Monday, May 18, 2009
Canelé in Atwater Village: It's Pronounced Can-a-lay
As the title might suggest, I was a little slow picking up the correct pronunciation of Canelé. I'm never very good with French or Italian. So after being corrected by Christine I'm writing it here prominently so I can remember. Given that I was working in Pasadena the last week, I decided to send out an invite for a casual dinner at the restaurant I had been meaning to try for months. Of course, I realized that night that bloggers don't really have "casual dinners" and meals inevitably (d)evolve into marathons, to be chronicled in an upcoming post.
My first encounter with Canelé was the LA Magazine Top 75 Restaurants list last year. When I first read it, I had only gone to four of those places. Now I've gone to sixteen. Still not quite as many as I had hoped, but along the way I found enough other places to keep me quite satisfied. But knowing that this was one of Mattatouille's favorite restaurants, I called him up along with Christine, Danny, Fiona, Josh, and Kevin for dinner. I guess it's safe to say since today was my last day of work, but I'm moving to New York. This was one of the last get-togethers I'd have with my foodie friends and certainly didn't disappoint.
I entered the quaint restaurant about ten to six on a Thursday night. Greeting me was Jane Choi, the manager, and Corina Weibel, the chef. Together, this dynamic duo runs the front and back-end operations of Canelé. Of course "back-end" is somewhat of a misnomer because of the open air kitchen in plain sight of the dining patrons. I could see myself coming by for a bite after work, maybe sitting along the bar, watching the cooks churn out Mediterranean comfort food. I swore I saw Andre Royo at the bar too, but none of my companions watched The Wire and couldn't identify him as that lovable drug addict Bubbles.
No reservations are accepted since the place is so small, but since I was the first person in the restaurant, I had no trouble securing the large communal table, which seats about 8-12. Eschewing the $22 prix-fixe menu Tuesday through Thursday, our group of seven picked out five appetizers, seven entrees and four desserts.
According to Matt, this is a common bistro fare. I could easily imagine it being a simple snack served on a Parisian patio. As with most French food, the dish was rich and soul-warming. A cod, olive oil, and milk puree, it had plenty of cod flavor but without unbearable fishiness. Eaten with a few slices of baguette, this could easily make a heavy first course or a midday snack. I wonder if any wine could stand up to this dish. Our syrah and chardonnay certainly couldn't keep up.
Clams and Mussels
As one of the specials of the day, the clams and mussels dish was not a typical menu item. For seafood like clams and mussels, I always like to hear that they're offered as a special. I like to think that the chef picked those out because they looked good for that night, rather than keeping them on the menu and settling for substandard seafood. What I liked about this plate of mollusks was that the shellfish had an opportunity to express its own flavor rather than simply being swallowed up in garlic butter. Definitely, the butter helped to heighten the flavor, but it wasn't dominating.
Lamb liver terrine
This was my first encounter with lamb liver terrine. Considering my deep love of anything lamb, I would've sought this out earlier had I known it existed. However, my fear with liver dishes is always that the iron taste of liver would overwhelm whatever else was present in the dish. Perhaps it was just bad liver prepared in my childhood that turned me off to that organ in particular. But this lamb terrine had a curious consistency, almost like tuna salad, and an intensity of lamb taste. Paired with the caraway-beer sauce, I could eat a tub of it.
Asparagus and egg on toast
Maybe there's a fancier name for this dish, but it is best described by its component parts. Typically, I am not a fan of asparagus, but the combination of asparagus and egg actually makes me want to buy a few stalks of the hardy green for my next omelet. I always like loose yolk preparations of egg. Good bread dipped in a runny yolk makes an excellent breakfast.
Duck liver pate
My favorite appetizer of the night, the duck pate was creamy enough to melt delicately in my mouth, but solid enough to hold up the cherry compote. This was presented to us as duck liver, but I'm curious if there is a duck liver that's not foie gras. Does the liver need to be fattened to be considered foie gras? As far as I can tell, terrine refer to the cookware, whereas pate just refers to a spreadable minced meat and fat.
Salt roasted brazino
I believe the salt roasted title indicated that the fish was covered in a salt dome to moderate temperature and properly season the fish. The resultant dish had a pleasant flavor with the perfect amount of seasoning. This was my first exposure to caperberries, which are like giant capers. From what I deduced, capers are pickled buds of a Mediterranean bush, whereas caperberries are when the buds are allowed to flower and produce the caperberry fruit. In my opinion, caperberries are much more delightful.
When I first heard about confits, meats slowly simmered in its own rendered fat, I thought this would surely be my favorite preparation of duck. However, in practice, most of the confits I find are too dry. Without enough moisture, the flavor is defeated and the texture flakes. This wasn't the case with the confit at Canelé. Each piece maintain its juiciness and fat.
Christine may peg me as a complainer, but I was clearly complimenting the short ribs for glistening in all that holy fat. I wouldn't blame anyone for mistakenly calling this lump of hog meat pork belly. Given its shiny, layered appearance, I was shocked that this didn't come from the underside of a pig. Do I really need to describe its flavor? Look at it. How else could it taste?
Leg of lamb
For my personal dish, I chose the leg of lamb. I'm a sucker for lamb, I just can't resist. Sadly, for all the complexity of flavor, much of it was lost by being overcooked. The meat was probably closer to a medium-well than a dull red medium-rare.
We also had a few desserts, but by then the sun had set and my poor camera couldn't capture anything that wasn't grainy and bathed in the orange glow of incandescent light. Their homemade cheesecake was my preferred meal-ender. Instead of a slice, each cake is made separately. It looked more like a wheel of chevre than a cake. The flourless chocolate cake was also one of the fluffiest flourless cakes I've had. It bypasses the problem of dense chocolate black holes of indulgence. And in case you're wondering, Jane served us Canelés on the way out. Maybe I got a bad one, but mine tasted slightly burnt and it lacked any kind of soft center.
Ah, so that's the namesake pastry
See some actual food worthy pictures and encyclopedic insight on Kevin's post.
For the brunch review and a Christine photospread, see Matt's entry.
3219 Glendale Blvd
$6-11 appetizers, $18-22 entrees, $7 desserts