Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rustic Canyon: A near perfect meal with my near perfect brother

“Perfectly lovely dinner with my brother at Rustic Canyon during his layover at LAX. This memory is a keeper. :)” I type on Twitter on Sunday night. It’s late, and I’m tired – more tired than I’d like to be going into the work week – but it’s a good tired. A blissful tired.

Truthfully, I’d been a bit frustrated with the lead up to the dinner. My brother thought he might be coming to LA on Saturday, so I’d originally made reservations at Rustic Canyon for that night. Then he decided to just fly in from Phoenix on Sunday so we could grab an early bite before he flew out of LA on a business trip. So I cancelled the reservation for Saturday and then changed it to Sunday at 6:15 pm.

Then on Saturday evening, I found out his flight wouldn’t be leaving LAX at midnight. Once again, I called the restaurant back to change the reservation to 7:15 pm. And then, Sunday afternoon, I learned he wouldn’t be arriving at LA until 7 pm. I called back a third time.

“I’m so sorry,” I gushed to the hostess who answered the phone. “Can we push it back to 7:30, 7:45?”

Amazingly, she obliged without sounding the least bit weary of my seemingly never-ending stream of phone calls. (I would have been ready to punch my face out.)

The kind reception continued upon my brother and my late arrival to the restaurant at almost 7:50 pm on Sunday evening. My nerves were shot from circling LAX six times, and I was embarrassed at our tardiness since I am normally obsessively punctual. Fortunately, the hazily lit restaurant/wine bar was not pushing maximum capacity. My guilt quickly abated as the hostess led my brother and me to our table by the window overlooking Wilshire Blvd.

It wasn’t until that moment that I finally let myself breathe. I was with my brother and didn’t need to worry nor neuroticate myself for the next two hours. I could sit back, enjoy the moment and make special memories in the uncharacteristically serene setting of the restaurant.

The best thing about eating with Richard (aside from his eagerness to treat and penchant for fine wines), is that he is exactly like me. (Aside from the blonde hair, pink skirts and affection for cute waiters.)

We are both built the same – tall and thin with voracious appetites, both consider it foul play to leave a restaurant without ordering appetizers, entrees and desserts, and we are both horrible at making decisions.

“What are your favorites?” He asked our adorable waitress when she approached our table.

I smiled to myself, happy that for once someone else was asking the hateful question. Normally I’m the one hounding servers for suggestions and then still taking forever and a decade to decide.

Upon hearing her recommendations, we consulted for a few more minutes about which appetizers would compliment each other best. We opted to ignore the salads (neither of us was in the mood for roughage) and went straight for the beginnings of a food coma with the Niman Ranch lamb meatballs with heirloom tomatoes, pickled chiles, green olives and mint ($14), and H.C.’s favorite sweet corn agnolotti with carmelized corn ($15). To accompany? A bottle of a Penner Ash Syrah that I’m sure I would have no business ordering on my own accord. It was delicious – the type of wine that tickles the tongue and warms the throat. (And, more importantly, takes the neurotic edge off the market for the evening.)

Of the two appetizers, the lamb meatballs were the decided favorite. Lean yet robust in flavor, they paired well with the acid from the tomatoes and bitter tang of the green olives (a food item we both normally disdain). While the sweet agnolotti pillows provided a nice juxtaposition to the savory meatballs, ultimately, Richard and I found them to be better suited for a dessert course than an entrée or shared starter.

I was a bit concerned that my Woodland Farms duck breast with roasted peaches, sweet corn puree and basil ($30) might follow suit, but the sweet and savory flavors were perfectly balanced on the plate. The tender duck, still moist with the fat from the attached skin, was expertly prepared. Paired with the surprisingly savory bite of peach and sweet kiss of the corn puree, the entire entrée was a knock-out – the type of dish that could stop traffic if it were walking across Sunset Blvd. on a Saturday night. Or, more accurately, just stop me from talking.

My brother was convinced that he’d won the battle of the entrees with his striped bass with eggplant capanata ($28), and while the bite I tried was pretty compelling for his case, I was already in full swoon mode over my duck. We both cleared our plates (though he did leave a few stray olives), and then turned our eyes directly toward the dessert menu.

Once again, it proved to be a bane for our indecisive existences as we questioned and requestioned our server about her favorites. I’m sure she was frustrated when we ignored her recommendations -- the hot cinnamon sugar doughnuts and roasted pear and apple turnover, in favor of the peach and blueberry crostata with crème fraiche ice cream ($9), and the flourless chocolate walnut torte with whipped cream ($9), but she never let on if we were annoying her.

