Three Ambitious Courses: Thirty-Seven Bucks

March 3, 2016

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Everything about Papilles was a surprise.

To start with, there’s the location in a minimall on a difficult stretch of Franklin Avenue, almost underneath the 101 overpass, and just past the on-ramp.  By the time you turn into the parking lot you feel you’ve been in some kind of crazy collision car chase.

Then you park, noticing with some dismay the stores surrounding the restaurant. Are you really in the right place?

And then you open the door.

Some of the best meals I’ve eaten have been in minuscule Paris restaurants whose chefs decided they were tired of feeding rich tourists. They stopped shooting for the stars, decamped to little storefront places in unimpressive arrondissements, lowered their prices and their expectations. Papilles feel like part of the bistronomie movement. The menu’s a flimsy sheet of paper, the tables are tiny, the chairs mismatched. And should you want a bottle of wine it’s probably on the shelf behind your chair.

You are, for all intents and purposes, eating in the kitchen.  Or perhaps the chef is cooking in the dining room.  You’re all in this together.

But the ambitious menu (and the interesting wine list), tell you that the owners are not novices. Chef Tim Carey worked at Patina; his partner Santos Uy was a sommelier at AOC.  They intend to feed you well. And generously; there is nothing mingy about these portions.

This was the menu a few nights ago:

Prix Fixe $37
First, Main, Dessert

First
Mustard Frills, Shaved Vegetables, Citrus, Pecans, Manchego
Nettle Velouté, Pickeld Cauliflower, Spiced Pepitas
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Uni, Trout Roe, Brown Butter +5
Chicken Liver Mousse, Brioche, Raisin Gastrique
Foie Gras Torchon, Orange, Guava +13

Main
Monk Fish, Bok Choy, Radish, Dashi Broth +3
Flat Iron Steak, Broccolini, Spring Garlic, Flowering Rapini

Dessert
Selection of Cheeses +5
Meyer Lemon Curd Tart
Butterscotch Pot de Crème, Cajeta

The picture at the top is the panna cotta, a riff on a famous Robuchon dish.  I would have liked it served in a smaller, deeper pot so the proportions were heavier on the panna cotta, but you can’t argue with generosity.  The flavors are intense, the cauliflower and cream taming the trout roe and framing the sea urchin.  I’d happily have eaten two.

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The foie gras was a huge slab – and that orange cream on the side an inspired touch.  Definitely worth the extra money.

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“You’re not making much on this dish,” I said to the chef.  He looked rueful. “You’re right,” he sighed, “but it’s not often I see such lovely monkfish.” He cooked it so carefully that the fantastic texture of the fish (it used to be called “poor man’s lobster”) was emphasized.  I loved the bit of rouille on toast. The crispness of the vegetables. And that dashi broth?  Beautiful.  Eating this I remembered that the chef started out as a fish monger- and likes to go fishing in his spare time.

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But he has a good hand with meat as well. This was a fine piece of beef – beautifully cooked – and crowned with that splendid bouquet of rapini flowers.

Desserts? Both simple. Both splendid. I’ll be back.

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4 Comments

  • KTLA says:

    Glad you had a chance to eat at Papilles. I think it is one of the most under appreciated restaurant in LA. They just don’t get the write ups they deserved. You are right, they are like the bistros in Paris cooked by Michelin star type chefs.

  • Sandra says:

    So happy to read this. Tim & his crew are definitely getting some long and well deserved attention. They have been quietly doing amazing things in that dingy, charming little corner for a while. Happy to see that their dedication to making great good (at a very reasonable price, I might add) is finally paying off. Now, if only I’ll be able to get a table after this….

  • Debby Alberts says:

    My secret is out! Has been my favorite restaurant in LA for over 4 years ever since S. Irene Virbila gave it 2 stars. I give it 5!

  • We’re so happy to see Tim & Co. get the recognition he deserves, especially from the likes of Ruth Reichl. Every single course of every single meal has always been prepared perfectly when we dine at Papilles. Bravo!

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