1023 Abbot Kinney Boulevard (between Brooks and Broadway)Venice, CA 90291
Ever since that first life-changing brunch of red flannel hash with a poached egg on the patio during LA’s autumn, Joe’s Restaurant has always been on my Dine List. Not my To-Dine List, like many restaurants that I have not yet tried and plan to visit, but my Dine List, like the few restaurants that I have tried and revisit over and over (Campanile, JiRaffe, Hurry Curry, Osteria Latini and the like).
But it's been a long while since the last time I was at Joe's. It was when I spied Ray Liotta in the bar and the dining room was still confined to its old, original space. That was a really long time ago. Joe’s has since then expanded into its next-door neighbor. I’ve been meaning to go back for another delicious meal and to check out the big new space. Would the new Joe’s be big enough for a bridal shower of impossible proportions? (She has how many friends that we have to invite?!?) We went to go check Joe's out.
We pulled up to the valet that Joe shares with Primitivo Wine Bistro and Lilly’s, which makes for quite a bit of congestion on that tiny stretch of Abbot Kinney. We probably spent a good solid twenty minutes polluting the hippy dippy air of Venice with very expensive gasoline fumes.
The interior of the small front room and the tiny bar has been updated, but nothing drastic to the architecture. The bar is lit from underneath with neon blue, which clashed somewhat with my old impression of quiet, modest Joe’s. I thought perhaps that was the newly re-modeled look, that this flashy South Beach theme that is so popular all over LA would be carried out in the decor of the inner dining room, but it wasn’t. The inner dining room is California airy and just like the simple, plain name “Joe,” the decor, too, is so simple it’s almost a non-decor. Walls and wood are light-colored, tables and chairs are unobtrusive with plain white tablecloths, votive candles and tiny vases holding a sprig of something fresh but unremarkable. The decor is understated conservative, the staff is quietly polite, and the atmosphere is somewhat hushed casual. I felt loud in my mini skirt, flip flops, and accessories with lots of hardware. For some reason, I wanted to plop down at the bar.
But we took a table in the dining room, and as I watched our waif of a hostess glide back to the front, I noticed that even though Joe’s had “expanded,” this new dining room still isn’t all that big. All the hype of expansion had made it seem like Joe’s had grown into some monstrous Citywalk of a restaurant, but it’s just an added dining room about the size of my apartment. Joe’s guests could feel like they are actually sitting in a real, formal dining room instead of at makeshift card tables set up in the foyer and the hallway between a kitchen and the patio.
Though the tomato tasting menu sounded tempting to me, we were at the mercy of pregnancy hormones, so we started with the soup and mushroom ravioli. I didn’t try the creamy soup – not that I didn’t want to because it looked and smelled good, but apparently it was so good that the baby wanted all of it, down to the dregs soaked up with a piece of bread. LOL! The mushroom ravioli were delicious, but I regretted ordering something that looked and tasted so earthy and autumnal. When a server sashayed right by our table with a plate of tiny, colorful tomato jewels, I *sigh*ed, but only on the inside. Didn’t want to make Mommy-to-be to break down in tears. Or scream. Or who knows. Never can tell.
It’s strange what pregnancy does to a body and brain. Without fail, she orders fish – I think her favorite is seabass. And if there are two kinds that she likes, she makes him order John Dory, she the seabass, so they can split. The only time I’ve ever seen her order beef is at Lawry’s, and that’s only so that she can get creamed corn. But at Joe’s, she ordered a steak! It was exactly as she ordered it, medium (because she’s pregnant, and technically, it should have been leather). I was a little surprised at her order, but not as surprised as I was at my own order. I ordered the roast chicken. I know, I couldn’t believe it myself. Some of her pregnancy hormonal germs must have cross-contaminated my water glass. But I didn’t mind in the end. The chicken was incredibly tender and juicy, even the breast which is always my least favorite part for almost always being dry and tastless no matter which master chef injects it with bacon fat marinade and deep fries it in garlic lard. It came with teeny tiny perfect vegetables that were annoyingly cute, but they tasted good, which is a rare combination of beauty and brains in LA, so I ate them all.
There’s no doubt they are twins – they are both identically predictable. Jess ordered the halibut, even though she had no idea what it would taste like poached in olive oil. Poached, duh. Olive oil, huh? That must be like lobster poached in butter, which to me is just a fancy way of saying "slow-fried." LOL! But if I'm on the w lifestyle change, then she’s just on the straight up w diet, so I reassured her that no, it’s not fried. The piece of halibut was was so perfectly squared off and so pure pristine white that it looked like a miniature brick of...cream cheese, floating on a bright summery green pool. The plate was oblong, with the halibut on one end, and a tomato tart on the other. *breathe* Now here are the tomatoes, so our appetizers were redeemed. The twins don’t love carbohydrates, and in fact, could probably live on pure protein (no wonder we look so different!), so they tasted the tomato tart, but left the rest for me. The pastry shell was light and flaky, though slightly oily and the tomatoes inside were more sweet than tart. Sweet is perfect for my taste. I left half an empty shell on the plate.
Our server had started off with a charming introduction, an offer of bottled water, a professional recitation of a few specials for the evening, and his own honest recommendations. He was friendly, but as the evening’s meal progressed, he became increasingl
y inattentive and a representative of slow service, either his own or the kitchen’s. I wasn’t sure, and he never let us know. The food had been good, but the service was a bit disappointing, and was probably the deal-breaker for the twins on Joe’s as the venue of choice for the shower. Had he even just apologized for an unexpected rush in the kitchen, or even acknowledged that we had been waiting unusually long for our entrees, then we might have overlooked the dining room not being large enough for 30 cooing, shrieking, pretty in pink girls on a saturday afternoon; Joe’s patio could have worked quite nicely, actually.
Maybe next time, I’ll wear a longer skirt.