Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Japanese Maid Waitresses and Tartare Tartare: Destinations in Culver City
Living on the West side, I find myself frequenting Santa Monica when looking for restaurants. Granted, there are some great ones like Father's Office and The Counter, interestingly both burger restaurants, but I have been overlooking another Food Destination as well--Culver City. For the longest time, the only thing of interest has been the film studios, formerly Columbia-TriStar, now Sony. Now, the downtown area has been revitalized with many new restaurants and boutiques that are worth an adventure on their own. I have discovered great lunch and dinner places sure to satisfy the taste explorer.
8910 Washington Blvd.
$10 per person for lunch
I didn't know what to expect when I got in the car to go to Royal/T. When I arrived, I realized this huge building, 100,000 square feet, is more art gallery than cafe. The place looked like a converted warehouse with high ceilings and open rafters. Large Plexiglas walls separated exhibits of contemporary, mostly Japanese, art. Art majors would love this place. The cafe is located, not much more than a counter and a few tables. They do not skimp on quality here; the glasses were double-walled bodum glass that break easily and don't come cheap. I believe the flatware was Wedgwood as well. For this set-up, the food was not extraordinarily expensive.
Of course Royal/T is also the first Japanese maid cafe in Los Angeles. For those of you aren't familiar with meido kissa cafes where the service staff dress as French maids, this has been a phenomenon in Japan catering to those who want to feel pampered in a high tea environment. In fact, Royal/T does offer a high tea option for around $20, which includes choice of tea, finger sandwiches and simple sushi rolls. Although the target audience is intended to be women wanting to indulge in princess fantasies, that's like saying that the target audience of Victoria Secret is only women shopping for fashionable underwear.
Spicy Tuna Tartare and Royal Tea
I ordered a delicious tuna tartare with radish sprouts, a spicy mayo blend, and avocado on a crispy slice of toast. Since this is a tea house, I ordered their house Royal Tea from their extensive tea menu. The Royal Tea is a black tea brewed in soymilk with a hint of fruit. Although it was refreshing, my friend's rooibos tea was much more fragrant and complex in flavor. Rooibos, pronounced "roy-boss," is an herbal tea from African that is naturally decaffeinated. I smelled the flavors open up at across the table as our maid poured it for my friend. Fragrances of strawberries filled my nose, and the taste was impeccable. A small cube of raw sugar made the experience even more satisfying.
Although this was a fun experience, I would feel awkward going there without female accompaniment. Despite its fantastic art, great food, and attention to quality, Royal/T is just not somewhere you go with the guys. I also would like to note if you do visit, bring your iPod and plug it into the Porta-Party in the back for your personal dance party.
9411 Culver Blvd.
$50 per person
Seeing as how I already put up the exterior photo of Fraiche at the beginning of this post, I
used a picture of their corkboard menu with insignia for this section. It was either that, or this picture of their bread.
Fraiche has been on my try list for quite some time since I kept hearing about how popular this place was. The new "it" restaurant, serving rustic French and Italian food. I decided to come here with my girlfriend to celebrate my graduation from UCLA. I made the reservations online, came 15 minutes early, and was seated at a comfortable table outside with no problem. The restaurant interior is actually not that big; they have several tables for patio dining with appropriate heat lamp climate control. Maybe it was the hanging lights, or maybe it was the friendly staff dressed in pink shirts, but I felt at ease in the restaurant. Actually, it was probably just the older crowd than the usual places I eat at.
Beef Tartare and White Corn Soup
The dinner started with a bread plate of four different types served with a simple, but tasty tapenade. The olive spread was a refreshing change from the all-too-common butter. I started with the beef tartare as my appetizer. Now I haven't had beef tartare enough times to really compare, but compared to everything else I have ever eaten, this dish definitely ranks among the most memorable. Prepared with bacon Sabayon, chives and accompanying a side arugula salad, it had all the complexity in flavor and texture that made me smile after each bite. Good thing this was my graduation dinner, because I truly thought I had to work for four years to deserve something so delicious. The chewy beef contrasted nicely with the crunchy toast, keeping my tongue busy as I worked my way through the flavors. My girlfriend had the white corn soup with basil cream and a floating corn fritter. The soup was delicate and sweet, the corn flavor dominant but not overwhelming. Visually, the cream swirling around the fritter looked almost tranquil or balanced.
Monkfish and Lamb
Going on the recommendation of a friend, I ordered the monkfish Francaise with spinach and potato puree in a white wine reduction. Now I didn't know it at the time, but fish prepared a la Francaise means coating in an egg batter and pan-roasting. Unfortunately, I have a disdain for egg, and the flavor detracted from the fish. The potato puree saved the dish however, it was smooth and velvety, rich with surely the pound of butter they used to make it. The lamb spezzatino was a stewed lamb with gnocchi. The gnocchi resembled my potato puree in texture, but the lamb was nothing spectacular. Actually, for the amount I'm paying, I expected a bit more.
For dessert, I ordered the Paris-brest, which was something that resembled a puff pastry filled with almond praline chantilly cream and topped with saffron golden raisin sauce. Now I couldn't figure out if saffron was just to describe the color of the sauce, or if there was really saffron in the sauce. Either way, I didn't like the sauce. The pastry itself was sweet and not too rich. The spun sugar topping was also a visual treat.
All in all, I have a fairly positive impression of Fraiche, pronounced "fresh" by the way. I didn't mention that to sound pretentious; I just made the mistake myself when I talked to the hostess. While the entrees failed to meet my expectations, I would definitely go back someday, just not soon. There are so many other places to try. And after this experience, some of those places might just be in Culver City. Honey Kettle and Ford's Filling Station, here I come!