Friday, March 27, 2009

SiLa Bistro: A night worthy of "the splurge"

"I shouldn't be doing this." I think as I climb into the driver's seat of my 1999 Silver Toyota Corolla on Wednesday night. I carefully smooth out my pale blue dress so it won't wrinkle on the ride over and intently study the map I printed out from Google. It isn't a bad drive from my West Hollywood apartment to the restaurant in Silverlake -- only 6 miles, but it's not the drive I am worried about.

I am worried because I am getting my hair cut and colored on Saturday. I am worried because I am also having my car serviced and fixed up with new brake pads so I don't crash into the Prius that makes a sudden stop in front of me on the 10 fwy. Plus, after nearly two months of holding out, the previous day I decided that I could no longer stand the wretched state of my cuticles and broke down and got a pedicure. This is not exactly the week for putting my credit card out to pasture for a nice dinner out -- especially when my refrigerator is currently rivalling the produce section at Whole Foods.

"I shouldn't be doing this," I think again, as I dodge around a driver, carelessly trying to make a left turn at a signal that prohibits such action between 4 and 7 pm.

"I shouldn't be doing this," I think, as I scour the blocks surrounding Hyperion Avenue for free street parking.

"I shouldn't be doing this," I think, as I scurry down the street, frantically glancing at the clock on my cell phone to make sure I won't be late for my dinner date with three lovely ladies.

And then I am in front of the quaint neighborhood bistro that is humbly planted on the corner of Hyperion and Griffith Park Blvd. I pull the front door open and step inside the warm dining room to the welcoming smiles of the owners and staff. In that instant, all my guilt fades away into the dim night sky.

For the next three hours, I let myself go to the hands of the talented restaurateurs, relishing every moment of the experience with my new friends, and savoring every bite of the seasonally-inspired, local fare.

Restaurants like SiLa, an acronym for Silver Lake, are special not just because of the intent focus of the menu or the unique flavor profiles in one of their signature dishes, the absinthe shrimp. Restaurants like SiLa are special because they make their customers feel special. On this particular night, the owners and staff make it their mission to woo our party of four, like we are living in a Jane Austin book, and they are competing to win each of our hands in marriage.

The meal begins auspiciously with a shower of amuse bouches -- crispy cubes of seasoned potatoes and mini crostinis topped with herbed goat cheese. The gesture sets the tone for the evening and sets our bellies ablaze for the impending feast.

After the last potato cube is claimed, we boldly attack our first appetizer, the SiLa tart, which is essentially a puff pastry pizza topped with mozzarella, tomato, basil, proscuitto, and lemon dressed arugula. The buttery crust and succulent cheese caress our tongues with decadence, priming our senses for our even heartier other starter, a gratin of macaroni & four cheeses with sharp cheddar, fontina, gorgonzola, and Parmesan.

The pungent bite of gorgonzola dominates here, forcefully announcing itself on our palates and muddying the other cheeses in the dish. At first, I am overwhelmed, but as the cheeses cool, the flavors begin to harmonize. I am eager to spoon another small helping onto my plate -- as are my dining companions. We don't stop until the last elbow of macaroni has disappeared.
Our entrees arrive at the table with flourish -- each presented in a way that articulates the vision of the dish. Two orders of the daily special, a Lake Superior white fish with braised leeks, red potatoes and a vin blanc sauce for myself and the lady to my right, are delicately displayed on the plates -- an appropriate visual for the mild fish and accompanying sauce. The flavors are understated, almost to the point of negligibility, but the flaky fish is cooked well. I enjoy the crisp sear of skin on the top, and am only momentarily dismayed that I didn't opt for the bolder absinthe shrimp, a vibrant display of mixed greens, sauteed asparagus and baby tomatoes.

Upon sharing tastes of all the entrees at the table, we agree that the country fried steak with shallot mashed potatoes, sausage gravy and maple glazed carrots selected by the self-described "hardcore meat eater," is the definitive belle of the ball. This is comfort food done justice. The tender crisp-fried cutlet is unapologetically plopped down on its mashed potato bed and dressed to the nines in its sausage gravy overcoat. This would be a terrifying plate for a dainty damsel, but for the four hearty appetites at the table, it is a sight to be revered.

In continuing with the spirit of our deep-sea dining, dessert is not even a question. The red velvet cake is striking, but, according to my companions, who did not opt to extricate chocolate from their diets for six weeks, does not quite live up to expectations. The apple tart with vanilla bean ice cream -- a sweet rendition of the puff pastry savory starter -- is the decided favorite.

After the last flake of the pastry is consumed, we don't rush from our chairs to dash home since it is a "school night" and one of us has to wake up to run six miles the next day (surprisingly, not me). We are comfortable and relaxed, and our wooers do nothing to hurry us on our way. They encourage our lingering presense, even serenading us with complimentary glasses of tawny port to further enhance our spirited discussion and uninhibited laughter.

As we finally get ready to depart, three hours after arriving at the restaurant, one of the owners makes a point to thank us for coming in during these tough economic times.

I pause, look him in the eye and without a hint of my previous guilt, respond, "Evening's like this are worth the splurge."

My words are not intended for flattery, but carry the force of a fresh desire to treat myself as well as the restaurant treated me that night. I walk out the door thinking, "I should be doing this." I walk down the street, thinking, "I should be doing this." And I drive home to my apartment, thinking, "I should be doing this. I should be doing this more often."


Esi said...

Fun night out! Definitely makes it worth the expense.

Sara said...

Everything looks so amazing! Sometimes you just need to splurge :)

The Blonde Duck said...

Was it halibut? I adore halibut.

Remember, princess: every day is a perfect day for a splurge.

Reeni♥ said...

Everything looks decadent and delicious! You deserved every moment of it.

Diana said...

Thank you all for making me feel completely justified in wining and dining myself! :) Hope you guys treat your lovely selves to something special this weekend!

Heather said...

ohhhh. good luck with the hair cut! that looks like such a fun night out! if you're ever in dc, we definitely need to do dinner. i love a girl who splurges for food :D

Ginger said...

OK now I am hungry!! I was thinking about asking my husband for a nice night out?? Now I know I am. Thank you for sharing.

Pepsi Monster said...

Damnit, I wished I could have join you gals. I was at La Casita Mexicana that night. Oh well, hopefully next time for sure because SiLa sounds fun!