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 My brother thought he might be coming to LA on Saturday, so I’d originally made reservations at Rustic Canyon for that night.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