Sunday, August 19, 2012

Passionate for Papilles

"Art is to refuse mediocrity,” the famous line by French painter Balthus, headlines the website for Los Angeles-based restaurant Papilles where one goes to find the menu that consists of two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts refreshed on a rotating, seasonal basis. And that is exactly what Patina-trained chef Tim Carey refuses as he reigns over a kitchen churning out excellent individual dishes that delight not only in presentation but also in creativity of ingredients and concept.

The casual bistro with a name that means “taste buds” is located un-pompously in a strip mall and has been on our “to eat at” list for months now. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ironically included the place as one of the summer’s three best prix fixe joints of the summer right as we had finally made reservations to go in and sample the fare for dinner prior to Neil Diamond’s Hot August Nights Anniversary Concert at the Greek Theater.

Because we had a concert to get to our reservations were made early and we had the restaurant to ourselves for a good hour. This was great considering the kitchen and the dining room are literally in one small room together so that you feel as if you are one with the chefs and staff in someone’s French country home. Unpretentious wood slat and stacked brick shelves holding multiple wine bottles available for sale with your meal sit next to oversized bags of baker’s chocolate and other restaurant supplies. I was able to watch Chef Carey supervise two assistant chefs with kid gloves, watching every single plate created and making sure it was delivered to us with the utmost perfection. At one point, he explained that he wasn't going to be around for a little while and wanted to make sure that his boss felt comfortable that the place would continue to run smoothly.  I am sure the Los Angeles Times article coming out exclamation pointed this consideration even further.

The Cute Gardener and I typically get everything on the menu to share when it comes as a two options per course prix fixe, which is exactly what we did here.  Four wines by the glass are also offered with the meal: a sparkling, a rose, a white and a red. I loved the “red” sparkling that started my experience.

To begin came a twist on a classic Italian first, only with chorizo replacing prosciutto in a melon and frisee salad. It was artfully presented with the chorizo not too spicy and making a perfect pairing with the triangles of soft, tender melon.

A bowl of rustic, dark roasted tomato and basil veloute came floating with a smiley face of olive oil ribbons and three yellow cherry tomato globes.

For our main, a duo of Niman pork was delivered sitting in a sweet and sour plum compote that married well with the pork belly’s fried chitlin skin layer, big purple lima-esque beans and wax string beans. The two pieces of loin were soft and pink scented on the tongue.

A large chunk of Virginia wild striped bass was nice but the star of the plate was the baby zucchini laid upon a hearty and rich sunburst squash puree and basil coulis. I just recently had the yellow and green sauce pairing at another dinner but it didn’t pack as much punch as the two here did.

Dessert’s first course was two perfectly soft mimolette slices with pistachio and jam to accompany the fruity, French cheddar.

And finally a buttery shortbread encrusted raspberry tart.

The place filled up as we were finishing our meal and the presence of others made the place bustle with noise and the kitchen ramp up its motion. We felt like we had been privy to a special moment prior when it was just we, the cooks, the exuberant host and attentive waiter, and an unusual soundtrack fit right for my palate made up of 1970’s rock and roll mixed with vintage French female siren songs. 

P.S. Santos Uy, Papilles owner, also owns Mignon Wine and Cheese Bar which is another favorite of mine. 

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