Here’s the thing: I’m the kind of nutcase that will travel many miles to visit a restaurant. There’s a place in the middle of nowhere off the 154 highway in Santa Barbara county I’ll go to just for their tri-tip sandwich (I love you, Cold Spring Tavern). So heading west to Venice isn’t that bad, especially when we’re venturing to one of LA’s “top ten best new restaurants” according to more than one respected publication.
You know how much I love sharesies and small plates, so I was excited to hear that was the concept of The Tasting Kitchen, a hot little number for the in-crowd and artsy types on Abbot Kinney Blvd. Since I’m impatient, I looked up the menu online before we hopped in the car for our little adventure… And I was confused. Their website looks like something that crazy guy from “Fringe” designed, scrawlings on rumpled note paper of incomprehensible sentences like “Radiohead-reckoner” followed by “food theater” and, my personal favorite, “come sit down, let me cure you by getting you buzzed”. Well, okay. To make matters even more, er, confusing, there was a steak listed at $85 (which translates to about 28 In-n-Out burgers), a meat and cheese plate at $45, and what appeared to be a single lonely glass of wine at $21. But I can be optimistic, and people can be terrible proofreaders, so I figured maybe it was just a friendly mistake!
We (Stargate: Atlantis’s Paul McGillion, Dameon Clarke from “24”/”Castle” and us two winos) arrived to a beautifully lit and very busy patio section, cordoned off from the commoners on the street by a dense wall. We headed back to the bar to have a libation while we waited for our table, and the bartender suggested a chenin blanc to get the party started ($12 a glass, which translates to only 3 In-n-Out burgers). Granted, it was a hefty pour, which endeared the place to me some.
We were seated a couple of minutes later at a lovely table on the patio, surrounded by twinkly lights and twinkly girls with their rich boyfriends and were almost immediately greeted by our server. She very patiently explained the menu to us, suggesting a few of her favorites and assuring us we weren’t over-ordering, and on we went with the meal. First up was a wee plate of salami and burrata cheese, high-quality and delicious. But did I mention it was wee?
Next course was the chicken wings, grilled and caramelized to all get-out with apple cider, sticky, crispy-skinned and tender. Although to be fair, I haven’t met a chicken wing I didn’t like. Hi, little birds!
The third course was a duo of pasta: bucatini alla amatriciana, fat and hollowed-out spaghetti noodles in a spicy, zesty tomato sauce with bacon and onion, and a pasta special of the day, pappardelle with fresh peas and crispy prosciutto. These were great, especially the pappardelle, but I think I had three bites before the wolves/men scarfed everything down. I was beginning to wonder if this place was for sharesies after all….
The last course was my favorite: a beautifully roasted chicken with salty crispy fries and mustard and aioli on the side. What’s not to love? Perfectly executed, smartly underdressed, relatively well priced ($22) and simple. The only thing that would have made it any better was more of it.
We also ordered a side of peas for the table, which never quite made it to us, but we weren’t charged for them at least. The good news is, I was known as “the princess with no peas” for the rest of the night.
All in all, was it a place I would return to? While the service was great, the food was well-executed, and the room and its people were beautiful, I just can’t wrap my head around those prices for what you get. LA is teeming with restaurants like that, and competition on where to spend your money is fierce. Judging by the continuing hype of The Tasting Kitchen, I doubt they’re going to have any problems filling it to capacity every night. But it’s not the hype that brings this princess back to a place. It’s the whole experience.
Anybody else craving In-n-Out?