HERMANO SEGUNDO LOST IN LA LA LAND: DAY ONE
It tells you everything you need to know about the current climate in the USA that, as I sat at Washington’s Dulles Airport, I was surrounded by life size cut outs of Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin but there was not one of the venerable Joe Biden to be found. It would seem that general decency, integrity and long service count for little these days in the good old US of Stateside and that now, more than ever people are on a constant search for the new, loud or controversial.
Fitting therefore that my first supper in La La Land, selected by my host, Sybil, was not at one of the city’s many famous old stalwarts but at Fraiche in Culver City, a much hyped restaurant, only a little over one year old and placed, in February, at No. 6 by Frank Bruni in his “Coasts to Coast: Restaurants That Count.”
A short walk from her apartment, fashionable Fraiche was already in full flow when we arrived and, although the room with its terracotta colouring was welcoming, they should consider serving a loud haler along with their rather dreary bread plate so you can actually have a conversation with you dining companion without using sign language.
The menu is a slightly uncomfortable hybrid of Italian, rustic French and identikit American dishes and, both being capable of turning seafood to vomit within a matter of minutes, we avoided their vaunted Fruit de Mer in favour of starters of Boudin Noir with Marinated lentils and a salad of Burrata, Watercress and Speck. No chefs were harmed in the making of our starters, both dishes requiring decent plating rather than decent cooking skills. However, the Burrata, with its creamy centre surrounded by excellent mozzarella was a hit with Sybil although I thought it only came to life when eaten with the the Speck. Much less palatable was the boudin, which had good texture but lacked seasoning, as did a pile of lentils that tasted as if they came straight from the fridge.
Main courses too were a mixed bag, the perfect texture of the braised short ribs being lost when I realised where they had put most of the salt lacking in the boudin. A base of soft polenta reminded me of HP’s tales of how he “spent many weeks working with polenta only to realise that it’s just a worthless culinary ingredient” He is, as usual, totally correct and even a slug of vibrant salsa verde did little to convince me that polenta is more than a slurry of flavourless gunk best left to those who have lost teeth and sense of taste in a terrible accident.
A thick pork chop, on the other hand, rocked (technical LA term, I am told) and although a rubble of mushy “Summer shelling peas” added little but potential for future flatulence, the perfect medium cooking of the pork had Sybil gnawing every last scrap of flesh from the bone as I looked on with admiration.
The wine list is weighty and impressive and, as we had begun the evening with a Argentinean Malbec, it seemed sensible to carry on in the same theme with an Old World expression of the same with a well priced Cahor, which worked to good effect with both dishes.
Desserts returned to identikit land with something with nuts, something with ice cream and something with fruit, so we declined the kind offer from our charming server and headed home after Sybil treated me my first meal in her “hood”
$130 + tip struck me as quite a lot to pay for a meal of loftier ambition and middling execution and I can’t quite see what all the fuss is about, even after re-reading Mr Bruni’s review. There is a lot to be said for longevity and perhaps, if it is around as long as Joe Biden and so am I, I might well give it another try.