822 Washington Boulevard (@ Abbot Kinney)
Venice, CA 90292
When I think about Brooke Williamson, I break out into a luke-cold sweat. My hands fly up to my mouth and I start chewing nervously first on that one cuticle on my right thumb, then the jagged hangnail on my left ring finger. My breathing becomes erratic, and the corner of my lower eyelid starts to go into mildly spasmodic fits. I become affected.
I hate her.
But only because I love her. Because I hate her. Because I am jealous. Pea-green with envy.
Brooke Williamson gives me a complex.
At the ripe old age of oh, I don’t know, maybe seven, Brooke started her culinary career, first with pastry, working at the F?nix, winning pastry competitions, then moving on to become the sous chef of Michael’s. Yeah, that Michael’s. The Godfather of California cuisine. Nasty, I tell you. She was what, nine years old by then? F**king prodigy.
And just when Brooke is barely legal, she becomes an executive chef, first at Boxer, then at Zax over in my ‘hood, but both are now closed, so I guess that makes me feel a teensy bit better. But not really. Because who knows if she even has a driver’s license yet, but she has two restaurants! Amuse Café was the first, and Beechwood the second.
I just recently went to Amuse Café, though, and was thoroughly unimpressed. The space, the service, the food – all somewhat lacking any luster. Strangely, after posting up my experience, I have heard rumours that they have shut down for good. Haven’t followed up on that one, but perhaps I wasn’t the only one who thought maybe Brooke was spreading her young little self too thin.
But if she was going to keep one place going, Beechwood is the place. My first experience there was for dinner in the main dining room, which is basically Beechwood’s coat closet, hidden down a narrow hallway behind the bar. It’s small, loud, noisy, echo-y, and did I say loud?
The food was great – parsely and escarole salad, grilled asparagus, white salmon, braised shortribs that were so tender I ate them with a spoon – but the whole time, I was wishing we were sitting in the bar. So more recently, we got smart, and went for (mostly) drinks and (very little) dinner in the bar. I was so very very right, because sometimes that happens you know, about all the action being in the bar.
The bar feels about, oh, sixteen times the size of the dining room, with an energy and vibe to match. Our group took over two of the low couch/benches (is it called a leatherette?) on either side of a small cocktail table near the front, and about two steps away from the actual bar. Strategic placement, though I don’t think we planned it that way. Cocktail waitresses are few and far between, and since the bar was literally overflowing onto the patio with people, we would have died of dehydration and starvation if we waited for a server.
The people cover the spectrum from trendy chic Venice bohos in gypsy skirts, lots of embroidery, and lots of beading, to beach bums in cargo shorts and flip flops to Hollywood hipsters in $300 jeans and wedge heeled espadrillles, like me. Just kidding. I think my entire wardrobe is under $300, LOL! Everyone is beautiful, but without attitude. Swanky.
Both the bar menu and the dinner menu are offered in both the bar and the dining room, which would just make more sense to have one menu for the entire outfit, but perhaps it just makes it more fun to be able to order from the menu that isn’t normally offered in the bar and vice versa. Whatever, weird psychology I guess. We ordered all over the place, but the things I actually got to taste were the marinated skirt steak and sweet potato frites. Given that we’re on very low seating somewhat of a reach from the very low cocktail table, eating could be awkward. The frites were easy to pop, and dipped in each of the accompanying sauces, pretty good. Next time, I will definitely order the frites, but try all three –shoestring, quarter inch, and sweet potato. The steak was flavorful, and thank god it was tender enough to only require a few swipes with a knife to take a bite.
The interior bar is almost completely open to the patio through a wall that pretty much doesn’t exist. I ventured out there for a peek, and I was surprised at how large it is. The centerpiece is a long and narrow, low firepit. Surrounding it, heatlamps which are totally necessary for keeping warm the ladies who wear tank tops even in December. The perimeter of the patio is lined with benches, and almost all of the seats are taken with *cough cough* smokers. After chit chatting with boys who had just rolled off the surf, I tore myself away to re-join my friends.
Throughout the evening, our group did a lot of monetary and mental damage. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and we drank. And drank. And drank. Fortunately, Beechwood doesn’t find it necessary to charge up the yin-yang for cocktails, and it is in Venice, which is close enough to get all of us home safely (un)sober.
Okay, so I can’t hate Brooke Williamson that much if I plan to go back.