic and relax in one of their comfy booths.
            Oh, and the flan is very good at Canele.

            1. re: Chowpatty

              Sweet! I love flan and hate Arcade Fire...

              1. re: Woolsey

                I haven't been to Club Tee Gee since about 91' when I was drinking under age at Noni and The Red Lion...I think I remember having some great time there...those were the days when you couldn't see what the place looked like because everyone was contributing to my black lung with all that indoor smoking..pheweee!
                I guess I should stop in sometime..do they have food?

                1. re: tatertotsrock

                  No food at the Tee Gee, just drinks. It pretty much still looks the same as it did in '91, except I believe there are new owners since about 5-6 years ago.

        2. I am sorry about the service. I love this place and am glad you like the food.In general no one is in a rush at Canele, which I like, as opposed to the places that hit you with entrees before you are halfway through your salads. Canele is not a place to go if you are rushing to catch a movie. But they can get a bit overwhelmed at times, which sounds like what has happened to a number of people.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Tom P

            We were not in a rush to go anywhere. The service was just bad. Another episode not mentioned: As he came over to take down our drinks, a lady stopped him and asked for a small side of garlic to eat with her fish. This lady who had already been served stopped him as we called him over and asked for garlic. He went back to get her garlic first and didn't return to us until he notice all of us waving at him.
            The server just needs to prioritize.

            1. re: jocey

              The people who had service problems should call and talk to the manager. I did this with Lucques, thought I'd never return, they offered us a comp dinner, we went, had a fabulous time -- this was really smart business cause Lucques is now back on our "fancy dinner" rotation. And most importantly, hopefully Canelle will do something. We haven't gone yet b/c they don't take reservations which is really annoying when you're trying to schedule dinner on the weekend w friends. Good luck!

              1. re: jocey

                He does indeed need to prioritize and I did not mean to indicate you yourselves were in a rush. It was bad service and I am sorry it happened. I am just glad you liked the food.

                One note on the pasta: they make it exactly the way the old restaurant used to make it, as an homage to Osteria Nonni. That is why it is a bit oily. But that dish was wildly popular in the neighborhood and I think it is cool that they decided to keep it on the menu for those that loved it so.

                1. re: Tom P

                  I was able to taste the pasta...LOVED IT. Have you had the chicken or heard anything about it?

                  1. re: jocey

                    "No one goes out for chicken!"

                    1. re: Woolsey

                      I do! I LOVE chicken and Canele's is quite good, I have had it a couple of times. In fact, given I have been there so many times, and with people who share, I've had just about everything. I pretty much love it all. The green are terrific, though they may be a bit rustic for some. The lamb is also wonderful.

                      1. re: Tom P

                        I was there last night. Server was on top of things as the restaurant wasn't busy. As for the food, I ordered the aglio olio and my friend ordered the beef with butter noodles. Both were good.

                        1. re: jocey

                          I knew you'd be back!

                          For all the consternation about the slow service - were we British, I'm sure we'd have broken into that "Why are we waiting?" thing they chant to the tune of "Adeste Fideles" when grumpy over delays - all I've heard from one member of our group that night is, "Canelé, Canelé, Canelé. We should go back to Canelé!" (And it wasn't jocey, either.) It left quite an impression on you guys.

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