Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Restaurant review: Lou

724 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 962-6369 Let me start by saying: I love this place! It's my favorite new food find in Los Angeles since a few years back when I discovered Bossa Nova is open until 4am.

Lou is almost impossible to find. It's tucked into a corner of a strip mall in the heart of Hollywood, on Vine just north of Melrose. I drove down this street every day on my way to school, and believe me that this section of it isn't too pretty. The restaurant looks closed from the outside. There's patterned contact paper in the windows and thick curtains beyond that. They didn't even have a sign out front until a few months ago. As I got out of the car and looked around, I was already thinking of places on Larchmont nearby where perhaps our dinner plans could be rescued. But my dear friends Harrison and Robert had chosen Lou, and they asked me to humor them and reserve judgement until we stepped inside.

Just inside the door, the whole scene changes. The restaurant is rather dark and cozy, a tad loud due to its small size, but beautifully illuminated by candlelight reflecting off red and black decor. One wall is painted like a blackboard with chalk drawings (including an adorable pig nursing a cocktail), a map of the U.S. farms where all their cheese and meats are from, and tonight's specials. One of the major downsides is that the restaurant is tiny with no place to stand, so we ended up waiting for a table near the waiters' station and scooting to the side every few minutes so they could grab clean glasses or refill a bread basket. I'd recommend calling for a reservation in advance to avoid practically becoming part of the wait staff. Even though we were standing, a waiter helped us (read: Harrison and Rob) pick out a bottle of wine. Most wine talk goes over my head, but he seemed very knowledgeable and friendly, gave us suggestions, and poured us a taste of one of his favorites to try.

We were seated about 15 minutes later at the long communal table that runs the length of the restaurant. (We were also offered an individual table, but my friends amusingly enjoy talking to strangers.) On to my favorite part: the food! Lou bills itself as a wine bar, but their menu is top-notch. Offerings change weekly, sometimes even daily, depending on what's around, but cheese and charcuterie are big foci.

A breakdown of what we ate:
  • Pig candy - looked sort of like caramelized bits of bacon, but I didn't try it as I don't eat pork. One of their signature dishes.
  • Cheese plank - a selection of five cheeses, ranging from a soft cow's milk (Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, which has long been one of my favorite cheeses) to a sharp cheddar to hard sheep's and goat's milk cheeses.
  • Savory leek and goat cheese tart - the crust on this was flaky buttery amazingness, and the cheese filling soft and almost slightly sweet.
  • Farro with cranberries and hazelnuts and a crostini with goat cheese - good lord this was delicious. It was like the best hippie food you could ever think of, but all dressed up for a fancy dinner and even better than you remembered it being. I actually closeed my eyes upon eating the first bite, the room fell away, and I was momentarily transported somewhere heavenly. Don't know if I've ever done that before. I am clearly going to have to learn how to make farro.
  • Harrison had pork with gnocci, which he loved. Kept wishing he could give me a bite, but it was all swimming in pig juices.
  • Rob had a steak (ordered "bloody, mooing if possible") which looked good, but it seemed a little "safe" to me given the rest of the restaurant. I've seen plenty of steak, potatoes, and greens to last me a while.
  • Two bottles of red wine, neither of whose names I can remember. I know the second was Spanish, and it was perhaps the most interesting wine I've ever had. It was a favorite of the same wine waiter as before, who was again spot-on with his recommendation. Tasted almost like mead, but also a little peppery.
  • Guinness cake with apple compote - Tasted a lot more like a spicy gingerbread than a Guinness cake, but it was good. I think I could have made it on my own, but usually that's a complement coming from me for a dessert. Wasn't over-the-top good, though.
  • Mini-glasses of dessert wine, but I don't think I ever even learned the name. Whatever I know about dinner wines, I know even less about dessert wines. I think I've had three glasses of dessert wine in my life, and they've all been with Harrison.
(Lest you think we were all totally drunk at the end of the night, we had this meal over the course of quite a long evening, and we started pouring glasses of wine for the friendly wait staff out of our bottle as it got later. I had probably the equivalent of four drinks over three hours. We were the last patrons out of the place and had a ball of a time.)

Total cost for dinner for three was about $200 plus tip. Not exactly sure because both Harrison and Robert are experts and not letting me pay for food, so I didn't have much time with the bill. (Thank you for dinner, guys!) Although that seems rather pricey for dinner, my guess is it had a lot to do with the wine choices. The menu is priced very reasonably: $5-12 for appetizers and salads, $12-19 for mains, $8 for desserts. You could easily get out at $35 per person, if you so chose. An even better deal is the Monday night prix fixe menu of three courses and five wines for $55. (If only prix fixe menus weren't always unkosher I'd be right there.)

Bottom line: Lou is a diamond in the rough, a tiny little nowhere place with excellent choices for wines, cheeses, and meats. The service is friendly and knowledgeable, the setting is intimate, and the food divine.

1 comment:

  1. "but my friends amusingly enjoy talking to strangers" - That's an understatement.



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