On a pleasant spring night this week, I had an amazing dinner at Joe’s Restaurant on a quiet corner on the usually busy Abbot Kinney Blvd. It was still early enough for sunlight to be shining in through the windows, illuminating the crisp, clean decor inside.
Our party, two omnivores and a vegan called ahead for reservations and to ask if the chef, Michael Bryant, would be able to make something to accommodate the vegan. The person who took our reservation assured us that it would be no problem.
On very short notice, because the kitchen wasn’t prepared for the vegan to order an entire tasting menu, Bryant came up with an inventive set of dishes utilizing fresh vegetables such as fiddle head ferns, peas, and celery root. I’ve seen my share of vegan dishes made by higher-end restaurants before, but the dishes Bryant presented were by far the best.
The vegan amuse bouche was a chilled pea soup which tasted so green and fresh that it just screamed springtime. The thinly shaved carrots garnishing the top were sweet and had enough flavor for three whole carrots.
Although I had carefully avoided the veal dish in the tasting menu by asking for a fish dish as a substitute, animal cruelty activists will probably stone me for having the creamy foie gras. To my defense, I didn’t realize what amuse would be served to us until it came out and by then, the damage was already done, right? For what it’s worth, the light serving of foie gras was spectacular. It was a blend of goose and chicken liver with an almost whipped cream lightness. The airy texture was the perfect way to deliver such a rich and decadent treat.
For a vegan appetizer, the chef made asparagus and morels with a tangy green sauce. The morels were soft and had an amazingly earthy flavor that was brought out by the acidic sauce.
I was brought the fried softshell crab appetizer from the chef’s tasting menu. The crab was fried well with a light batter that didn’t feel or taste too oily. The crab meat was a bit on the salty side, but the rich, eggy roe was a nice surprise. Under the softshell crab was also a small serving of one of the best corn salads I’ve ever had. The fresh corn was sweet, the dressing tangy, and the green chickpeas a nice contrast to the tender corn. The savory, ocean flavor of the crab was balanced very well by the corn salad.
One of my dining companions ordered the mushroom ravioli off the a la carte menu. The filling was savory and earthy, full of mushroom flavor without being too heavy, while the sauce added just the right touch of creaminess to each bite. The texture of the ravioli wrapper was perfect — not too soft or soggy and with just a slight chewiness.
Not satisfied with just a fantastic mushroom ravioli, the chef also sent out a vegan ravioli dish with a twist: instead of a pasta dough wrapper, the ravioli was made with paper-thin slices of celery root. The celery root gave a refreshing crunch to the creamy filling. When this dish came out, I knew we made the right choice in coming here. It’s great to see chefs who have such surprises up their sleeves.
Next came the crispy porgy from the tasting menu. Just like its name promised, the fish was crispy on the outside, but still moist and tender on the inside — not an easy feat. The sauce under the fish was also a pleasant surprise because it was flavorful without overpowering the taste of the fish, which is where a lot of restaurants fall short.
Although the next dish from the night’s tasting menu was veal, I requested a substitution of the Alaskan halibut poached in olive oil with fiddle head ferns instead. One fish dish after another may be overkill to some, but I happen to be a big fan of fish. Compared to the bold flavor of the crispy porgy, this dish was mild and delicate. The fish was a happy blank slate to the wonderful sauce it was served with. The fiddle head ferns, which were one reason I was drawn to this dish, were cooked with just the right amount of crunch. Eating them made me sad that their season is so fleeting.
The abalone mushroom, which from reading the description on the menu seemed like just a side to this dish, were actually the best part. They were tender and had such a strong smokiness that if I hadn’t known they were mushrooms before, would have thought they were something different altogether. The mushrooms and smoked shrimp on the side were good enough to stand on their own as a dish.
From the a la carte menu came the pork tenderloin which was an example of perfection. The meat was flavorful, extremely tender, and just plain juicy. Any fan of the so-called other white meat can do no wrong with ordering this dish.
The beet risotto came as a vegan entree. While the idea and execution were flawless, it seemed like a larger serving size of the risotto would have been better. The small bits of risotto left the vegan of the party wanting more. The vegetables which accompanied the risotto were roasted well, especially the cipollini onions.
Lastly, when we thought we could eat no more, came the desserts. There was a three-flavor sorbet, completely vegan, whose standout flavor was passion fruit. That flavor was so fragrant I could smell it from across the table.
I ended the meal with the perfect puff pastry with slices of mango. The pastry was flaky and unbelievably puffed to a great height. The tart mango and the creamy filling of the pastry played off each other nicely. It was such a great way to end the meal.
Dinner at Joe’s was so all-around pleasant, that I was ashamed it took me so long to try it out. The vegan tasting menu was impressive not only in inventiveness, but also in taste. Everything I had off the tasting menu was fantastic and the couple of other dishes from the a la carte menu were great as well. After dinner, we all thought the $65 tasting menu was a fantastic deal.
Our server as well as the kitchen staff were so helpful and patient with all our questions and menu specifications that we felt right at ease. Joe’s Restaurant is certainly somewhere I won’t hesitate to recommend.
1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291