Massage kale, make big money

Los Angeles is teeming with hip, modern, cutting edge restaurants.  Saturday night David and i went to one of the newest, Cadet.  On Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, it’s a very dark facility with exposed brick walls, a wood burning oven and a menu so ultra-noveau it hurts.

Ostensibly, the place was booked up when David called for a table on Friday.  When he told them he was a columnist for the Santa Monica Press Democrat and his brother was the 15th rated blogger on Urbanspoon, a table mysteriously opened up.  Turns out there really is a power of the press.

The eclectic menu offers more in the way of appetizers and small plates than in entrees. Overall, the sense I get of the menu is modern French with California overtones.

Right off the bat, David broke my heart by ordering club soda with grapefruit bitters.  Why anyone would want to make grapefruit any more bitter than it already is escapes me.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing.

Grapefruit bitters

Grapefruit bitters.  Why?

I asked for iced tea and the yellow sweetener.  They managed to find one single packet.  I’m just not hip enough, I know, but couldn’t they steal TWO packets from McDonalds?  We can’t all live on agave syrup or stevia.

The oxtail and onion soup is phenomenal.  A classic French onion soup crossed with a very hearty beef broth, it was rich, earthy and fulfilling.

About that kale massaging.  David ordered the kale and persimmon salad, and inquired if the kale was cooked, as it often is to soften the notoriously tough veggie.  No, the waitress replied, it is massaged to break down the fibers. That seems more than a trifle over the top, but the proof of the massaging is in the eating and David approved of the well kneaded kale.

Kale and Persimmon salad, post massaging.

Kale and Persimmon salad, post massaging.

My 5th grade geography book had a chapter on switzerland, and discussed raclette, where a block of cheese is held near the fireplace and the top layer is scraped off as it melts and mixed with a variety of items and eaten on bread.  I’ve wanted to try it ever since, so I ordered it here.

They served me a small dish of melted cheese, ham, potatoes and onions, accompanied by a large piece of oven warm bread.  Not entirely what I had imagined, but awfully good.

Raclette, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Raclette, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Every restaurant needs a gimmick, I guess, something to separate themselves from the crowd.  At Cadet, it’s the swarm of tiny plates of condiments they serve with your entrée. Shredded carrots, pickled cabbage, pickles, garlic butter (very very garlic butter), horseradish creme fraiche, some kind of flat bread, smoked sea salt, a steamed tomato you’re supposed to do something with

.   The table is littered with all of this, all ways to dress up whatever you ordered just your own style.

All the little dishes that accompany the meal.

All the little dishes that accompany the meal.

For my main course I had the ember roasted black cod.

Black cod on a bare plate.

Black cod on a bare plate.

I can’t say that Cadet puts a lot of effort into presentation.  My fish was pretty much just plopped on the plate with a slab of lemon and perhaps a few sprigs of thyme.  The fish was nicely cooked, exceptionally soft and moist, but I thought the covering of enoki mushrooms, unmentioned on the menu,  was disconcerting.  $29 for a small serving of fish on a barren plate is not thrilling.

Out to dinner with the baby brother, there will be desserts. I went for the classic apple crumble with walnut ice cream.

Apple crumble

Apple crumble

I thought the proportions were all wrong on this dish–the crumble had too much crumble, too little apple.  The ice cream scoop was tiny in relation to the pastry, and tasted more like plain vanilla than walnut.  I ate it all, just to be polite of course, but it could have been better.

David made the right dessert choice–the lemon and blueberry tart.

This should have been mine.

This should have been mine.

Take it from an expert–order the tart, it’s wonderful.

It wouldn’t be a proper hip joint in Santa Monica without a celebrity sighting.  David noticed Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of law at UC Irvine and a frequent TV commentator on matters of constitutional law, at the next table.  Later, he thought he saw Gordon Ramsay come in, definitely a good sign for a new restaurant.

Service was very good, but they were being nice to a pair of famous writers.  Management made very sure we were happy, stopping by often to check on things, then going out in the rain to give the ticket to the valet to retrieve our car.  I need David to make my dinner reservations more often.

The prices are on the steep side. Two guys who don’t drink ran up a pretty large bill, God only knows how much it would be with wine.  This is a town where $1 million a year is not a surprising income, though, so everything is relative.

Is Cadet great?  No.  They have some work to do on presentation: the whole concept of all those little plates needs refinement, re-thinking and re-plating, perhaps one large segmented dish would work better.  Is it pretty darn good?  Yes.  French food is somewhat out of favor these days, with modern restaurants trending more to the Asian-fusion ethic. Cadet may well be in the vanguard of a return to the Parisian ways–the oxtail onion soup is certainly a huge step in that direction.  Give it a try.


Cadet on Urbanspoon


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