Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bastide


Anyone who knows me well knows that I am always hesitant to sit down for a dinner that consists of many courses. No matter how amazing the food and wine may be, an endless meal can be torture. What can I say? Bastide in Los Angeles changed my mind about all that. My first visit was this past summer, and I’ve been back several times since. The restaurant blows me away every time.


Bastide is located on Melrose Place, and it offers one of the most elegant dining experiences in LA, especially if you sit outside. You enter through a courtyard and the restaurant is in a small building beyond. There are several small rooms and no more than a dozen tables. Bastide’s owner Joe Pytka, who is a very successful video director, has been at the helm through the restaurant’s various incarnations. After several chefs and a renovation by legendary French designer Andrée Putman (which closed the restaurant for over a year), the baton was passed to chef Paul Shoemaker and sommelier Pieter Verheyde. Paul, a transplant from the restaurant Providence, is one of the most creative young chefs I’ve come across in a long time. I first met Pieter when he was sommelier at Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in New York. He is an incredibly passionate and knowledgeable wine steward, and at Bastide, he has one of the greatest wine lists in the country to work with.


I’m not sure where to begin when it comes to the food. On my first few visits, the menu was divided into four- or seven-course tasting menus with additional wine pairings. On my last visit, they were offering an a la carte menu as well as an eight-course tasting menu. For my money, if you want to get the most out of your Bastide experience, put yourself in the hands of the chef.
Last night we started with an amazing amuse of King Crab Croquettes. One of my friends is allergic to crab, so they substituted little square fried chickpea panisses, which were so light that they evaporated in your mouth. On a previous visit, we started with a vegetable fritto misto that, again, was so light it melted in your mouth.

Our next course was an oyster shooter with something on top, which I can’t remember because I was so enraptured by what came along with it: fresh uni on top of an apple gelée with small diced apples and an apple foam. It was outrageous. It was one of those combinations of flavors and textures that totally transport you. Then came a small demi-cup of lobster bisque with perfectly poached pieces of lobster. Everyone at the table could not stop raving about it.

Our next course was the star of show--Nantucket bay scallops with celery, lemon and shaved white truffle served at room temperature. My friend Bret said it was the best scallop dish he has ever had, and I would have to agree with him.


We then had a beef course that was also out there, in the best way--perfectly cooked sliced steak with a salt and pepper crust. At a certain point, well into my meal, I reached a state of gastronomic ecstasy and stopped taking notes. To be perfectly honest, I am not writing food reviews per se, but sharing my experiences. So instead of a complete rundown of the menu, let me just say that the experience was heaven.


And then there are the wines! Every time I visit Bastide, Pieter turns me on to something brilliant. Last night he poured a mystery wine for a blind taste test. At first, I thought it was a French Burgundy, maybe Mersault. The finish though was really short, so I was a little dumfounded. It was very elegant--some oak was present, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The wine turned out to be a California Viognier called Failla, 2001, with fruit from Alban Vineyards. Once again, I was blown away.

The extensive wine list would take me hours to get through, so I usually let Pieter take charge. If you want something specific, I’m sure they have it, but I think it’s all about putting your trust in Pieter. We also had a 1999 Marquis Dangerville Volnay Champans from Magnum, a Brunello Di Montalcino, and a variety of other great white and red wines.


For me, Bastide has been like making a new best friend in a city that is still new to me. It’s also a place that has stripped away my prejudice against tasting menus--whether I want a long meal or a short one, they always accommodate me. I love the playfulness and creativity of the menu, and I know there are more fantastic experiences to come at Bastide.

Bastide
8475 Melrose Place
West Hollywood California
323.651.5950