Melisse - good, but not great
Went with 4 people including myself. I read alot of good reviews about Melisse, so I decided to try it. Bottom line it was good, but not great and I thought that for the price there are better restaurants in LA. Basically ended up being close to $250 per person for the tasting menu with wine pairing (tax and tip included) and at that price I did not think it was worth it (Bastide and Providence blew it away at the same price).
Decor wise, I didn't like it at all and although I'll never go to a restaurant for decor alone when I go to an expensive top-end type restaurant I expect perfection across decor, food and service. The interior feels kind of old and boring, if you go to the website you can see pics.
Service wise, the server was a bit stiff, but very attentive and nice. I think the sommelier was drunk (no joke, he really looked like he was drunk), but he was pretty nice.
On to the most important thing, the food. It was a series of hits and misses.
- starters: they gave us some free starters, one was a tuna tartar that was pretty good and the second was this savory thing that was three different layers in a shot glass (which i cant remember exactly what it was)...sorry its kind of hard to explain, but it was pretty good as well
- 1st course: Lobster Bolognese w/ Fresh Cappelini, Basil, Brown Butter Truffle Essence: this was excellent, probably one of the best dishes of the night (3 out of 4 of us got this). Pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, sauce was not overpowering and you could taste the pieces of lobster, definitely a winner
- 1st course: Spring Onion-Parmesan Soup, Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Meyer Lemon: my friend's gf got this, this was another winner. The soup sounded heavy, but was actually refreshing light and complemented the small crab cake very well...a very well put together dish
- 2nd course: Morel Crusted Dover Sole Filet, Green Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, Sauce Mousseline: all of us got this, I was a bit disappointed in this. The morel crust didn't really add anything to the dover sole and I thought it was a bit bland. The mushroom sauce tasted good, but was a bit heavy and actually tasted better when dipping some bread in it rather than with the fish itself. Basically the dish didn't really come together all that well and thought wasn't that good (everyone agreed with me on that)
- Entree: Trio of Prime Beef "A La Moutarde," Swiss Chard, Potato Boulangere, Bearnaise Sauce: my dinner date and I both had this, it was very good. The steak part of the dish was really good with the bearnaise sauce and was a big winner. There was another beef that was like a stewed beef or something like that that was also very good
- Entree: Veal Loin, Spare Rib and Cannelloni of Shank, Morel Mushrooms, Asparagus, Anson Mills Polenta: one of the other people had this, which we all thought was pretty disappointing; it wasn't particularily flavorful and I thought the veal was a bit overcooked
- Entree: Sonoma Spring Lamb, Courgettes, Green Garlic, Nicoise Olive Lamb Jus: again this was also pretty disappointing, same as the veal in terms of review (not flavorful and a bit overcooked)
The wine pairing was decent, but none of the wines blew me away (Bastide's sommelier was much better). I didn't think wine pairing was particularily worth it here especially b/c the sommelier was pretty light handed with each glass, I felt like I'd have a few sips and be done with the glass.
Overall, it is a good restaurant, but I wasn't blown away by it and at the price point it needs to be a great restaurant for me to consider it worth it.
Just to offer a second opinion: having done tasting menus at both Providence and Melisse, I thought it was Melisse that blew Providence away -- both in terms of quality of food and service. (Of course, both of these were vegetarian tasting menus, so it may be that Providence has the edge if you're eating meat.)
For what it's worth, we also liked the chef's menu at Ortolan better than Providence.
I definitely like Bastide is the best of the bunch...its different though food-wise as I think its a more modern take on french cooking, the food actually reminds me of some of the michelin star places I ate at in Paris recently. I think you get some mixed reviews off the board b/c of Bastide's history (it was open, went downhill a bit closed and then re-opened in the fall), so I think depending on when you ate at Bastide it makes a difference. I had an excellent experience, loved the food, wine pairing was unbelievable, service was great (attentive, but not too stiff or serious...which I like) and they even took us to meet the chef and we chatted it up with him for a few minutes.
Decor wise I think its no comparison for Bastide versus others in my opinion.
Btw, all of these are very good restaurants, I just thought Melisse didn't live up to the type of restaurant its supposed to be.
My wife and I dined at Melisse on Sat. evening (4/26) and had a completely different reaction. It was easily the best meal that we have ever had in LA or NYC, and ranked favorably with our best experiences in SF or Europe. We had only two minor criticisms - (1) we had no less than three waiters come by twice before we ordered -- a little overly attentive and (2) the bread was mediocre. Everything else was truly excellent. We went with the tasting menu as well, but followed the waitstaff's recommendation and did not simply order from each section of the menu (so we skipped all fish dishes, because we figured we'd leave fish to Providence). We had four appetizers: burrata herb ravioli that was as delicate and perfect as anything we've ever had, a wonderful seared foie gras, asperagus with a spanish prosciutto, and an egg yolk and caviar preparation. Each of these was wonderful. for the entrees, my wife had aquab and I had the veal loin/spare rib with morel mushrooms. The squab was the star of the evening. With regard to the veal loin that lau's entire table was disappointed with, it was great. The polenta and the morel mushrooms and asparagus were great accents. The cheese plate was as good as any as I've ever had, although the selection was not nearly as large as at Gary Danko.
We also has the "chocolate, chocolate, chocolate" dessert, which was basically four suprise chocolate desserts. Desserts not my favorite course, but there wasn't the dessert let down I have at most restaurants.
With regard to the wine pairings, we were quite satisfied with a nice range of wines. With regard to the portions, they certainly weren't full glasses, but there was enough wine to match the corresponding dish, and I was never done with the wine before the food. We would have been hammered if the glasses were any fuller; as it was, my wife could only have about half of her wine since she was driving. We had six different items, excluding the dessert and cheese tray, and the sommelier did a nice job individually matching each. In particular, the Reisling paired with the foie gras worked much better than the traditional and more expensive Sauterne pairing. He also did a wonderful job explaining his pairings. And if you should never trust a skiny chef, should you trust a sober sommelier? Seriously, he was sober when we dined there (6-10 p.m.)
Decor doesn't matter much to me, but for my taste it was a much more elegant room than say Providence, and its location makes it a much more pleasant drive in. The room seems a little antiseptic until the sun goes down, and then the soft lighting works magic. The tables are amply spaced, so we weren't forced to share in other diners conversations.
Lau is correct that the price point is stiff, and perfection or close to perfection should be expected at the price point. That's exactly the type of evening we had, and we are already planning on going back to try the Carte Blanche menu.
I wrote up being disappointed in Melisse back in January. Some people really like it, others don't. We did the Chef's tasting menu which was about 14 courses. Some stuff I liked, some I didn't care for. In general, thought it was too much emphasis on throwing trendy items like truffles onto everything without taking into account how it would actually taste. Agree that Providence's was much better- food was more intricate and interesting and wine pairings were perfect. However, I could see how this could be a personal taste thing.
THE EMPEROR IS NAKED......My third and last Melisse experience was absolutely unbelievably bad. Just when I think I'm not ever going back, I get dragged back in by eager friends wanting to experience those Michelin Stars...!!! I go like a lamb to slaughter in hopes of discovering something I may have missed, and each time I shake my head. The decor is less than nothing, the food was disappointing to bad and the service was terrible... I've been with large parties of ten, and an intimate dinner for two. I've had the tasting menu with truffles and without truffles, I've ordered al la carte.. I've been in the Spring, Winter, and in the Fall.... It's really "The Emperors New Clothes" of L.A. restaurants.