Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nook: New Year, New Experience

On October 16th, 2008, I wrote the following about my favorite Santa Monica restaurant, Nook Bistro:

"When I do have the opportunity to dine in the Nook again, I vow to challenge my palate. To turn down the sirens' call of the perfectly crusted mac 'n cheese, to deny myself the decadent chocolate banana bread pudding ($7) that turned me into a bread pudding-ophile, and to give myself a chance to love or hate something new. Because I can't really say "How do I love Nook? Let me count the ways..." until I know all the ways to love it."

On January 1st, 2009, I included Nook in my list of "2009 Food Resolutions," and wrote that I wanted to eat there for a fifth time, "So I can finally order something other than the gosh darn pork chop! (ie. the shrimp and grits)"

Then, on April 7th, 2009, I fulfilled the promise I made to myself in October '08 and January '09. I returned to Nook, and I (wait for it)... didn't... order... the... pork chop. After approximately eight months of sporting a green tan for my October dining companion's shrimp and grits, I finally tried the much-praised dish myself. But even more importantly, I finally let Nook show its range on my palate.

To start, my dining companion and I paid no attention to the lure of the luxurious mac & cheese or gorge-worthy Shitake & Gruyere bread pudding that we have both enjoyed on past visits. Instead, we opted for the Market Salad ($9), a fresh affair of baby beets, wild arugula, clementine wedges, walnuts, red onion, goat cheese, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. It is refined, subtly dressed and subtly plated, but filled with quality ingredients that truly sing of their origin. This aptly named salad reeks of farmer's fresh produce. The clementines from Trader Joe's are never this plump and sweet. The beets from Whole Food never taste this meaty or earthy. And the goat cheese is certainly an improvement on the variety I buy.

I continued my mission for an adventurous Nook dining experience with my aforementioned order of the Spicy Gulf Shrimp & Grits ($18) served with Falls Mill Stone ground grits and linguisa sausage. It was a bold move for a girl who up until 18 months ago had never had sausage. And hadn't had grits since she spat her mother's out into her napkin as a picky youngster who subsisted on an all carb diet of white bread, fruit and candy. It was my first experience with the classic Southern dish, and I found it to be every bit as delightful as I expected it to be. It is spicy, but not to the point of necessitating a pitcher of water to consume. The creamy grits provide the right balance against the heat from the shrimp and accompanying sea of indeterminate orange sauce. While I have no basis for comparison, this seems to be a well-executed version of a Southern standard.

My dining companion declared her Organic Half Roasted Chicken ($21) with roasted brussel sprouts, cheesy grits and natural pan jus equally compelling. I cannot corroborate her positive verdict because I don't eat off other people's plates unless they are related by blood or have entered into my inner circle (ie. have seen me when I'm grouchy and still love me), but can corroborate that my friend does know a thing or two or twelve about good vs. bad food. In other words, she is a fellow Yelper and I've read and agree with almost all of her 123 reviews. So when she moaned a bit after extracting a succulent bite of chicken from beneath the golden roasted skin, I'm inclined to believe that she wasn't moaning because the chicken sucketh.
After obliterating every last grain of the craveable grits from our plates, we did something seriously shocking at the bistro famous for its banana chocolate bread pudding. We (wait for it) ... passed on dessert. And even more shocking, I didn't even feel tempted to look at the menu. I was so satisfied by my new Nook experience that I was perfectly content to end my meal with my last swallow of 4 Bears Sauvignon Blanc ($8 a glass/$15 for a carafe). It was fun dabbling in the unknown. Especially since I now have the proper evidentiary support to say the line I quoted in my previous post.

"How do I love Nook? Let me count the ways..."

1. They serve the best mac & cheese in LA.

2. Complimentary boiled peanuts instead of bread? Yes, please!

3. The weird location and lack of signage makes me feel "in the know" when I dine there.

4. Bread pudding comes both savory and sweet.

5. It's perfect for every occasion - a date, a girl's night out, a business dinner, a birthday, or an ordinary day when nothing in the fridge sounds good.

6. When the bill comes, Debbie Debit card doesn't start screaming like Janet Leigh in the Psycho shower scene.

7. The pork here is by no means worthy of its tagline as merely "the other white meat." At Nook, it is the white meat. (Or at least it is until I try the chicken.)

8. I've said it once, and I'll say it again -- banana chocolate bread pudding.

And finally, the reason I've waited eight months to say...

9. The shrimp & grits.


The Blonde Duck said...

I'm glad you tried something new!

I'll take the mac and cheese...

Esi said...

How on earth does one find this place with no signage? lol. Everything sounds great though, especially the shrimp and grits. Glad you finally got to try it.

Heather said...

good thing you got rid of that green tan ;) i hear they're quite unsightly in bikini season :)

mattatouille said...

very nice review! i've been told to try this place over and over again from my westside friend. It's up on the top of my list when i'm over on the westside! :)

Pearl said...

ah! am glad that you were able to experience something new! that must be so fun and exciting! are you planning to return and try something new again, or do you think you'll go back to the old fave mac & cheese since you swayed last time? :)

Reeni♥ said...

I'm so happy you tried the shrimp and grits! A dish I love! And no dessert? What a satisfying meal!

Erica said...

I love the boiled peanuts instead of bread! I'm telling you- its the little changes restaurants make that can really set them apart!

TonyC said...

congrats on the "break through"! I hardly ever order the same thing even at the same restaurant. God forbid anyone orders the same thing during the same meal!

Diana said...

Miranda - It's so good!

Esi - I know, crazy huh? There's a small sign on the big sign for the shopping complex, but it's definitely easy to miss.

Heather - Oh yes! And it would totally clash with my blue bathing suit!

Matt - It's definitely my favorite restaurant on the Westside. Never disappoints and really very reasonable!

Pearl - I think I might try something new again next time. Maybe the short ribs? Or my friend's chicken did look really good...

Reeni - I loved the shrimp & grits! I wish more LA restaurants had it on the menu!

Erica - It really does make a difference! I want to try to make them at home sometime. It would be fun to serve at a party.

Tony - Hah, you wouldn't like dining out with me then! I've gotten better about ordering more adventurously, but am still a creature of habit.