Excellent Dinner at Bastide (review, with comparisons to Providence. Long.) – Nov 2008
I’ve followed the many metamorphoses of Bastide with some interest over the years, as I’d had a good but not spectacular dinner there years ago, when Geraud was chef, the cuisine was straight-up French, and the restaurant had 4 stars from the LA Times. At the time, I thought that if that was the best LA had to offer in terms of upscale food, my time and money were best spent chasing after cheaper chow when I was in town.
Things have changed a lot since – I thoroughly enjoyed a meal at Providence several months ago, and when I saw that former Providence chef de cuisine Paul Shoemaker had taken the helm at Bastide, I immediately made reservations. Given the shared bloodline, and the fact that my two best upscale meals in LA have been at Providence and Bastide, I can’t help but compare the two.
Ambiance: Providence is refined and romantic, while Bastide is playful (and yet expensive, with Mid-Century Modern pieces dangling from the ceiling, hanging on the walls, resting in the various nooks throughout the restaurant)
Service: We had pacing issues at Providence (occasional long gaps between courses, and a very long wait for the check), and I was a little disappointed no one wished my mother a happy birthday (I ‘d mentioned while making my reservation that we were celebrating a special birthday, and while I have no expectations of comped desserts and what-not, I thought for sure someone would at least congratulate her). The front of the house was a little stiff and formal, but all of the servers were warm and enthusiastic. The servers at Bastide were somewhat more conspicuously present – they haven’t perfected the art of melting into the background yet, and I got a little antsy seeing them flitting around in the background – but the payoff was perfectly timed courses, with a brisk but not rushed progression. They acknowledged Dad’s b-day with an extra dessert and a menu signed by the chef and sommelier.
Cheese: Providence, hands down, with its excellent cheese cart.
Wine: a draw. Providence’s pairing was much less expensive and was full of interesting, quirky, obscure wines from all over the world. Bastide’s was dominated by French wines, older wines, and featured several Premier Crus. Both were great.
Food: Bastide, for its more creative fare. Providence has its avant-garde moments, but for the most part (at least in the meal I had), flavor profiles tended toward, established combinations. This meal at Bastide was full of initially odd but ultimately satisfying combinations. The menu is, frankly, a little precious, with its minimalist, cryptic, one-to-three word descriptions, but I will forgive them because the food was so good.
“AMUSES”: there were three amuse-bouches, each substantial enough it would have qualified as a full course at the French Laundry.
1) Raw oyster with meyer lemon granita, tapioca in a meyer lemon broth (an Asian-inflected version of Thomas Keller’s “Oysters and Pearls”)
2) Raw uni on green apple gelee (this had a slightly spicy, fizzy kick I couldn’t quite place), topped with puffed rice and dusted with a Japanese spice described to me as being “like five-spice”
3) A shot of chestnut soup topped with bourbon crème fraiche and maple syrup
These were paired with a French wine I wasn’t familiar with (2006 Les Abymes) – its crisp, acidic, green apple character was a better pair for the first two amuses than with the soup.
“BROTH”: Lobster, cellophane noodles, thyme, peanuts, and a very herbal broth (I forgot what the waiter said it was – I remember it sounding very Asian). This was possibly the best wine pairing of the night. I frankly disliked the broth initially – it was so herbal as to be soapy to my palate – but paired with another French wine I wasn’t familiar with (1999 Clos Floridene, a Semillon/Sauv Blanc/Muscadelle blend), the woodsy notes in the wine somehow cancelled out the floral soapiness, and the my overall perception became one of some exotic citrus. It was very, very cool.
“NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS”: sweet little scallops with lardons and some very good cauliflower puree – this was one of the two conventional flavor combos of the night. It was paired with a 1998 Morey-St. Denis (Domaine Ponsot).
“BACON & EGG”: this was fantastic – a fried quail egg topping unagi over pork belly over smashed potatoes – each a separate layer in an opera cake-like structure so pretty my parents got confused and thought dessert had come already. This was paired with a sake (Shimeharitsuru) – the first time I’ve had sake in a wine pairing. It was good, but I think I would have liked the Burgundy I got with the next course even better with this dish.
“PIKE”: I think this was my first time ever tasting pike. It was simply cooked, fantastically meaty and tender, and topped with miniscule dice of tripe (!), tomato, and microgreens, and paired with a buttery cranberry bean puree and a dab of bright green garlic/parsley sauce. The fish was meaty enough to play off beautifully with the tripe, and with the absolutely delicious 1998 Gevrey-Chambertin (Lavaux St. Jacques).
“4 STORY”: This was the other relatively conventional dish – a few slices of medium rare beef in a wine reduction, with a carrot puree as well as a baby carrot seasoned with whole mustard seeds. This was a straightforward course designed to showcase a wine - it made the 2003 Le Pergole Torte sing.
“IMMORTAL MILK”: An Epoisse custard topped with tangerine sections and spun sugar and served with pistachio-studded bread. I thought it was interesting, but prefer my Epoisse unsweetened. Mom surprised me by really liking it… I think the sweet funkiness reminded her of durian. The pairing was with yet another interesting French wine (Bru-Bache, L’Eminence 2005) – the sommelier explained that this wine is made by strangling the vines and allowing the grapes to dry, thus concentrating the sugars.
1) Shot glass with coffee gelee and cranberries, topped with cinnamon barley foam
2) Cube of millk chocolate mousse, orange foam, tangerines, and cinnamon ice cream
These were paired with a 1976 Sauternes (Chateau Gilette)(delicious).
Petit-fours were an apple macaroon, a chocolate hazelnut/espresso truffle, a fleur de sel caramel, and a wine pate de fruit, with a little bag of very good pistachio biscotti to take home
So a seven-course tasting menu really came out to 11 courses, plus petit-fours. Bastide seems to have found a happy medium between the technique-heavy but somewhat stodgy cuisine under Geraud, and the avant-garde-but-kind-of-insane-and-also-does-this-stuff-actually-taste-good? cuisine under LeFebvre – add in the superb fish cookery from Providence, and some great wine, and you have a really, really great restaurant.
8475 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Overall, I'd give it to Bastide, although I think Providence would be better for an intimate meal - I was very conscious of the waitstaff in the background at Bastide, which is at least partly a function of the more open floor plan (at least, in the room where we were seated) and lighter, brighter decor. I think it's easier for waitstaff to be inobtrusive at Providence (but, as I said, the pacing was far superior at Bastide, so part of might be that they're just not checking in on the table quite as often).
Nice review. I've had the tasting menu at Providence and thought it was very good for the most part. However, I didn't find the wine pairing to be that stellar; a lot of readily available low tier central coast offerings.
Judging by your review, the pairings at at Bastide look much better.
BTW, what was cost/pp if you don't mind me asking?
re: kevin h
Looking at some of the reviews of Bastide under Manzke, there are definitely similarities - the bread basket, which I forgot to write about, seems to be the same, with a selection of 5 different, very good breads - and I see that Manzke did the green apple gelee (albeit with oyster), and played around with tapioca as well. I think the Asian influence might be stronger with Shoemaker, while Manzke seemed to have some Italian leanings. Dessert might have been better under Manzke. I thought the Shoemaker menu was very well integrated - no sense of veering wildly from one influence to another. From reading some of the Manzke menus, I got a sense that the progression of dishes might have been a little more disjointed, and I read at least one review that seemed to agree. I'd be interested in hearing experiences of people who've been to Bastide under both... or under all four, for that matter.