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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.

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  1. 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...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Woolsey

      But I love that hallway to the bathroom at Comme Ca, with the blackboard.

      Yeah, psyched to try breakfast/brunch at Anisette. And most psyched to go off hours and see if I can get online and hang out and have a beer or a coffee.

    2. 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.

      3 Replies
      1. re: HectorDC

        I thought the same thing about Balthazar

        1. re: HectorDC

          Anisette definitely reminds me of Balthazar. In a way, also of Artisanal (without the yummy smell of cheese that pervades Artisanal). Yesterday at breakfast at Anisette, the food was good but the service needs some improvement. But I'll definitely be returning.

          1. re: HectorDC

            I've never been to Balthazar in NY, but my chef friend there said the same thing when I told him my reaction to Anisette. He also was the one who made the point that despite this Balthazar has really settled in to being itself.

          2. Do they have any pasta dishes on their menu? Thanks.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ximena2080

              Not main course-wise, but my kid did end up with some noodles in butter as a side, not sure if it's on the menu, and certainly I wouldn't call it a "pasta" dish. So, I guess the answer is no.

              1. re: la tache burger

                It's on the menu, a side dish. English noodles with butter and garlic.

            2. I STILL can't wait for my dinner there on July 18th. By then, kinks should be worked out, and everything sounds so good. I'm already making a list of things to order!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Diana

                Get the beet salad, curious if you have the same reaction I did.

                1. re: la tache burger

                  Does it have nuts? A lot of beet salads do, and I'm allergic to nuts.

                  1. re: Diana

                    I didn't see or taste nuts, but I realize that's not decisive. In any case, curious to hear what you like overall.

                    1. re: la tache burger

                      I want to say there is some mention of hazelnuts. Read carefully and double check/alert the waiter/waitress.

              2. 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.

                1. Hey la tache,

                  Great review. Sorry to hear your Duck Confit wasn't up to par; complete opposite of what I had, and the Potato Lyonnaises was heavenly for me as well. I hope they work out the kinks with that dish.

                  Glad to hear your other dishes were good, though. Like you, I loved the Warm Goat Cheese Beet Salad! Yum! :)

                  And your 2 year-old gets Foie Gras already?! I wish I was that lucky at 2. (^_^)

                  I'm planning on returning soon to see how its progressed after a few weeks of opening; fingers crossed that it's more like Opening Night.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: exilekiss

                    My problem is I want the foie gras, beets, other things, a croissant, and more. Not sure about mains-don't do well with rich duck or steak. Tired of chicken.

                    What are the desserts, exilekiss? And other entree options?

                    Do you think they'll treat me like a Special Princess on my birthday?

                    1. re: Diana

                      I've made a meal of a few appetizers there before. The foie, beets and some of their fabulous seafood would make a great (and substantial) dinner if the mains don't sound good to you. Exilekiss mentioned a cod dish in her wonderful review that looked very tasty, also a whole cooked fish for 2. They have nightly specials as well.

                      "A Special Princess"? Probably not, but the service there is excellent and they'll give you the same high standard as everybody else for sure. Maybe if you wear a pink tutu and a tiara.

                      1. re: Diana

                        Hi Diana,

                        Some other options for Mains besides the ones you wanted to avoid:

                        * Rack of Lamb for Two
                        * Daurade Royale (Whole Baked Fish)
                        * Tower of Hors d'Oeuvres (Terrine Maison, Charcuterie, Cheese, Vegetables)
                        * Moules Frites (Classic French Dish of Mussels and Fries)
                        * Saucisse Haricots (Locally made Saucisse Sausage)
                        * Provencal Beef Daube (I thought it was wonderful (you can read my thoughts in my review).
                        And depending on the night you're going, they have Daily Specials that sound very interesting. :)

                        Desserts:
                        * Profiteroles (Vanilla Ice Cream, Hot Chocolate Sauce)
                        * Orange Meringue Tart (with Chocolate Ice Cream)
                        * Vacherin Glace (Lavender Ice Cream, Strawberries) (what I had in my review :) Yummy.
                        * Chocolate Mousse (Sweet Toasts)
                        * Creme Caramel (Passion Fruit Caramel, Lemon Cookies)
                        * Sorbet and Ice Cream (Pistachio Tuiles)
                        * Apple Tart A L'Ancienne (Creme Chantilly)
                        * Iles Flottantes (Creme Anglaise, Pralines)
                        * Foret Noire (Griottes Cherries, Cherry Coulis)

                        And a selection of Fromages (Cheese). :)

                        Lastly, Special Princess? :) I don't know. I think if you called (or had your husband call) and mention it was your birthday and wanted it to be extra nice, they might do something; no guarantees. You can try speaking with David De Bacco, the General Manager there.

