Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bastide - 02/09/2010

8475 Melrose Place
West Hollywood CA, 90069
(323) 651-5950.

Giraud, Lefebvre, Manzke, and Shoemaker. Most restaurants with such a revolving door of chefs would be destined for the dust bin of history but somehow Bastide has risen above that. Each incarnation of the restaurant seemingly opens to great anticipation and typically strong critical acclaim. At the same time the chefs go onto bigger and better things after a stint at Bastide despite typically leaving under less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps the thinking goes anybody who can deal with the mercurial Ptyka can handle anything a kitchen throws at them.

Enter Chef Joseph Mahon who reopened Bastide in December 2009 as a "bookstore bistro," offering books by French publisher Assouline (notice the illuminated "A"). After a breaking in period I was happy to see dinner service return to Bastide. Much of the decor and structure remain the same but the shelves laden with books give the restaurant a familiar inviting feel, like dinner at a close friend's house.

The old Bastide had arguably the best bread service I ever tasted. While the bread wasn't up to the level of my first visit, the selections were quite good particularly the olive bread.

The restaurant doesn't have a tasting menu yet so we just ordered one of everything on the menu. Unfortunately since we came near closing time they had run out of the oysters by then.

Watercress Custard - Meyer Lemon, Warm Grilled Shrimp
The star of this course was easily the interaction between the warm grilled shrimp and toasted pine nuts. I normally enjoy the crisp refreshing character of watercress but found the custard lacked the same level of intensity, though it did add a dense textural contrast.

Spinach Tart - Pancetta Crème Fraiche, Hazelnuts, Frisee Salad
Listening to the tart crumble underneath my fork I knew this was going to be good and I wasn't disappointed. The buttery tart and combined with the spinach and pancetta are reminiscent of the classic Quiche Lorraine.

Grilled Squid - Cucumber, Fennel, Cranberry Beans, Chorizo Butter
Seems like squid has become the hot new item the last few months with consistently good results. Bastide's offering has the makings of a superb grilled squid, snappy texture and briny sapor, with the chorizo adding lingering smoky weight and vegetables offering a subtle herbaceousness.

Scallop - Braised Crab, Tomato Confit, Basil Broth
The thickness of the scallop allowed for a welcome level of complexity, transitioning from well-done and caramelized at the top to completely raw at the base. The basil broth provided a strong vegetal to the mix, strong enough to add an interesting wrinkle to the dish but still enjoy the complexity of the scallop itself.

Onion Soup - Braised Beef Shank, Kidney Beans, Marrow Toast
A textbook French Onion Soup with a lingering bite on the finish; the redolent broth was enhanced with a meatiness from the beef while the kidney beans added a welcome starchy body to the soup.

Yellowtail - Shaved Vegetables
I typically like my raw fish neat but the light treatment of the vegetables made them a wonderful companion adding a brisk crunch in contrast to the dense fish. The kicker was the finish, a subtle note of mint, quite a departure from the typical hamachi.

Endive - Walnuts, Watercress, Cabrales, Plums, Honey-Vinaigrette
Alone the endive had a tangy depth and lively crispness, but it was the characteristic blue flavor of the Cabrales and tempering sweetness from the plums and honey that made this salad exceptional.

Bibb Lettuce - Shallot, Feta, Sherry Vinaigrette
The leafy greens are paired with a mouth-puckering vinaigrette and dry crumbly feta. I found the mix a bit too acrid for my tastes but the rest of the group seemed to like it.

Asparagus - Herb Salad, Almonds, Meyer Lemon Aioli
Perhaps the most conservative of the evening's salads. The herb salad and lemon aioli provide nice a distraction though for the most part, the natural essence of the asparagus holds the diner's attention.

Frisee - Bacon, Poached Egg, Crispy Chicken Thighs, Shallot Vinaigrette
Salad Lyonnaise is fast becoming like steak tartare to me, consistently delicious but slightly boring so I was happy to see addition of fried chicken to shake things up a bit. Both the salad and the chicken were good in their own right but the combination made this delicious.

