Chef Joe Miller and Chef de Cuisine Kris Tominaga of Joe’s Restaurant have a new menu of fall dishes and cocktails. Peep Dorothy Porker’s review! (Excuse the lack of pictures, as the flash was on the fritz … we will update them when we go back!)
We Venetians are a lucky bunch: within four square miles, our little urban neighborhood boasts some of the best restaurants in Southern California. They employ fresh ingredients, comfortable ambiance, and a few of the best chefs on the West Coast. I can rely on most of them for their consistent deliciousness. But of all the Venice restaurants, one is consistently surprising – and, in my humble opinion, pushes my epicurean imagination a bit further with every meal: Joe’s on Abbot Kinney.
The first thing anyone will notice upon walking into Joe’s is how deliciously comfortable it is. You’re always greeted with a smile, and perhaps a witty quip; their comfortable dining room boasts elegant place settings and impeccable, attentive service – but feels as relaxed as a living room full of good friends. The actual experience of dining here is as precise as any (stuffier) top-notch restaurant, but the casual warmth and grace of the staff is like a great, big hug. Everything from the exposed-beam ceilings to the rotation of local art enhances a refined, neighborhood atmosphere. I’ve recommended Joe’s to people booking business dinners, romantic dates, neighborhood meals; and I’ve often been able to squeeze myself in for an occasional supper alone, when I’m craving a tasting menu filled with surprises, or a prix-fixe weekday lunch for (a very reasonable) $18.
The first course our group sampled was a wonderful charcuterie board, replete with house-cured meats, a tangy purple mustard, and homemade toasted bread.
Unlike many other platters of its kind, I was delighted to find that nothing tasted especially salty or fatty; rather, the various offerings of a firm pork pate, duck prosciutto, and a (highly-addictive) foie gras rilletes were all very delicately-seasoned and carefully-cured to highlight the natural textures and freshness of the meats. Joe’s own Pinot Noir complemented the board nicely, too – light, velvety, with less acid and sweet berries than most I’ve lately sampled.
Our amuse was a little bowl of heaven I could relish every day of fall: a creamy chestnut soup with Parmesan froth and crispy guanciale (bacon). Though the froth did get a little lost in the richness of the soup, I really didn’t care – each sip was a warm, comforting combination of smoky chestnut and barely-sweet maple; the crunch of the bacon at the bottom of the dish was a perfect textural and salty finish. It was a fantastic welcome to the holiday season; and a thoughtful way to settle a grumbling stomach at the beginning of a meal.
The next course was an Eastern Fluke crudo, an example of one of Joe’s daily-changing sashimi offerings. Complemented by New Zealand “Finger Lime” (a first for me), tissue paper-thin radish and grape, and a savory balance of crunch and salt, it was two bites that refreshed my palette and successfully brought a hint of Japanese technique to a predominantly California/French menu. The soft brightness of the fish and the few simple ingredients were delicate, without being too acidic. It was a great prelude to the seared foie gras that followed: a buttery, dense slice perched atop sweet persimmon and crunchy toast. Several dots of flavor surrounded the little stack, each with it’s own personality, including pistachio butter (the perfect nut for the dish – and by far the best of the samplings), and a fruity but refreshingly un-sweet huckleberry jam.
A flurry of entrees followed our starters, composed with bursts of color and more of those cozy holiday touches that made them all beautiful and tasty. A perfectly-grilled Fijian Escolar – similar to swordfish – had a softness in taste and texture, highlighted by morsels of crispy, marbled pork belly and tangy, firm root vegetables; finished nicely with a pink peppercorn vinaigrette. A beautifully rare Sonoma lamb sirloin melted in my mouth, initially presented atop a brilliant purple beet risotto that was cooked appropriately al dente, and brought out a sweetness in the lamb that I didn’t expect. Of the main courses, the only letdown was a dish of seared Day-Boat scallops that arrived slightly overcooked, with a few too many braised artichokes. Whereas the balance of savory and naturally-sweet had been successfully presented throughout the meal, the scallops ended up being a bit too tart, comparatively out-of-context, and awfully summery.
Redeeming the scallops’ shortcomings, though, was the absolutely-incredible-oh-my-god-are-we-really-this-excited-about-poultry? roasted Jidori chicken. Ordering chicken in a restaurant is generally met by foodies with an upturned-nose and down-turned lip; and the results, regardless of the establishment, are usually dry (and boring). But Joe’s bird was exquisite – a juicy, tender breast rolled with creamy pistachio, and surrounded by crunchy Brussels sprouts, pancetta, earthy rutabaga, and little envelopes of chestnut-filled heaven described as “ravioli,” but wonderfully reminiscent of homemade dumplings. While still embracing those California/French flavors and techniques, the dish was like a fancy Southern Thanksgiving come early, and in itself a very good reason to visit Joe’s.
Of the three desserts – the first two being a Warm Baked Apple, and a spiced Mascarpone Cheesecake – the winner was absolutely, hands-down the Pumpkin Crème Caramel. In fact, our party straight-up fought over it – pointedly asking how many bites each diner had taken, eventually scraping the plate like ravenous Neanderthals. One of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory, it was a creamily frothy concoction, laced with every Freudian seasonal comfort: cinnamon, caramel, and chestnut, with a pumpkin seed streusel that would probably serve as an excellent defense, should you get violent with your pushy fellow-eaters.
Amidst all of the front-of-house attitude and quirky culinary trends making the rounds on Abbot Kinney, Joe’s always seems to balance innovation and excellent, classic taste. And does so in a way that makes other establishments appear to flail about in a giant swirl of raw fish, farmer’s market kale, piles of burrata, and confusing sauces. With their new menu, seasonal flavors speak for themselves without pomp and circumstance, or interruption; and while the dishes seem uncomplicated, they are incredibly special. I have never, ever had a disappointing meal at Joe’s; and last week, these wonderful dishes certainly did not change my opinion.
1023 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
hours: (closed Mondays)
Lunch: Tuesday – Friday, 12:00-2:30
prix fixe menu from $18
Dinner: Tuesday – Thursday, and Sunday 6:00-10:00
Friday – Saturday, 6:00-11:00
prix fixe menu from $48, changes daily
wine pairing menu from $22
Thanksgiving at Joe’s
Thursday, November 25, 2010
1:00 – 9:00 PM
Joe’s will offer a four-course, prix fixe special menu.
Adults – $52, Children (age 12 and under) – $20; plus tax and tip.
First Fridays at Joe’s
Joe’s will be opening their patio to First Friday revelers –
including specialty cocktails, raw bar, DJ, and dancing! Every First Friday until midnight.