Before Nancy Silverton came into fame in Pizzeria Mozza, some of us know her as the partner and bonafide bread-o-phile of the once-rustic and now-everywhere La Brea Bakery and the pastry chef of its adjacent restaurant, Campanile.
So, after being basically 'wow'ed out of my mind with my Mozza experience, I decided to take a trip to Campanile to discover its origins and to taste the creations of Mark Peel, who has been running this place since it opened in 1989. Incidentally, he himself was a pastry chef at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, before moving on to work at Spago, Maxwell's Plum in NYC and, finally, starting this joint venture with Silverton.
Campanile is located on La Brea just south of Beverly Blvd., in a building from the early 20th century designed for Charlie Chaplin. The dining floor is divided into three sections, the front area is an open, airy, almost ethereal patio with a fountain and a tree, plus full-pane windows and skylights that let you look out onto the bustling boulevard or up into the starry sky (or, if going during the day, would flood the area with radiant sunbeams). The middle section looks like a classy, Old World cafe or bistro with its stone walls and gothic arches, straightened rows of tables and a complete view of the kitchen as they're whipping out courses. Finally, the more refined and romantic backroom, with soft beige lighting, carpeting and cream colored drapery.
I was seated in the front area, and I didn't have to look at the menu to know what I wanted -- the Monday night special ~ $35 for a three-course prix-fixe. (Note: price has now risen to $40/person)
Shortly after my order, a dish of amuse came out:
OK, this was the major let down of the meal; I don't think I'm being unreasonable when I expect above-average bread from a restaurant that's partnered with a well-renowned bakery. But this basket 'o carbs was not that good even by regular standards -- cold, hard and borderline stale, as if they were sliced that morning and stuck in a fridge for the day, being pulled out just minutes before tables needed them. I can't imagine how Nancy would ever let this slide, except for the fact that she's spending all her time at Mozza.
Thankfully, the major bummer moment was quickly cut short with the serving of appetizers . . .
Oh yes! Fresh bivalves baked in a white wine sauce with aromatic garlic and herbs -perfectly cooked, the sauce perfectly complemented the succulent and slippery meat that glided on my tongue for awhile before I bite, releasing the sweet and briny juices in my mouth. Enough said ~ and I swear I didn't rudely sip the remaining liquids off the shells *cross fingers*.
Tally so far: one 'meh', one bummer and one heavenly, how will that change with the main course?
Fortunately, for the better - the flood of flavors is nothing short of amazing. Nestled under flaky layers of puff pastry is a rich, slightly-sweet stew full of firm meats melding with earthy mushroom slices, fragrant pearl onions and sweet carrot coins. And that hint of sugar not only helped the flavors combine, it also made this sauce feel a bit less heavy too by distracting the creamy mouthfeel with that tinge of unexpected taste.
Now, if I had to be nitpicky, the only downside I see to this pie is the lack of a side & bottom crust. I know, I know -- lots of pot pies are top-crust only and a puff pastry side & bottom crust for this pie would probably be just soggy layers of flour and butter, but having been raised on passable and occasionally-really-cheap frozen Marie Callender's pot pies in my high school and college years, I always sob a little on the inside when eating restaurant pot pies (or cobblers for that matter) and sensing my fork hitting the pie tin or dish without that crusty resistance.
Would I return again? You betcha, despite my reservations about the bread. On top of an overall good meal, I give amazing creativity kudos to Mark Peel for switching up the Monday menu (and the more expansive and expensive Wednesday prix-fixe) EVERY week for a price that's completely reasonable. And of course, I have to come back to check out their infamous grilled cheese Thursdays, which I hope are on better slices of wheat.
Monday Night Dinner Special Prix-Fixe: $35 (includes coffee or tea)
Ambience: 5/5 (I love the 3-in-1 space going on in this restaurant, all three are nice in their own way, but it also gives diner a bit of a choice depending on the mood & occasion -- the more casual patio & bistro would be great for meeting with friends and business colleagues, whereas the back area is great for more intimate dining.)
Value: 4/5 (Very reasonable for all the stuff I'm getting, the rating sticks even after the price went up by $5)
Service: 7.5/10 (Solid and professional, could be friendlier though)
Food: 16.5/20 (Overall very good, though the portions are a bit gianormous. Oh yea, and the whole bread thing! - I'm not consideirng the olivey amuse in this since that's such a personal pet peeve of mine-)
Misc. Bonus/Demerits: N/A
- Valet parking available, watch out with street parking, lots of 'no parking' times and restrictions in the area.
- As noted before, they also do a Wednesday chef tasting menu ($85/pp) and are well known for their Thursday grilled cheese nights. Also brunch on weekends.
What Do Others Say?
~Erin of Erin's Kitchen went here for brunch, also finds it yummy and reasonably priced
~Potatomato also did brunch here, also liked but felt it was a bit pricey
~The Delicious Life's Sarah, too, had good eats and a good time at brunch
~L.A. Ritz went for the tasting menu in '05, liked overall despite a few hiccups; also seemed to enjoy Grilled Cheese Night a bit more
624 S. La Brea