REVIEW: ANISETTE, ANOTHER VIEW
For a slightly expanded review, with pics: http://www.eatdrinkordie.com/blog/pos...
So my parents were in town this past week. God bless them, they’ve been visiting from NY every couple of months -- because I have a 2-year-old daughter, and my brother has a 2-month-old daughter, and us flying to NY is not so easy. They arrived last Thursday afternoon and while we hadn't planned to see them until Friday, at the last minute everyone was free and we thought, let’s go for an early dinner tonight!
I got right on the phone and called Anisette, where I’ve been dying to go since they opened and some friends and some posters here have been raving. They were booked, and they could not accommodate us at 5:30 (6 people). The hostess was extremely friendly and apologetic. She offered, completely proactively, “What about Monday at 5:30? We could do that.” That would be my parents’ last night in town, and we’d probably all be together again, perfect. What a great hostess! I got off the phone, made other dinner plans with my folks, and then the phone rang again. It was Anisette -- a guy this time. He knew I’d called about a 5:30 reservation, and said that while they could not accommodate 6 people at 5:30, if we could get there by 5:15 we’d be fine. I was loving Anisette. I told him thank you, we’d made other plans, but would see him on Monday.
So Monday came. My brother couldn’t join us, so it was 5 of us. I drove over from work, discovered there’s no valet parking yet at Anisette (in a couple of weeks there will be), so I parked on the street. My wife dropped Daniella (our two-year-old) off with me in front of the restaurant and went to find parking.
Okay, next bit of sheer genius: the location. I knew where it was, of course, but it took standing there on the street to appreciate how brilliant this location is for this restaurant. There’s something so perfect about a casual, hang-out, open all day, Parisian brasserie right here by the Third Street Promenade, and the beach, convenient to Santa Monicans, and tourists, and other L.A. dwellers, that’s just inspired. Location gets a 10+. Also, there’s something about the entrance, the door even, something inevitable, unassuming, old, like this place has been here for years and will be here forever.
I entered the restaurant with Dani and we took seats at the really cool zinc bar. Wow. I was immediately in awe of the place. It’s exactly like a brasserie in Paris. But, like, exactly . The bartender poured us both glasses of water, and Daniella sipped happily from her “big girl glass”. I said, “it’s so cool in here, isn’t it?” and she said “yeah”, and meant it.
But then the opposites kicked in. Did I feel like the place was was cool in itself , or was it cool in a Disneyland or Vegas type way -- like “wow, you really copied something brilliantly”. Is it real or simulation?
One thing this question made me appreciate instantly is how much I adore Comme Ca (David Myers’ “brasserie” on Melrose). I’ve loved Comme Ca from Day 1. And while I’ve had delicious food there, it is mostly the place itself that I love. I’ve always said it feels like a Parisian brasserie, but actually, now I realize it doesn’t. It feels like some postmodern (which is already an old word, what’s the new word?) riff on a brasserie. Anisette made me feel nostalgic and comforted. Comme Ca makes my heart skip a beat; I still get excited entering that space.
Okay, our whole party has arrived, and we've been seated. Let the ordering begin.
First, wine: a glass of White Star for my wife (which she loves); a glass of the Anjou (chenin blanc); and a glass of Pacherene du Vic Biln (what!?, the grape is petit corbu, it's on the wine list for a mere 30 bucks, and is the only wine listed under the category, "Vive la France") All the wines are perfect , and the petit corbu is glorious. A tiny bit viscous, but with good acidity, a sweet sensation, a more caramel color than the chenin, exciting in the mouth, able to stand up to most everything we eat. Really great wines to offer by the glass. The sommelier is an absolute pleasure, too -- a strong French accent, a contagious enthusiasm. I tell him about a South African chenin which blew me away recently, and he very uncondescendingly points out that "the Loire for Chenin is … well, it’s home" (hear the French accent). He walks away and my wife says, “So cute!”