Because I love pastry chef Zoe Nathan’s sweets at Huckleberry (in particular the salted caramel which I’ve been known to drive miles out of my way to procure), I had high hopes for this course of my brother and my feast. Perhaps a little too high of hopes. While I could detect the effort and high quality ingredients that went into both desserts, ultimately, neither sang to me. My brother and I like our meals to end with something a bit over-the-top – chocolate drenched, ice cream topped and sugary to the max. (Bread pudding is a favorite.) The crostata and chocolate torte were both more understated and refined in their composition. They were fine pastries, but lacked the sweet intensity that my brother and I crave.

Even with the slight misses, the evening was one that will stand out in my mind as one of the definitive memories of my 26th birthday. Not only because the duck and meatballs gave me a carnivoric thrill, but because, quite simply, I love spending time with my brother. If it weren’t so cheesy, I’d steal a line from As Good As it Gets and say he “makes me want to be a better person.”

Instead, I’ll just say that he completes my restaurant self. He asks the annoying questions I hate to ask, he doesn't make me feel like a fatty for wanting two desserts, he insists on paying the bill, and I get to leave with a full belly, a smile on my face and, most importantly, excellent fodder for a new blog post.

Rustic Canyon Winebar
119 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

(310) 393-7050


Sam said...

Zoe Nathan makes some great crostatas.

mattatouille said...

one of my favorite restaurants in the city. great post!

yutjangsah said...

yumm. that duck breast looks delish and those desserts look divine. what a nice brother.

weezermonkey said...

Yummy yummy! I've heard so many great things. Glad you had a good time with your bro.

Melissa Good Taste said...

Duck. I love it. I want it. I need to have it now. I sound scary.

Esi said...

Once again...happy birthday! I finally saw where this place is so I want to go once I escape my imprisonment. Glad you had a great evening with your brother!

Elra said...

Deserts look so good Diana! I'll eat them both!

Diana said...

Sam - I still like her salted caramels better. :)

Matt - Thanks! I really loved it -- I can't wait to go back! Next time I'm all over the fried squash blossoms with goat cheese!

Sook - The duck, oh the duck. It will haunt my dreams until I eat it again.

Sharon - It's a must try! Take the hubby for date night!

Melissa - Haha, I totally get it. That duck is worth getting scary over.

Esi - Thanks! I hear the burger is amazing there -- it looked prettty awesome!

Elra - The pastry chef Zoe Nathan is really talented.

Jenn said...

It is just me or do those meatballs look huge?! I want some of that and the duck. Then top it off with those luscious desserts. Yum!!!

The Duo Dishes said...

Cute post. And awesome to have a bro who always pays. Lucky you. Wish the sweet corn agnolotti had been better because that double corn app sounded like it had super potential. Great meal though!

Cinnamon Girl aka Reeni♥ said...

How sweet that your brother flew in just to buy you dinner! And what a delicious dinner at that! Happy Birthday!!!

Kirby! said...

Don't you just loooove brothers??? But mine would never take me to Rustic Canyon... my little brother who lives with me mostly eats hot dogs from 7 Eleven, harumph. Great choice of restaurant, though. Color me jealous.

Beth G. @SweetLifeKitchen said...

Hi there! So glad to know about your site~ I am a Bar Method addict/foodie too and saw your RT this morning, I love your site~
...and now I am way hungry!

Gastronomer said...

Your duck plate is so wonderfully colorful! Looks like a rainbow. A delicious rainbow. Gotta love older bros with money to blows ;-)

The Blonde Duck said...

I think it's wonderful you have such a good relationship with your brother!

Diana said...

Jenn - They were pretty big! I think I got 6 bites out of one!

Chrystal & Amir - The agnolotti was good, but the meatballs just stole the show. Would have loved them for dessert! :)

Reeni - Thanks! He's not too shabby a brother at all.

Kirby - I'm officially a Rustic Canyon fan -- it was awesome! And yes, brothers are the best!

Beth G. - Thanks so much for your sweet words! Maybe I'll see you in Bar Method one day!

Cathy - It was magically delicious -- and way better than those marshmallow rainbows in the Lucky Charms box!

Miranda - I do too! :)

H. C. said...

heh, what sweet tooth? and yeah, the agnolotti could've totally passed for a light dessert for me too.

But happy b-day nonetheless, hope the Little Flower salty caramel filled that sweet-savory gap :)