Monday, July 23, 2007

Lucques, the Kwik E Mart and Crowded House - Part II

The crowd when we left
I dunno, maybe it's the kid in me, but I really wanted one of these donuts - maybe a comic book and a Squishee too. So when we planned our trip to LA last week, I made sure we stopped at the Kwik E Mart in Culver City on our way up.

When I saw the crowd of people standing outside and circling the block looking for parking, I was A) amazed, and B) - afraid they would be sold out of everything. I wasn't far off - they were sold out of the Krusty O's, the Buzz Cola and Radioactive Man comic books, but they had donuts galore. They even had donuts on the floor. They also had Squishees, in fun Simpson's cups. I chose Marge - I feel like she and I have a lot in common. I'd forgotten how good a cherry slushee can be. The donuts, buzz cola and krusty o's are available at 7 Eleven stores all over the place - the comic books are harder to come by though, and may be sold out.

It was a little too crowded to fully appreciate the decor, but it was still fun to see. It felt like a "happening" - something new and different. It was a pretty brilliant idea - blending reality with advertising - and I think the success of the whole thing far exceeded their expectations. Call me psychic - but I predict we'll see more advertising like this in the future.
Seating at the Farmers' Market
From the Kwik E Mart, we headed to the Farmers Market, after a quick stop at the H.D. Buttercup furniture store in Culver City. I hadn't been to the Farmers Market in a very long time and I was glad to see it hasn't changed much at all. The food stalls remind me of a combination of the Del Mar Fair and Pike's Place Market in Seattle. I love that they still have the old chairs and tables, and that each stall has its own personality. I had a lot of fun taking these photographs and we had no trouble killing a few hours just wandering around. We even found some Marie Sharp's hot sauce at one of those specialty hot sauce stores. (We always keep some of this in the pantry since we enjoyed it on a trip to Belize a couple of years ago.)
toward the front
When six o'clock drew near, we headed over to Lucques for our early dinner reservation. There's something to be said for early fine dining. It was still daylight - so we could sit outside comfortably (and I had plenty of light to take pictures) and we had the place to ourselves for an hour or so. It was also sort of fun people-watching as diners filed in. We spotted someone we thought we recognized as a character actor - but we couldn't think of his name. That happens all the time in LA, doesn't it?
enjoying the olives
The service was professional and helpful but inobtrusive. We started with some drinks, and they brought these lovely almonds and olives, thick sour warm bread, sea salt and butter.

The menu was short and fairly well edited - the starters were heavy on salads with only one red meat option and one seafood, and a carrot soup. We chose the tempura soft shell crab and the cherry tomato and kumquat salad with purslane, lebneh and mint. The salad was a bright combination of sweet and tart with an accent from the purslane and mint. Every bite was perfectly fresh and the jewel-like colors were gorgeous, as you can see. I saw a lot of people eating the summer peach and nectarine salad, and it looked delicious too. (I have some peaches and nectarines on hand right now - something along those lines might be in order for dinner tonight.) The lebneh were little balls of soft herbed yogurt cheese - I think made with goat's milk, but I can't be sure.
Tomato and kumquat salad with mint, purslane, red onion and goat cheese (labneh)
The crab was also very good - but the flavor was dominated by it's "fried-ness." The aioli was also little bit heavy and sweet for me (not being a fan of mayonnaise based sauces generally) but the chopped salad was tasty. The large chunks on the bottom are bacon - which added a nice touch. Overall, James enjoyed this a bit more than I did - so we were each very happy with our selections once we each settled on one.
Tempura soft shell crab
For the main course, I ordered poorly. I don't know what possessed me to order chicken in a seasonal restaurant like this - much less a fall/winter dish in the middle of summer. Silly silly me. When I asked about the title - "The Devil's Chicken" - they told me it was their take on a classic Julia Child dish - chicken baked with a dijon mustard crumb coating. One of the things I love about the Lucques cookbook is that it is full of sprightly reinventions of classic dishes (the chocolate bundt cake, for example) and being a sucker for Julia - I went for it. It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The crust was crisp on the outside but a little soggy underneath. It had good flavor though, and the chicken was juicy and perfectly cooked, so it's not as if I went hungry.
The Devil's Chicken
The succotash that we ordered as a side dish was my saving grace. It was the perfect summer side dish - fresh, crisp and bursting with sweet summer-vegetable flavor.
Corn Succotash
James' veal cheeks were perfectly cooked, served over risotto with a broth sauce. When the plate arrived he said "look, I've got broth!" I thought the meat was a little bland - but it's veal, so I guess that's expected.
Veal Cheeks with Risotto
For dessert, our very competent server sold us on the semifreddo with fresh fruit - a frozen concoction that tasted of of sweetened whipped cream, with candied orange peel, pistachios and a crunchy crust. The fruit was perfect, and it was a refreshing finish to the meal.
Out of curiousity, I also ordered the confiserie plate. The large chunk on the left is a piece of honeycomb covered with dark chocolate, which was to die for. The rest of the bits were pates des fruits, a marshmallow and some chocolates. There's also a caramel in there. I was hoping for some nougat and maybe some more caramel, but I'll take what I can get. This would be fun to share at the table with some coffee for a light dessert.
Confection Plate
Our server also recommended a glass of wine for James' veal that we really enjoyed - in fact we liked it so much we asked him to write it down. It turns out it's from a boutique winery in Napa that specializes in Cabernet Franc, called Lang and Reed, and it seems to be an absolute steal at $22.00 a bottle.

From the restaurant we headed over to the Troubadour for the Crowded House show.. I personally prefer Neil Finn's solo stuff to the Crowded House material, but it was fun to see the band in such a small venue with so many avid fans. There are a few really good songs on the new album and they are coming to San Diego this Summer at Humphrey's. If the tune up was any indication, it will be a great show!

8474 Melrose
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 655-6277

Recommendations - anything with fresh vegetables or fruit - all of the produce was absolutely perfect. I'd also recommend seasonal specialties, everyone seemed to be ordering the salads and lighter dishes. Their short ribs are also very popular.


  1. I had a similar Kwik E Mart experience in Mountain View on Sundya. I *was* able to get parking but took one look at the line and opted for the Starbucks next door.

    Saw lots of people with pink donuts and buzz cola and several empty shelving units through the window as I walked by...

    Some marketing guy somewhere has has a six-figure salary demanding addition to his or her resume!

  2. Cab Franc is my most favorite wine. Now another one to try.

  3. Captain Jack7/26/07, 9:44 AM

    Nice review Alice Q,

    I have been meaning to try this place on one of my visits to LA. Do you think it lived up to the hype?

  4. Hi fellow DB! I understand how you felt. It was interesting, but not worth fighting for!

    Cathy - yes, you must. I really do want to order some

    Jack - Thanks! I do think it lived up to the hype. It didn't disappoint, which is more than you can say about a lot of places! I would definitely like to go back.

  5. I agree that the kwik-e-mart was an ingenious and fun marketing ploy... and it's always great to see other foodies who love neil finn... :) any chance to see him, in crowded house or not, is truly a pleasure - especially in a smaller venue.