Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bastide: A taste of France, the comfort of home

I don’t want to go. I’m tired. I might be getting sick. I had a bad day. I’m feeling sad. I just want to stay home. Eat frozen pizza. Watch last night’s Mad Men and drink tea and wallow in my threadbare 10-year-old sweatpants and fuzzy purple slippers. I don’t want to be social. I don’t want to take pictures. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to kiss cheeks and shake hands and be “on.”

My mind is whirling with negativity as I walk toward Bastide, an acclaimed modern French Bistro on Melrose Place, for a special hosted dinner on Monday evening. I take a deep breath as I approach the entrance to the restaurant – I’m not quite sure I’m ready for this. Part of me still wants to turn around and walk back home to my apartment a half mile away in West Hollywood.

Part of me wants to melt away into the dusky night air.

But then I step inside the door and get my first glimpse of Bastide’s patio that is already littered with diners and revelers who are taking advantage of the restaurant’s new Monday night $15 cocktail event that takes place from 5:00 – 7:00 pm every week. They seem so relaxed – so the opposite of my mood – as they sip their cocktail or glass of wine and nibble on small bites from the menu.
It’s not hard for me to see why. The patio is beautiful. Not in the fussy way that one would imagine from such an esteemed restaurant. It’s a homey beautiful. Quiant. Comfortable. Accessible. Like the slippers and threadbare sweatpants I left by my bedside at home. I want to curl up under the trees with a book, have lunch with a girlfriend at one of the shaded tables, and sip a breezy white wine from Manager/Sommilier Dario Dell’Anno’s thoughtful wine list on a week night when I should be going to a Bar Method class instead.

Smiles extend a welcoming hand from the patio space outside the entrance to the eclectic interior of the restaurant. I walk forward, confident now. A glass of champagne is placed in my hand, a pork rillette crostini with pickled cherries and cashews is proffered from a server nearby, and my initial hesitation to leave my apartment vanishes.

A yellowtail tartare coquettishly served in a spoon with coconut, cilantro, capers, and lime dances on my tongue with its playful flavors. A chilled corn soup with poached shrimp, orange and curry oil is equally amusing to my palate -- the orange segment hidden at the bottom is a pleasant surprise that brightens and enhances the flavor of the sweet corn.

Then again, everything about this evening seems to be a pleasant surprise.

After all our glasses of champagne are empty, we proceed to our table nestled under the boughs of the tallest tree on the patio. As I tear into the fragrant bread basket and massage a warm onion focaccia roll with an obscene amount of the house-made salted butter, I can’t remember why I didn’t want to come now. At the moment, all I can think about is how I can’t stop drinking the crisp Viognier from the Rhone Valley (apparently I am in the mood to drink) and can’t stop eating the butter like it’s a more innocuous spread like hummus.

A Watermelon Salad with fried chicken, tomato, feta, mache, and aged sherry emulsion is the first course to arrive at the table. The plate immediately makes me think of summers at my grandma’s house in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when my family and I would pick up fried chicken from a local hole-in-the-wall and enjoy it with fresh tomatoes from the garden and ambitious slices of watermelon. Bastide’s dish is a refined, modern take on a typical summer BBQ meal. The flavors of the farmers’ market fresh produce explode, and the thin coat of breading on the chicken provides a welcome sinful counterpoint that is well-balanced by the more virtuous components of the plate.
The Squid served with chickpeas, cucumber, chorizo, and fennel further exemplifies the careful balance that Executive Chef Joseph Mahon applies to each dish. While I always appreciate a good char on my cephalopods, the smoky flavor and rougher texture from the grill would undermine the delicacy of this plate. Every element of the starter – even the nibbles of chorizo – seems to be muted to allow everything to sing together. It pairs well with the buttery, unoaked Chamisal Chardonnay from the Edna Valley. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy the wine – surprised at how much I’m enjoying everything on a night when the couch had seemed to be the most pleasurable place to spend my evening.