                        Hope you have fun! (^_^)

                        1. re: exilekiss

                          Oooh! You ARE good! Thank you so much for posting that! Now I have to go get a cloth to wipe the drool off the keyboard!

                          Ooh, aren't Moules Frites Belgian?

                          1. re: Diana

                            You're welcome. :)

                            Moules Frites? You're probably right... I just associate Moules Frites with my happy time in Paris and have always eaten them at "French Restaurants" wherever I go. :)

                            Hope you have fun~

                        2. re: exilekiss

                          And psyched to hear about your next visit.

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            Thanks exilekiss, appreciate it. And just to be clear, we did not order a whole foie gras for my daughter! She gloriously kept eating pieces of mine, to my simultaneous anguish and delight. And while she is normally averse to sandwiches of any kind, she ate the whole thing -- brioche, date and foie -- together. Love.

                          2. Hmm interesting, I thought Comme Ca is too hyped up and the food dissapointing. No desire to return.

                            1. We visited for brunch (their very first) to an enthusiastic and eager to please staff, although the wait for the food was interminiable. Only because I could eyee everyone else's plates as they left the open kitchen.

                              After misspelling our name and thus, losing ourt reservation temporarily, it could've easily snowballed downhill from there. But they know how to run a restaurant and made us feel more than special. Chef Giraud greeted us at the raw bar, and visited our table no less than 4 times, each time entertaining my hungry 4 and 6 y.o. boys!

                              We received free viennoiseries and sundaes for the boys, even though they devoured the Belgian waffles and special order scrambled eggs. My poached eggs purgatory were cooked beautifully and we left feeling stuffed, satisfied and special.

                              Can't wait to go back for lunch and dinner. And we thought they did a great job of renovating the space and maing you feel like you were in a brasserie, not on the promenade.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                Wow! I couldn't disagree more with your review. My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary Thursday night at 7. The place is gourgeous. A true Brasserie taken right out of Paris (We've seen the real thing on several trips). The service was wonderful. We started with a cocktail and then ordered our meal. 2 appy's, goose liver pate, a classic. yummmm and seared scallops double yummm! For our mains my wife had the Black Cod I had the entrecote with frites (ribeye with fries). Both were outstanding and well priced. We ordered two sides. The potatoes Lyonaisse and the winner by a knowckout: simple seasonal vegetables lightly sauteed in butter. Absolutely amazing. The freshness of the veggies was mind blowing. The preparation simple and fantastic. We washed it all down with a bottle of Cotes' du Rhone. And to top it off Alain came by our table to say hello. BTW, there is valet parking in the alley in between 2nd and the Promenade. You can bet we will be returning soon.

                              2. 19 days till I get to go, 19 days till I get to go...19 days tills I get to go!

                                1. While I can understand the many posts of love here for Anisette, our experience was quite different.

                                  Just before noon on Saturday morning, after the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, we entered Anisette for brunch. There were several empty tables visible, and we were told that they would seat us pretty quickly. For about the next 10-15 minutes no one ever spoke to us or even acknowleged us as we waited in the front.

                                  I ordered the eggs Florentine and requested something other than the fried hash browns that came with them. Our waiter then told me that there could be no exceptions or modifications to the menu items. His excuse was that the restaurant was still new. I told him I just wanted something that was not fried, both because it was almost July and because I was thinking healthy fresh fruit or even some cut-up raw veggies...nothing too elaborate. He did not budge, although he said he would inform the manager of my request. Up against his rather belligerent attitude, I requested no hash browns and just the eggs.

                                  He never again addressed the issue, and I felt as though I had been completely dismissed. The eggs Florentine were quite good, although the plate was rather bare without the hash browns. Could they not have found something to fill the space for a nicer presentation? Could they not anticipate a few requests for substitutions? Should a restaurant open before they are ready for customers of all kinds...and we don't consider ourselves very demanding?

                                  We found the food extremely rich, the service very affected and the prices high considering part of what one pays for might be attitude! Our experience might be unique for this restaurant, but we have a long list of OTHER wonderful places for brunch that take care of their customers in a different way!

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: liu

                                    I can't imagine going into a French Restaurant and not expecting things to be rich. French Food is a butter bomb, and to expect differently is very odd.

                                    I am sorry they didn't see fit to give you fruit or something with your eggs, though. The manager should have been spoken to, perhaps by you? Maybe call or write and see if they can make it up to you. Most palces, if you are constructive and fair, will want to at least give you an explanation, or repair the wrong!

