Two "Cal-French" bistros: Joe Joe's and Carafe
Tried out both restaurants in the past week and thought I'd share my experiences. Would love to hear other's comments on these two places!
My summary: Carafe was better when it was Le Chardonnay, and Joe Joe's is worth going to the Valley for.
Decided to go to Carafe (Melrose near Crescent Hts, in the old Le Chardonnay building) on the recommendation of the LA Times' Food section, which mentioned the European menu (served Sun-Thur). $15 for appetizer, entree and dessert is a great deal in LA! We were warmly greeted at arrival and were seated near the indoor fireplace. If you've never been to this restaurant, you're in for a street in regards to ambience--beautiful, high-ceilinged room with dark wood beams and mirrored walls.
First came the soup, a yellow split pea puree. Texture was good, not too thick, and a dash of salt did wonders but it still wasn't enough to make some of us finish the entire bowl. I selected the moules frite as my main entree. The mussels were very tiny (smallest I've ever seen), served in a cream sauce which was subtle enough to let the flavor of the fresh mussels shine. The thin fries were exquisite...for the first 3 minutes. Then they quickly turned soggy. One friend ordered the beef borginonne (sp?) which was an unexciting beef stew over penne pasta. The cornish game hen with rosemary though, was cooked to perfection: tender meat that fell off the bone. The rosemary was not too overpowering either, which I've found to be the case with a lot of other rosemary dishes at other restaurants.
Desserts ranged from profiroles (disappointing--the pastry shells were hard as a rock), bread pie (so-so) and apple tart (good, not great). In all, a so-so experience, would have been better if their dishes were more consistent and we didn't end on poor desserts. But we had excellent service (the chef came out twice to speak with us and commented on the hens, which we later saw him eat himself). Still, for $15, I'm not complaining (too much).
Last night, I tried out Joe Joe's on Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks. When we arrived at 7, only a few tables were in use. When we left an hour and half later, it was pretty packed. The poor waiters--there were only two that night for the entire restaurant. They were incredibly rushed! You could almost see the panic on their faces when people showed up at the door. (No manager was present).
The interior of Joe Joe's is ordinary except for one wall, which has this gorgeous, deep-red silk-like fabric pinned to the wall. Lighting is poor--extremely dim during our dinner. They didn't turn on any lights until 8, instead letting the sunset light the room but it was not enough. I could barely see my companion.
I wasn't that hungry so I skipped appetizers and went straight to the seared ahi tuna entree. What bliss! One of the best I've had, and I've tried many. Very fresh, with a slightly cold middle and grilled outer portion topped with sesame seeds that faintly tasted like they'd been soaked in teriyaki sauce. The tuna came on a bed or creamy risotto, which was not entirely cooked (hard middles) but was rich and buttery. On the side were perfectly cooked grilled asparagus spears--not mushy, which I hate. My companion had the filet mignon over blue cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus. The mashed potatoes were the star of the plate, buttery and distinct because of the blue cheese.
For dessert, vanilla-coffee creme brulee. The sugar on top was burnt at one end so there was a bit of charred taste to some spoonfuls. Dinner was $60 for two of us with 2 entrees, 1 dessert and 2 glasses of wine.
I'll be going back to Joe Joe's soon to try out the rest of their dishes.
Thanks for the review, Jennifer. Was the $15 meal at Carafe chosen from special dishes that are not found on the regular menu? Or is it dishes you could order a la carte anyway?
A few weeks ago some friends and I were debating going there or the special Wednesday night regional dinners ($25) at Alto Palato. We ended up going to Alto Palato. It was more of a "prix fixe" menu that you get something that wasn't available on the regular menu. But we were sold on the fact that you get 40% off wine if you get their regional meal. It seemed like the Carafe was just a "value dinner", where you pick one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C, for a special price.
Turns out we regretted our decision in going to Alto Palato. The risotto was undercooked (the waitress called it 'al dente'), and the chicken was dry.
The prix-fixe meal gives you a choice of soup or salad, 8 entrees and 3 desserts - all are available on their regular menu. I've included a link to the restaurant's website below. If you check under the "What's New" link, it'll take you to their special menus.