Salmon -Potato Puree, Sugar Snap Peas, Pearl Onions, Port Wine Sauce
The salmon looked as if it had barely brushed the grill, almost entirely raw throughout the fish displayed a pronounced fishiness that was deftly managed by the port wine sauce. There was actually a bowl of rich potato puree that I forgot to eat until long after I had finished the fish, leaving me to wonder how the two would have been together.

Cod - Orzo, Turnips, Carrots, Arugula, Mussel Cream
Another delicious fish preparation, flaky and tender; delicious on its own or with mussel cream which helped heighten the flavor of the fish.

Red Wine Risotto - Wild Mushrooms, Parmesan
I've never really been too big a fan of red wine risotto, the richness so essential to a good risotto is muted by the astringent red wine.

Steak Frites - Anchovie Butter
This is my first time having anchovie butter on steak, as expected gives a mackrel-like savoriness to the beef that works exceedingly well with what would have been a solid but unremarkable steak otherwise.

Chicken - Celery Root Puree, Red Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Whole Grain Mustard-Chicken Jus
A very homey dish, I would expect to see a plate like this at a dinner party hosted by friends. The mustard and chicken were a spot-on combination, but I didn't care for the vegetables. The celery root and Brussels sprouts both had very aggressive flavors and the minimal preparation meant these two sides often dominated the chicken itself.

Braised Lamb Shank - Coco Beans, Preserved Lemon, Arugula Sauce
just what you'd expect with a good braised lamb, tender lean meat interspersed with generous marbling and all but falling off the bone. The nuttiness of the arugula works well to temper the heavy gaminess of the shank.

We wanted to try all the desserts as well but unfortunately they had run out of the Espresso Bon Bons by the time we got around to dessert. Apparently the restaurant just hired a new pastry chef, Rommel De Leon, whose work I admired at his former home, Rivera.

Vanilla Crème Caramel - Strawberry and Orange Chips, Star Anise Jus
A fairly typical crème caramel, firm and sweet, the dried fruit added a concentrated burst of flavor that broke up the monotony of the custard.

Apple Tart - Salted Caramel, Raw Vanilla Ice Milk
Chef De Leon's strength seems to lie with pastries above all else. Both this tart and the pastry desserts I had at Rivera have been simply brilliant. There is something to be said for a chef who can take one of the most basic desserts and turn it into something special. The cooked apple is omnipresent but restrained, helping tie the dish together rather than headlining. The buttery tart is imbued with the subtlest hint of savoriness from the salted caramel and the ice milk resonates with a note of pure vanilla.

Espresso Chiffon Cake - Espresso Cream, Chocolate Ice Cream, Toffee
I tend to favor fruit based desserts over chocolate but every now and then a chocolate course comes by that really impresses. The flavors of chocolate, espresso and toffee complimented one another yet were distinct enough to keep the dessert interesting. Add to that, the textural interplay of the three elements and you have the makings of a complex and delicious dessert.

Citrus Consommé - Yogurt Sherbet, Mango, Tapioca Cream
I wasn't sure what to make of this dessert to start. While I would have liked a bit more textural contrast, I quite enjoyed the contrast between the acidity of the consomme and the blunt sweetness of the mango.

The food at Bastide is noticeably different under Chef Mahon, gone is the sense of playfulness and whimsy that characterized previous incarnations of the restaurant. Ironically by espousing a eschewing the avant-garde french cuisine of Bastide's previous masters and embracing a more simplistic menu, Chef Mahon goes a long way to making the restaurant his own. All things considered the restaurant was quite impressive for an opening night or any night for that matter. It remains to be seen if Chef Mahon will in the footsteps of his predecessors or continue to offer his personal brand of classic French cooking.


Aaron said...

Looking at the itemized receipt, the dishes aren't that expensive. I guess that might be part of it's new bookstore bistro motif?

It looks like there's a disproportionate amount of salad dishes. Or is that just me?

The scallop looks amazing

Epicuryan said...


You are absolutely right about the price point. The chef mentioned he was going for a more affordable and approachable menu.

There were four salads but maybe because they were served consecutively it seems disproportionate to the rest of the menu.

Martini Addict said...

this is rommel de leon, the pastry chef at Bastide. Thank you for a very nice review about our food. better and improved menu is on the works and I hope to see u again at bastide. thank u once again and keep up the good work! cheers!