                                    1. re: Diana

                                      Your response is in the spirit of a true 'Hound, Diana, and the richness of the food was not at all a surprise. As you said, it's French! I must say that this type of distasteful experience -- specifically with our waiter -- is quite rare for us; generally, we dine with much delight and appreciation and encounter only the same in return.

                                      It is difficult, in this particular case, to WANT to right this situation. I have no desire to return, considering the number of OTHER choices that we have. Perhaps if this same happened at Julienne's (in San Marino), I might wish to discuss my concerns. However, I just don't tolerate how we were dismissed as customers at Anisette. Our waiter doesn't care, and if that is how he was trained, then why would I care to change this attitude that generally comes down from the management above. I'm over it very quickly and thinking about all the other wonderful brunches ahead of us at OTHER places!

                                      1. re: liu

                                        Sad but true: in France, being a waiter is a serous career. In the US< many waiters see it as something to do while looking for a "real job" I hate that.

                                        I wish you wanted to fix it, because you deserve something for the snooty waiter issue/

                                        1. re: Diana

                                          Thanks, Diana, for your caring words.
                                          I'm not looking for restitution; I'm looking for a good brunch where all the elements come together (including good service!) and I will continue to find this in LOTS of places in every neighborhood of our great chow city!

                                          I really do hope your Anisette experience is all you anticipate...just don't get the waiter with the slicked-back hair!

                                          1. re: liu

                                            When my hubsnad calles to confirm, I shall tell him to demand a waiter sans slick and pro poofy!

                                    2. re: liu

                                      i've eaten at anisette a couple more times. it still is working out the bugs. the service at lunch is haphazard ... one waitress is fairly clueless but anxious to please; there's another waitress (thick french accent) who knows what she's talking about but is pretty condescending. the food's pretty good. yesterday i had hte market menu: very good yellowfin tartar, topped with a nice mayonnaise and served with toasts, followed by a thin slice of tenderloin served over braised potatoes and vegetables. but it did seem a little pricey: 2 $19 market menus, 2 glasses of wine, 1 dessert and 2 coffees was $80 before tip.

                                      but i really do I love to sit at the bar after the market and have a coffee and a pastry.

                                    3. A friend and I met for brunch on Sunday at Anisette.

                                      While generally it was a positive experience, I have to agree with the posters who have noted that the service can be erratic and "not quite ready for primetime." The waitress tried to tug the menu from my hands while I was still in the middle of my order, and that was only the beginning.

                                      After we put in our orders, my omelette arrived... and nothing else. Not the lattes we ordered, not my friend's orange juice, and most importantly, not her eggs in purgatory. We were both staring at my omelette for a few minutes in puzzlement, when a busboy stopped by and asked if we had ordered anything else. When we said there were still eggs, he ran off. A bit later, our waitress came by and asked if our eggs had come out, and then she went back to check on the eggs also. When she came back, she told us that some people had called out of the kitchen that day so it would be a bit for the eggs, but she very kindly asked if she could bring a pastry out while my friend waited. My friend agreed, and very gently asked about our lattes and her juice. The juice came shortly afterwards, but it turned out they were having problems with the expresso machine as well, so it was going to take a while for that as well.

                                      When the food all arrived, it was all very good. The service staff was very nice, but it seemed they were still very scattered. For myself, it will be well worth a visit in a few months when they've had more of a chance to ge the kinks out.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: sidwich

                                        Hi, sidwich!

                                        In response to your "not quite ready for primetime," there is a lot to be said for taking those extra few hours or days as needed to rehearse before the performance! Some of the "less than ready" service that we observed was a result of poor training and not just malfunctioning initial "kinks." There is no reason to leave a customer standing in wait for more than a few minutes in the entry without some kind of welcome acknowledgement! Clearing the main plate of one customer while another is still eating is poor training.

                                        Equipment does, in fact, break down, but there is rarely -- if ever -- justification for disrespect or dismissal of your customers. It sounds like they acknowledged some disarray with your order and that is good service! On the other hand, our discomfort was ignored.

                                        1. re: sidwich

                                          After having an amazing experience there for dinner a couple weeks ago, I returned for breakfast today. The bottom line is Anisette's breakfast crew is not their A or even B team for sure. It's a shame given how a place should provide a consistent experience throughout the day.

                                          1. re: suZeecuZee

                                            suZeecuZee, your perspective is quite valuable since you are able to compare your dinner experience with your breakfast at Anisette.

                                            As I continued to read such dinner praises on this post, I felt quite isolated in my brunch experience which was less than glowing. I thought perhaps I might have gone to a different restaurant, but you have added some much appreciated clarification.