Our waitress recommends the beet and goat cheese salad. I couldn’t have been less interested, as I’ve kind of OD’ed on beet salads, but my mom orders it. It's exquisite. Best beet salad I’ve had, maybe ever. The beets are fresh, gorgeous, and the goat cheese is heavenly with them—not soft and creamy but semi-hard, and strongly flavored to cut the sweetness of the beets. My reaction literally is, 'this is what beet and goat cheese should be'. I order the foie gras, which is good, too -- a solid combo of date, foie and house-made brioche. (Even my daughter got into the foie, making me very proud). Butter lettuce salad is nice and fresh and the Provencal fish soup is great – they pour the soup over bread and little pasta pearls -- very sea-like and very delicious.
At this point in the meal, I'm exceedingly content. I take a walk with my daughter up the street. Problem is, she wants to play outside forever. I tell her sternly, "we either go back into the restaurant, or we go home right now". She pauses, then says, "I want to go to the restaurant". We return just as the entrees are arriving.
Sadly, the level of inspired-ness dwindles considerably with the entrees. My duck confit is boring. It tastes a bit like my mom’s pot roast, which is not really a compliment (sorry, mom). It's stringy and dry, without the rich crispiness it needs.
The accompanying potato Lyonaisse is undercooked and has nothing particular to recommend it. The baby carrots are good, and the tiny little cornichons are great to see, but I can’t taste them. I eat too much of the potato, waiting for its specialness to reach my brain.
I look around the table for something better to eat. But my mom’s chicken is also nothing special. I know it’s "just" a roast chicken, but I’ve had much better at BLD. Also, the accompanying potato cake is less than stellar. The best entrée is my dad’s entrecote frites. A 29 dollar steak where each bite is the perfect fatty bite. Just the right saltiness and fattiness -- scrumptious and I wish I’d ordered it. (And the fries were good, too.)
Oddly, we're too full to order dessert. It strikes me that when people talk about restaurants, they always talk about how the food tastes , but they almost never mention how the food makes them feel afterwards. We feel strangely full for hours after the meal, and we did not overeat. Rich food, lots of butter, old school all the way, and just perhaps the wrong meal for a hot summer evening.
All right. So. All in all, I have a pretty good feeling about Anisette. Our meal had its ups and downs, but I was being intentionally critical, I was here partly to eat dinner, and partly to judge this new restaurant. And a brasserie kind of demands an uncritical attitude, by definition. Once the shock wears off that this is an exact replica of something else somewhere else, and it settles into its perfect location, and the rush of people dying to check out Alain Giraud's new spot dies down, people may start using it well -- a place to stop in for a quick drink and some oysters after the beach and before a movie, a bowl of soup at the bar on a windy winter day (yes, it gets really cold in Santa Monica!), and even as a place to go at 3PM to hang out on my laptop. Then all might become just right, and as with the Grove, something almost fake might become quite real.
I feel bad not kvelling over Anisette, and for being intently subjective, but what can I say? … I woke up this morning craving a dose of Comme Ca.
Interesting take on the design - I've wondered about whether Anisette's decor would come off as a sort of Disneyish ersatz or not. But then, I have a very different take on Comme Ça's interior, which looks too much like it was bought lock, stock, and plastic pool chairs from a Pottery Barn catalog.
Thanks for the review. I'm going for brunch Saturday and am looking forward to experiencing it myself then...
Couldn't agree more about the design of Anisette, it can be regarded as what could become a fancy chain copy of a brasserie to be put anywhere and still look the same. Although the food is still Alain Giraud and kinks are still being worked out the decor is still and will remain an exact replica of a french brasserie/copy of Balthazar in New York.
i've eaten there a couple of times now. i do think at this point it's a pretty good argument for why professional restaurant critics usually wait 6-8 weeks before reviewing a new place. over time, they do seem to be ironing out the rough spots. and, yes, the location is genius. what a joy to be able to stop in for a pastry and a coffee after teh farmers market.