Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LA (1of2) - What the Puck? Chinois on Main

I had to make a quick run out to LA for business, so I called up a friend/former co-worker who is now living in Santa Monica to connect over chow. My buddy Eric clearly doesn't get out much as he kept pointing out places that he heard were excellent, but since he had never been to any of them, he couldn't say for sure. Of the options he presented, we aimed for Chinois - a long-standing Wolfgang Puck establishment on the Main Street drag.

If I did not know it was a Puck establishment, I would have been nervous. The place has clearly not been renovated since the 80's and every surface had a Miami Vice/Buddha Palace color and texture palette applied to it. The Puck folks describe the design as "timeless" with only the slightest hint of irony. Eric had heard that this was one of Wolfgang's first restaurants and that the food was excellent so we gave it a go.

The menu read like a twisted Chinese-America culinary romance novel, if such a thing existed. Dishes like "Warm sweet curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls" and "Braised veal cheeks with plum wine and long life noodles" suggested hard-core gastroporn, so I aimed for two of the less sexy items labeled as "Chinois Classics" to get a better feel for the soul of this joint.

I paired an entree of Grilled Szechuan beef with spicy shallot cilantro sauce with a side dish of the Crispy Spinach. The beef was exceptional in tenderness, flavor and raw spirit and was brought to new heights with the side sauce.

If you have not enjoyed a good fried hardy green, the Crispy Spinach at Chinois is a sporty intro. I fell in love with the concept of taking good a tough leaf like spinach or collards and deep frying them to tender crispy perfection several years ago. Whenever I see crisp greens on a menu, I can't resist. The side dish was a bountiful massive platter that both Eric and I noshed down to the clean plate below. Fried vegetables are a beautiful thing!

While I could quibble with the decor, the food wiped it all away and made me forgive the Puckster for some missteps he's made at my local Puck hot-spot 20-21 (another place with great food, but questionable restaurant design) or those horrid Wolfgang Puck Express outlets in airports and malls. If I were him, I'd expand more cautiously.

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