December 26, 2007

Josie's Restaurant [Santa Monica]

About a year ago, I recommended Josie's to a friend who wanted to talk business with some execs over an LA restaurant with some meat behind it. I did my due diligence and came back with Josie's.

I've since kept Josie's on my radar, though the past year has kept me occupied with other endeavors (namely izakayas, Japanese fusion, and ethnic eats). And really, the only thing that caught my attention was a reminder that Josie's does a Farmer's Market prix fixe on Wednesday nights--at $35 for 3-courses, I can justify fine dining.

The night started young at an early 6:45pm and with only one other group sitting amongst the tables, banquettes, and booths lining the restaurant walls. The restaurant is long, narrow, and divided into two seating areas. Intimate and warm for a night out with your parents, but evenly cool and professional enough for dinner with your boss. The look is versatile and the food, universally appealing for most audiences.

The winter menu was skewed in favor of heavier preparations, which wouldn't have been appropriate for the LA heat except on this particularly chilly night. We started off with a less-than-amusing amuse of a Gruyere and mushroom quiche, which reminded me more of this morning's leftover brunch than of the dinner to come.

While everyone else at the table opted for the Farmer's Market menu, I decided on 3-courses of classics for the night: Pear, Endive, and Stilton Salad ($15) + Salt-crusted Jidori Chicken Breast ($25, entrees average $30) + Lemon Cheesecake ($10).

I had opted for the Endive Salad because I was looking for a play of bold flavors that didn't come from my lettuce leaves being doused in a liquid mess. Josie's version was solid with crisp delineations between the bitter endive, sweet pears and pecans, peppery watercress, and a pungent aged blue cheese. Presentation, however, was a whole other story.

I hadn't notice at first, but the precariouosly placed cheese and walnut in the hollowed peach was more than suggestive in all the wrong ways. The innuendo wasn't meant to be satirical and I doubt that coincidence had much to do with the fertile womb of my baked pear. It takes a lot to shock me and I'm gonna have to play prude on this one and say that I felt mildly offended in the aftermath.

After devouring my salad with blind voracity, I proceeded to tackle bountiful plate that was my rustic Jidori chicken breast. This would officially be the third time that I've ordered chicken at a restaurant, since I usually find it too humble for a restaurant portion. The best part about the chicken was, of course, the salt crust. The meat closest to the surface was moist and succulent, though the thicker cut left a dry, though quality cut of meat on the interior. I didn't care too much for the accompaniments of polenta, carrots, and parsnips, which were haphazardly strewn about the plate, but the dish was satisfying overall, if not a little boring.

The Autumn Cheesecake really knocked my socks of with its creamy and ethereally light texture. The lemon added just enough zing to keep the cheesecake from being overwhelming and I only wished that the gingersnap crust had more of an edge to really make the lemon pop.

To be fair, I took mostly unthoughtful nibbles from my companions' plates, but overall, here was my impression: I felt that the $35 prix fixe was a good deal and prepared with quality ingredients. The chunky Chestnut Soup was earthy and fragrant with the subtlety of mushrooms. The Scallops were fresh, though they were dowdily dressed in dull flavors and the Gingerbread Cake Roulade was a play on your traditional Bouche de Noel with fresh cranberries and apple ribbons for added festiveness.

Josie's has confirmed what I have suspected about fine dining establishments for a long while now--that the food is often good in a pragmatic way, but seldom of interest otherwise (though I'll make an exception for tasting menus).

Josie Restaurant
2424 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 581-9888

Tabento [Costa Mesa]

Another holiday season spent in the OC and another unassuming Japanese sushi joint in a nondescript strip mall--a fairly uneventful holiday, but also a new interesting find.

The short story on Tabento is that it offers your typical sushi rolls with an added wow factor and some atypical creations that are a cut above the rest. While our albacore nigiri warranted an instantaneous mmm and a raised eyebrow in delight, the hamachi was a tad fishy and probably less fresh than it should have been. Over the course of three days and two meals here, this was the extent to which I delved into the nigiri choices.

The Shrimp Boat first caught our attention in the picture menu before captivating our taste buds with its textural combination of creamy quail egg and crab and crunchy mentaiko (cod roe) and ama ebi (raw prawns). The tangy piquantness of the ponzu sauce is a welcome surprise for your taste buds, since you almost expect the combination to be sweet and mellow.

The Soft-Shell Crab Roll ($10), Crunchy Roll ($8.50), and Caterpillar Roll ($10) were all similarly good, though not outside of the realm of what you'd expect. They are, however, visually stunning in their magnitudes and constructions with proportions that awe.

I didn't grab a photo from last time, but the Spicy Tuna Crunchy Roll was also a must-order, with spicy tuna piled atop a crispy rice onigiri ball and topped with a thinly sliced jalapeno. The heat was subtle, striking the back of your tongue in the most pleasant way possible.

Next time, I'll venture into the appetizer portion of the menu, where there are some interesting picks to choose from. Don't forget to flip through the photo albums sitting on your table, since it'll offer a lot of inspiration for your ordering.

This is what I miss most about moving to Northern California--there's nowhere near the same caliber of sushi restaurants and especially ones that are as off the radar as the places you'll find here in good ol' Orange County.

Tabento Sushi & Sake
1525 Mesa Verde Dr. #E
Costa Mesa CA 92628
(714) 545-0600