502 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
It had been a long time since that first time I went to Jiraffe, eight years ago. It was a date, an evening that started a mini-relationship that had a not-so-pretty ending. There was a bottle of wine, probably a salad in there somewhere, and I'm guessing dessert – I don’t remember certain details because I’ve probably selectively blocked them out of my memory as negative associations. But I do remember the pork chop I had – nothing like the dry, overcooked, flavorless cardboard I had eaten before. My memory of Jiraffe was a very bad relationship, but an incredibly tender, flavorful pork chop.
It’s eight years later and Jiraffe is still serving the exact same dish, in the exact same setting on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 5th. The space is small, but airy and spacious with ceilings that reach up through the second floor. The seats against the giant floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around two sides are ideal, so they were already taken when we walked into the restaurant at prime time without a reservation. We took a table in the center of the dining room, which was fine with me. I sat at a window table eight years ago.
Jiraffe has a specialty cocktail menu, but I handed it off to him without looking at it. I don’t hate that stuff, but I find it very rare that those $$$ drinks are anything but overly sticky sweet alcoholic Kool-Aid garnished with a fruit salad. I stuck with Citron/soda, then teased him for ordering a cosmopolitan. But I did yield a little and tasted it because it was made with blood oranges. It was surprisingly tasty. A little fruity for before dinner, but tasty nonetheless. I snapped a photo sans flash, which I’m sure he didn’t notice. Not that having a camera glowing ready on the table wasn’t noticeable enough.
Even if all I was going to do was taste one tiny bite and take the rest of it home, obviously I had to order the pork chop. But, I didn’t have to do it. He ordered it and also suggested I select several more dishes we could share. How did he know? Of all the entrees of fish, steak, chicken, how did he know about the pork chop? How did he know that I don’t like to order one thing and eat it all myself? How did he know that it never tastes good unless it’s someone else’s? Probably because I told him. Can’t leave a good dinner to chance. LOL! We ordered a salad, two starters, and the pork chop.
Lemon vinaigrette on the frisee salad was a little too tart for my taste by itself, but one whole bite with the dressed greens, a wild mushroom, a sliver of the shaved cheese and a piece of the oily-crisp garlic crouton was the perfect delicious combination. It’s just too bad that the mushrooms were few and far between. With two other salads on the menu, next time I won’t feel that I have to get the wild mushroom salad. And do you mind real quick if I just scoot the plate over this way next to the candle real quick before we finish it all? Another photo, but even though it was sans flash, I think he noticed.
Gnocchi is normally not a choice I would have made, but I wanted to see how purple Peruvian potatoes would turn out. In the dim lighting of the restaurant, it was difficult to see, but with a quick shimmy of the candle, I could see that they weren’t purple, but subtly lavender in color, almost gray. The gnocchi were soft and slightly sticky as I would expect, very different from the rock shrimp that had a barely perceptible snap on the outside, then a clean firmness on the inside. Both were fairly mild in flavor, relying on tomatoes in both a dollop of thick, jam-like tomato sauce on top, and in the thinner, creamy sauce underneath. On the menu, one is called “concasse” and the other “nage” but I’m not smart enough to know which is which yet :) Smart, no, but gutsy? Yes, gutsy enough to use my flashbulb this time, otherwise, even the bright red Florida rock shrimp would look dull.
I didn’t quite "get" the julienned apples with the seared scallops and braised endive at first, but with a few more tastes that included the cider flavored sauce on the plate, I understood. That’s where I understood all three plates we had tried so far at Jiraffe – visually playful with colors and textures, flavors that balance all four taste regions on the tongue, and fragrances that stand out just enough that if they weren’t there, you’d notice. Endive is bitter, but made less so by braising in a sweet and salty cider sauce that also makes you appreciate the sweet-tart of the apples. Fresh crisp of the apple is similar to the seared crisp on the scallops, but also makes you notice how much more the inside flesh is soft, smooth, and richly textured. The subtle charred flavor on the scallops then comes back against the deepness of the endive's braise, and the whole thing continues in a miniature flavor whirlpool.
At last, the pork chop, and yes, in eight years, it hadn’t aged a bit. Thick, hearty cuts of pork arranged on a platter the size of Wyoming with an enormous pile of wild rice; in all aspects o
f its appearance, it didn’t look at all related to its delicate sibling dishes we had already ordered. Wow, kind of like me and my sisters. But in its perfectly balanced flavors and textures, it was clear they were all from the same family. The rice had that natural combination of herbaceous subtlety and nutty chew that only comes from wild rice, which I can say I like without being hypocritical, since wild rice is not really rice ;) As thickly cut as it was the pork was tender and I wish I had more descriptive words about what it tasted like, but I don’t. How does the fact that I simply wanted to pick up the bone from which the meat had been removed and gnaw on it for a few minutes sound? It tasted like that.
But I didn’t do it, since engaging in flashbulb fantasy was punishment enough. And that was after I spied the Chef out of the corner of my eye and asked for his autograph on the menu to put right next to the one I kept from eight years ago. Yes, yes. Some girls have Justin Timberlake. I have chefs. :)
Even when I don’t have room to breathe, let alone dessert, I usually still order one to share, if for nothing else than to see something pretty to end the evening. But I didn’t allow myself to give in to his insistence because...the “w.” Remember the "w," Sarah! Banana cream pie? No way would we just order one of my ATF desserts and only taste it. How about warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream? Are you out of your mind?!? The poor thing wouldn’t make it from the server’s hand to the table before I inhaled the entire thing. No, this time a fruity cocktail will serve its purpose – probably no better for the figure with all the sugar, but at least it wouldn’t feel so sinful.
And so now my memory of Jiraffe is an an innocent evening...with an incredibly tender pork chop.