822 washington blvd. (@ abbot kinney)
venice, ca 90292
Back when I first heard little whispers of beechwood, a new restaurant in venice from brooke williamson, ex-chef of ex- zax (now pecorino), i told myself i was going to try it, but i wasn't going to read any reviews of it before i went and tried it myself. i was tempted to even read the editor's and members' reviews on *gasp!* citysearch, looking for the address and telephone number, but i resisted (citysearch is not always the most reliable source for restaurant reviews - i'm just mildly skeptical with all that ad-plastering, i think). pulling consecutive weeks of consecutive 1 a.m. nights at work, i haven't been able to devote the attention i should to my food reading, so i swear i didn't even know that the l.a. times had written a review about beechwood just yesterday until the server told me tonight!
you'd never guess it's real personality from the very plain, drab grey stone wall out front with a tiny sign in the corner that you can't see from the street. stepping through the door, and immediately into a bar, it's described perfectly by the word, not swanky, but "sh-wan-kay." it has a dark retro '60s thing going, kinda like the basement rec room in my parents house. you'd never guess the place is a restaurant, because it's all bar, no dining tables to be seen. you'd also never guess the place is in beachy bohemian venice, with a primarily young hollywood-y, hipster-ish crowd. i can't say there wasn't any hipster attitude, but it was certainly much more subdued here than, say, nacional or ivar. i still felt "checked-out" upon walking in.
Off to the right, short rows of couch-slash-benches were crowded with hipsters (not meant to be offensive). i could see an outdoor area beyond that, and thought that the dining room must have been on the patio. yay, eating amidst the smokers. waiting for a table, i walked the length of the bar and saw that most everyone at the bar had food - not just drinks, and certainly more than just bar snacks. as always, i puzzled over three skinny little things in the middle of the bar with a burger, an enormous bowl of fries, something that looked like pasta, and a steak. were they really going to eat that?
The hostess pointed the way to the table, not toward the patio like i thought, thank god, but through a small hallway that i thought led to the restrooms in the back of the restaurant. the dining room is much smaller than the bar. both sides are lined with brownish leather booths that reminded me of the pre-diner denny's decor. regular tables run down the middle of the room in single file, with enough room between tables to allow a very thin server to squeeze through on tip toe. when i dropped my napkin and had to lean over to pick it up, i could have put my head in the lap of the diner next to me.
Yes it's small, yes it's tightly "squozen," yes it's dark; but the most noticeable thing about the dining room is that it's as loud as, if not louder than, the bar. if there was any mood music playing in the "background," i most certainly didn't hear it. the din was so decibellious that i even looked around to see what kind of acoustics were taken into account during the interior design phase. none, really. for the floor being carpeted, it really was quite loud.
Both the regular and bar menus are offered in the main dining room. bar-style is my favorite way of eating (that's why i like tapas, small plates, dim sum, and uh, martini olives), so with a glass of very yellow pinot grigio (i swear, he must have accidentally brought me a chardonnay), i was tempted to order 3 things from the bar menu. everything sounded so good, and from my not-so-subtle stares at other people's tables, it sure looked good, too. after what i saw in the bar, i wanted to order the french fries, different types, including sweet potato, with different sauces. how amazingly perfect for me, but i stuck to my "no fancy french fries" motto and looked instead at deep fried baby octopus. it sounded strangely like an a.k.a. for fried calamari, which i love, but i think "baby" and "octopus" scared me off. i played it safe with the medallion of braised short rib, which was so falling-apart tender, that the server was right when he said i could use a spoon. but the spoon only for the meat, not the paltry puddle of sauce at the bottom of the deep plate. i wish there had been more of the sauce - served up like a proper braised dish.
Everything else is from the regular menu. italian parsley and escarole salad with prosciutto and burrata cheese was good, but the dressing on the greens was a bit bland for my taste. roasted asparagus was also good, and i especially liked the garlic sauteed greens underneath, which others may think were too salty, but perfect for me! i typically don't order salmon in restaurants, and would have chosen the john dory, but the roasted white salmon was something new. is it a different breed, or just bleached regular salmon? i don't
think i really want to know. regardless, it sure tasted alright (for salmon), as did the greens and tiny potatoes underneath, though i could have added more salt to them, too.
On a side note, the 3 types of bread on the table sure were good. i wish i had asked if they baked them in-house (doubtful) or where they sourced them. the perfect olive bread baseballs were chewy-licious. the other two - roasted garlic baked into one, and the other plain, were alright. i could have been perfectly content ordering another glass of wine and enjoying the evening just gnawing on the olive bread.
Nothing on the dessert menu really jumped out at me, except the blue sorbet, which just stood out as something i wasn't going to order. i'd just rather have something richer, sweeter, and much less figure-friendly. i glossed over chocolate pudding, peanut butter tart, pear clafouti, and others before finally settling on the apple "sticky bun," an interpretation of apple pie a la mode. it is a whole peeled and cored apple, stuffed with nuts and something that felt like small pieces of pasta, baked, and served with vanilla ice cream and caramel. it was sweet and drippy, so i most certainly finished every last bite, but i doubt i'd order it again.
I like beechwood and the food. the service was a bit novice, but sincere. had the small plates been more than for $8 - $10, or the larger entrees closer to $30 rather than under $20, i probably wouldn't go back. but it's in the neighborhood, it's nice inside, and it tastes good. shoot, i still have to try the rest of the bar menu, and i'll probably give in and order the fries (and a salt shaker).