The Tomato Risotto with artichoke, herb salad and goat cheese (an off-the-menu item) sings even louder than the squid. I love the crunch from the croutons – an astute interruption to the creamy risotto and spritely endive salad. There’s a lot going on, but the risotto isn’t lost amidst the (welcome) chaos.

I’m delighted to see Salmon with beluga lentils, snap peas and port wine sauce arrive at the table with a light red from the Rhone Valley next. I’d been hoping for wild salmon even though it’s at the tail-end of the season. The fatty fish has always been a comfort food for me, and on this night Bastide’s preparation is no exception. The sous vide salmon is lush and rich – a robust piece of flesh that could hold its own against heartier proteins. The port wine sauce and snap peas accentuate the natural sweetness of the fish, while the lentils counter with earthy undertones. It’s my favorite dish of the night.
Our final savory course -- Lamb with carrot puree, olive, grilled zucchini, and natural jus – seems slightly less bold than the proceeding dishes, but is well-executed. While I’m used to more overtly sweet accompaniments with lamb, I appreciate the understated carrot puree that is tempered by the addition of cream and further toned down by the grilled zucchini. The chop itself is blissfully lean with just a shy whisper of fat around the bone that I happily extract with my teeth. I don’t want to waste a single bite of this restorative meal. Looking around at all the empty plates, I see my dining companions feel the same way.

The night concludes with a soufflé-like Chocolate Pudding Cake topped with peanuts and coconut rum ice cream. The high quality bittersweet chocolate punches the palate with richness, but isn’t overbearing like many interpretations. Sugar has been applied with a delicate hand – its presence only detectable by the caramelized edges along the walls of the bowl. The coconut rum ice cream is a refreshing counterpoint to the warm cake and the peanuts punctuate the sweetness with salty relief. It’s a beautiful, soul-satisfying dessert.

I don’t want the night to end now. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to retreat to the mundane space of my apartment and the tattered sweat pants that await me on my bed. I want to stay within the comforting walls of Bastide’s enclosed patio – sipping wine, smearing butter on their house-made bread, and kissing cheeks with the friends and colleagues who lifted my spirits tonight.

It was the perfect evening. And Bastide was the perfect place to release the tension that was previously wrapped around my heavy heart.

8475 Melrose Place
Los Angeles, CA 90069-5311
(323) 651-5950


BeckyO said...

I'm so glad you mustered the energy to go to Bastide!! Definitely a great little taste of France, and so unassuming and modest... I need to revisit soon! Thanks for the reminder!!

Esi said...

Glad the evening out lifted your mood. It sounds great, but 5-7 on a weeknight? Sigh

sarah j. gim said...

i feel in love with, and on, that patio :D

Ashley said...

Good way to brighten a Monday evening :)

weezermonkey said...

Love your squid-on-the-fork shot!

Bianca said...

First of all, I thought I was the only one that would get anxiety before attending these events. GLad to know I'm not alone! Also, I've heard so much about that place & totally did NOT expect it to have a cozy feel! It makes it less intimidating!

Diana said...

Becky - I was surprised at how unassuming Bastide is! I was expecting it to be snooty for some reason, but it wasn't at all - the complete opposite in fact!

Esi - Aww, I know. You need to change industries!

Sarah - I feel in love with the patio and the butter on the patio.

Ashley - Definitely! It was certainly a "happier" hour for me. Ugh, okay that was a terrible pun. TERRIBLE. :)

Weez - Would you believe I ate it too?

Bianca - You must check it out! It's such a friendly space and the food is amazing!

Anna A. said...

Purple fuzzy slippers do sound nice, but it sounds like you made the right decision. yum!

stuffycheaks said...

i'm so glad it turned out well for you and that you rallied. You can curl up in your PJs another day :)I've never been to the old bastide, but I enjoyed the new one (welcoming, not stuffy), and i recall loving the fried chicken too