Monday, March 23, 2009

Little Next Door, Los Angeles CA

I love the idea of French bistro fare…alas we lack any such thing in most parts of the Midwest and specifically in Columbus – you’d be lucky to find a viable quiche let alone a crouque, terrine, or éclair. When deciding where to eat lunch on my shopping/browsing day in Los Angeles I’d originally thought sushi but after the excessive bill at Providence and an upcoming big meal with an old friend at Valentino I opted to go somewhat cheaper and look into the local French fare – specifically someplace that served Foie Gras terrine, Croque Madame, and pastry…a quick perusal of the net indicated that The Little Next Door was just the place.

Having heard mixed reviews of The Little Door in the past I admit there was some skepticism walking up to the jam packed bistro with its cute outdoor patio, but after seeing the food I figured I was in for a treat. Seated indoors by choice due to the loudness outside I chuckled as I made my way to the table and saw two oddly dressed poet-sorts rehearsing a script or play in the corner. I chuckled again later when I overheard the ladies at neighboring table discussing their heroin addict rocker boyfriends – like French Bistro fare, we lack these things in the places I’ve frequented in Ohio.

Greeted promptly by my server Ounaida I was reminded that despite the French name I was indeed in So-Cal and the multicultural kitchen staff furthered this notion – thankfully, however, the service and preparations were every bit on par with the authentic French staff of Butler and Chef in San Francisco. After listening to descriptions of the multiple specials of the day including a rabbit terrine and a duck confit sandwich I placed my orders I was brought a glass of water and a tasty French baguette that was cut and served with butter. As I waited for my food I stood up and browsed around the larder-esque interior which was laden with myriad jams, meats, preserves, terrines, pastries, and wines available to take home.

After approximately 10 minutes my first course arrived along with a guess that I was “not from around here” by my waitress. When I inquired about this assertion she stated that people don’t often order the foie gras for “ethical reasons.” Without getting into ‘food ethics’ – essentially the reason I avoid beef – I simply smiled and shrugged…and proceeded to enjoy a very good example of how a foie gras terrine should be done. Served with apricot puree and port reduction plus warm brioche toast points the terrine was smooth and cool, fatty and spreadable without being oily, and quite flavorful. While the brioche certainly wasn’t in line with the versions at TFL or Aqua, it was serviceable and buttery while the port reduction was sweet and savory and the apricot puree slightly sour with good texture. Served with a micro-salad with vinegar I rather would have liked something crisper as an accent, but at $18 the portion and quality were quite appropriate.

Finishing up my Foie, my second dish arrived relatively quickly and once again with a salad like the version with the Foie. The Little Next Door’s Croque Madame with an organic farm fresh egg was another good dish, though certainly not on par with that of Bouchon or The Butler and the Chef. Using a similar butter brioche to the previous toast points then topped with an adequate amount of cheese and the egg, there was vastly too little ham on the croque to provide sufficient texture and the overall consistency of the dish was somewhat mushy. Certainly fresh, at $13 I feel the dish was a bit overpriced for what it was and would look elsewhere in LA for my croque fix.

Having already eaten some of Paulette’s wonderful macarons earlier in the day I was somewhat tempted to try LND’s as a comparison but then my eyes wandered to the pastry case and the Tiramisu. Number two on my “must try” desserts (behind only bread pudding) the appearance alone of the Tiramisu with its fluffy balls of mascarpone had me hooked. Weary of versions in angled glasses due to the occasional concentration of rum at the base I started my taste at the top and was instantly wowed by the fluffiness of the mascarpone and the perfect accent of the cocoa. Digging deeper I found thin layer after thin layer of ladyfingers soaked in rum yet wonderful in consistency intermingled with even thinner layers of chocolate – and at the bottom of the glass, no rum…just a thick layer of chocolate ganache as though the creator realized the potential for pooling. Though I cannot be certain, my memory puts this Tiramisu at the apex of the ladder along with Jean-Philippe’s in Vegas and the portion size was significantly larger with a lower pricetag.

When it was all said and done I walked out of The Little Next Door very satisfied with the experience and despite my disappointment with the croque I was more than impressed by the Tiramisu. Similarly priced to Keller’s Bouchon I would put the experience on par to the Yountville version but not quite on par with the service and quality at the New York or Las Vegas locations. A good experience that I would recommend, especially given the broad range of menu options, and a good incentive to return and try the sister restaurant in the future – right after I try Chuch and State and Comme Ca for comparison.

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