Since opening in 1989, the restaurant has become a quiet institution on the LA dining scene. Everybody knows about it, everybody loves it, yet nobody talks about it. More often than not, La Brea Bakery hogs the attention for its rustic loaves of sourdough bread that occupy a special place in Los Angeleno’s hearts and kitchens.
Walking into Campanile’s dramatic space that always reminds me of an Old World castle on Friday evening, I’m struck by how familiar and comforting the restaurant feels to me. It’s been a year since I’ve been there, yet it’s as though no time has passed at all -- like when I see a college friend and we immediately carry on as though it was just yesterday that we were playing beer pong at the swimming team’s house party.
While I’ve been to Campanile for lunch, brunch and their glorious "Grilled Cheese Night," tonight I’m there for a special event -- their "Friday Night Flight" featuring wines from Loire Valley producer Philippe Gilbert. Our party of twelve will be receiving three courses paired with three wines for $28 – a steal considering the quality of the food and wine being served and poured.
The restaurant’s "Friday Night Flight" is a unique opportunity for me to use all of my senses to experience the meal rather than just capturing it briefly on my tongue and permanently on my digital camera. There’s a slower pace to dinner this evening – I’m smelling, tasting, pausing, relishing. Carefully choreographed tasting menus like this one make it clear that wine and food are meant to go together – just like a slice of La Brea Bakery’s dill sourdough bread is meant to go with a slab of salted butter. It also makes it clear that even after 21 years, Campanile has not lost its refined touch and fastidiousness in the open kitchen.
The sweet and savory tones of the Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tart with Frisée Salad are sharpened by the round presence of citrus in the glass of 2008 Menetou-Salon Blanc on my left. While at first bite, the Fresh Trout Quenelles with Mushroom Duxelles are confusing to my palate with their sausage-like texture and initially perplexing mushroom accompaniment, the dish makes more sense when paired with the 2009 Menetou-Salon Rosé. The fish flavor relaxes with a sip of the elegant pinot rosé, and the earthiness of the mushrooms shines through.
And the third course, the Sage-Crusted Pork Loin with Roasted Cherries & Crisp Leeks is only further enhanced by the red fruits lingering in the finish of the 2005 Menetou-Salon Rouge “Les Renardières.” The dish, however, can easily stand alone. The tender flesh of the well-seasoned pork loin paired with the addictive roasted fingerling potatoes and subtle cherry jus best exemplifies why Campanile is a beacon of light on South La Brea. It’s a timeless dish and timeless preparation – just like the timeless restaurant that serves it.
The cheese plate that follows – a supplement to the three course menu – is equally impressive and indicative of Campanile’s refinement and attention to detail. As I savor a fig, I wonder how it is that I've let Mark Peel’s restaurant slip to the back of my mind during the past year. It belongs in the front. And it deserves to be relished – just like a three course meal with wine pairings. Just like a new memory with a dear friend from the past.
624 South La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Note: Dishes pictured above were larger portions than what the restaurant usually serves for their "Friday Night Flights."