Tuesday, May 25, 2010

La Cachette Bistro

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on Santa Monica's restaurant La Cachette Bistro:

La Cachette Bistro:

The Art of French Cooking in Santa Monica:

In the last couple of years everyone seems to be channeling their inner Julia Child.  All you need to do is look around Santa Monica where the classics (Melisse) are getting a run for their money from newcomers (Anisette Brasserie).  Last year an old favorite of the Los Angeles French dining scene, La Cachette, followed Horatio Alger’s example and moved westward. “We wanted to move venues for awhile.   We actually auditioned for this location and were lucky enough to get the space,” notes Fabrice, La Cachette Bistro’s manager.  Cachette means a “hiding place,” and with that in mind La Cachette’s move was more on the sly than some other dining eateries in the last couple of years (read… forget it, I’m going to be good on this one).   

Before its westward expansion La Cachette had be located in Century City for fifteen years, but years of the roadway in front of the restaurant being torn up like wrapping paper had taken a toll on their patrons.  Chef Jean Francois channeled his roadblock frustrations into a sweeping move to Santa Monica’s Ocean Ave., right across the street from the beachfront hotel alley, and right down the street from the Viceroy. The repositioning happened late in 2009, and with it a transformation into a more casual beachy atmosphere.  Thus, La Cachette became La Cachette Bistro. “It’s a great move, “ Fabrice continues, “when I sit here in the morning sipping my espresso on the outside on the patio I feel like I’m in Nice,” a compliment indeed since it’s the Francophile’s hometown.

One of the biggest changes to note is the inclusion of the word Bistro (noun: small or unpretentious restaurant) in that title.   Although the new space is more open and large than your typical dark wood French bistro, the gently priced rates are right on par.   In celebration of this change La Cachette Bistro is introducing their fifteen dollar Daily Lunch Bistro Prix Fixe Menu.   For the same price as parking on Sunset Boulevard on a Friday night partakers can enjoy a three course meal.  Starting options  
begin with either the Butternut Squash and Corn Soup or a Mixed Green Salad.  This is followed by three options for the main course including Roasted Chicken Breast with Mustard Sauce, Corn and Spinach, Zucchini and Swiss Cheese Omelette Triple Deck Turkey Meatloaf Bacon and Avocado Sandwich.   This is, naturally, followed by the requisite Sucre fix of a dessert that changes daily.    

And for those gourmands who wish for dinner dining, La Cachette Bistro does not disappoint. The French are known for their adoration of pairings: they take finding the perfect compliment to an item to an art form.  From pairing rich ingredients with simple contrasts so the dinner is not overwhelming, to the pairing of wine with a course (let’s be frank we are talking about the French, they pair wine with any and everything).  As we started with a round of appetizers Fabrice appeared with a Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France, the Domaine Klipfel was light and floral, with clover overtones.  It completely complemented our first selection:  Homemade Fois Gras Terrine with Rhubarb Pearls and Gelee.   The Fois Gras was rich and creamy, while the Rhubarb Pearls exploded in my mouth reminding me of a sweet version of caviar.   The Brioche was simple.  Sweet, yet strong enough to hold up against the richness of the other ingredients. 

This was followed by the appetizer special of the classic French vegetable of Leeks.   Delicate in taste, almost to the point of lace, they were prepared with only the whites of the stem along with white pepper, truffle oil, and a light dusting of chives.  The only drawback that my dining guest noted was the difficulty in cutting them since they were served in one large hard to navigate piece.  But, this issue was completely forgotten as we were presented with the Organic Beef Tartar with Baked Potato Chips.   The New York cut was soft and tender with hints of wostershire and capers.   Upon deeper inspection of La Cachette Bistro’s menu we noted the inclusion of numerous organic items on the menu.  Always a bonus these days, especially for anyone who has recently had Food Inc. in their Netflix queue (read “me”). 

While we waited for our next course the subject turned to approaches towards food and dining.  For the French dining isn’t just food, it’s a cuisine, a lifestyle.  A large majority of its offerings might be rich, but they are not overtly decadent (there is quite a difference)  (huge).  Smaller portions, and a savory approach to enjoying every bite make French dining an art of the senses. For some unfathomable reason French restaurants in America always seem to have an older clientele than other cuisines.  The young folks might think that Sushi is sexier, but a note to everyone who is at the courting stage of their relationship, this is perfect environment for great, and impressive, date.  

Fabrice appears with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region,  Henri Marionnet, before we even think to ask.  This is followed moments later by my personal favorite dish, classic French dish, Moules and Frites.  Made with mussels, white wine, shallots, cream, parsley, garlic, chives, and cream.  “It’s a very traditional French dish,” notes Fabrice, “what makes ours different is we add saffron to it.”  It is heaven to me, creamy and crisp.   I take a sip of the Sauvignon Blanc and, I have to say, it is perfectly paired with my mussels and fries. 

This is then topped by appearance of Spare Ribs in a red wine sauce.   At this point Jean Francois appears from the kitchen.  “What is it?” he quizzes the two of us.   We both shrug our shoulders, tipsy on its heavenly smell, and multiple wine pairings.   “Buffalo,” he answers with a Santa Clause grin, “cooked with mire pois and rubbed with coffee.”  We take a bite and all my dining partner can say on an exhale is, “that is insane.”  The depth of the coffee taste creates a syrupy smoothness to the dish.  This course is harmonized with a side of Pot Croquettes, which are best explained as mashed potatoes shaped into the size of tater tots than fried.   Light and airy, it recalled the flavoring of Funnel cakes at a State Fair.  

This artful dinner is capped with two contrasting desserts.   The first is the light and airy Ile Flottante, Floating Island for us anglophiles, a soft meringue served with crème anglais, almonds, and pistachios.  This is contrasted with a denser Cheesecake made with crème cheese, orange zest, honeycomb, and orange sauce.  Incredibly rich, there was a Smokey flavoring to this dish that made just one bite enough.   Naturally Fabrice showed with a Muscadet to pair with our sweets, Eric Chevalier Cotes du Grand Lieu Loire Valley. The sweet orange flavorings complimented the Ile Flottante to a T.

As we sipped our last drops of our dessert wine we reflected on how although we both felt enjoyably satiated we did not feel heavy.   But when food is approached as an art form that is never a dilemma.  All I could think with the onset of La Cachette Bistro to our beach town is Viva the Santa Monica French cuisine.     

Kat Thomas writes on a variety of subjects.  She is very lucky one of them is good food.  

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