From Yo! Venice Food Columnist Dorothy Porker:
As a fan of Top Chef, Bravo TV’s popular distraction of culinary sadism, I have made a point of sampling several of the menus created by the show’s alumni. Several of them have opened shop here in Los Angeles, with creative, personal, ever-changing offerings (Ilan Hall’s Downtown spot, The Gorbels, features a Scottish/Jewish fusion menu that reads like an inappropriate joke and never disappoints me) – and the newest recruit, Jamie Lauren, has brought her knives – and a cache of exotic spices – to our very own Venice, as the new chef at Beechwood Restaurant on Washington Boulevard.
(No, no – keep reading! I know what you think about Beechwood. We have – ahem – all thought that about Beechwood.)
While during later hours the bar scene may not be your speed, it was an enjoyable space for an early happy hour cocktail. I am the pickiest vodka drinker on earth, mind you – my version of a “gimlet” is super-cold Ketel One, straight up, with a smattering of fresh lime juice. And that first cocktail, in my opinion, is sort of like a first kiss – if it’s sloppy or weak, everything else that follows will probably be terribly disappointing. But I was pleasantly surprised and refreshed – whoever was mixing away behind the bar granted me a crisp, tart, generous pour; and the upscale after-work crowd filing in made for entertaining people watching.
The dining room, tucked behind the main lounge, is an intimate spot. While David Reiss’s preferred décor (Beechwood’s owner – also of The Brig and Alibi Room) has never been particularly appealing to me, it was refreshing to sit in a Los Angeles restaurant without having to scream at my fellow diners, or fumble with sign language in order to have a conversation. The first two appetizers – also popular on the bar menu – were fun to share. Jamie presented the Pimento Cheese, served with lavosh, as her “homage to white trash food,” which gave everyone a laugh but proved to be a refined little spread. Fluffy, garlicky, smoky, it delivered a delicate kick of spice – an excellent season-less snack, perfect with a beer. We also tried the Edamame, sautéed with yuzo (a Japanese citrus), big, crispy slices of garlic, and sweet charred chili. I appreciated how generous the seasoning was; the big punch of citrus and the slightly-sticky sauce were finger-lickingly savory.
Most of the dishes that ensued were tapas-style and easy to share with a group. While the traditionally American and Japanese offerings were decently prepared, they were fairly predictable: worth a bike ride, but not a drive. But where Jamie Lauren shines – and precisely why you should give Beechwood another shot – is in her Middle Eastern and Indian-influenced food. Her hand with exotic spices is more creative and practiced than some of the great local ethnic restaurants, and speaks to her willingness to go out on a limb and try a concept very different from her peers. A light, crunchy, refreshing Fennel Salad tossed with marinated Persian feta, apples, radishes, and a truly kick-ass combo of herbs and Meyer lemon was simple and so well-composed, I relished tasting the brightness of the delicious, fresh produce and the sleekness of the herbs. Twisting a traditional Bruchetta – also wryly described as a well-deserved “middle finger” to Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’s vocal disdain for pairing fish and cheese – was light Spanish anchovy, micro basil, and burrata; all perched atop a creamy beet puree which not only looked appealing in color and texture, but offered a surprising earthiness.
Jamie’s Lamb Meatballs, deftly rolled with falafel-esque spices including bursts of cumin and onion, proved absolutely delicious and satisfying. A crunchy Curried Chicken “Nugget,” composed of sous-vide chicken mousse, Indian spice, and cilantro, was light on poultry flavor; but highlighted the cheeky flair of the menu, and was accompanied by one of the most delectable riatas I have ever tasted. A plate of decadent, drippy, succulent Duck Confit Tacos could’ve used a smattering of citrus, but were perfectly-cooked; pretzel-stuffed Jidori Chicken was a holiday treat with crispy seasoned skin, rosemary, and an Indian-style homemade mustard I’d love to spread on anything.
The star of the meal was, without a doubt, the Kobe Beef Cheek. First of all – not only is it a generous portion and so-awesomely-tender-it’s-falling-apart-by-your-fork – it’s also one of the only cuts in Los Angeles county NOT seasoned with goddamn Japanese sauces! Hooray! If you’ve never had a tender bite of Kobe beef, swathed in Indian spices and served with Masala mashed potatoes, well – we have all been missing out, haven’t we? Funnily enough, there was something traditionally comforting about combining Masala and spuds; so even for a less adventurous epicurean, I urge you to give this plate of creamy, tenderized heaven a try.
Kobe Beef Cheek
Many thanks to Jamie Lauren, and a big Venetian welcome to the neighborhood! In a city teetering on the brink of soy-dom, I’m looking forward to popping in to Beechwood again soon, for an adventurous forkful of new Los Angeles cuisine.
Want your restaurant reviewed on Yo! Venice! ? Invite Dorthy Porker!
822 Washington Blvd.
Venice, CA 90292
Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Dining Room Open and Full Menu Served:
Mon – Sun 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Bar opening hours are:
Mon – Fri 4:00 pm
Sat & Sun 5:30 pm
The Patio and Lounge Close:
Sun – Tue 11:00 pm
Wed & Thurs 12:00 am
Friday & Saturday 1:30 am