Tuesday, August 03, 2010

No. 174: Le Saint Amour (Culver City)

When people ask me if going veggie is limiting on my eatery selection, my usual response has been "asides from sushi bars and steakhouses, not really." However, subconsciously, I kinda ruled out French restaurants too. Because really, not counting desserts, how many French vegetarian dishes can you name? Asides from ratatouille.

Le Saint Amour Exterior
So I had mixed feelings upon accepting an invite to check out Le Saint Amour in Culver City, where unsurprisingly most of the dishes utilizes some form of meat, fowl or fish, and the menu furthermore boasts that the chef-owner Bruno Herve-Commereuc makes his own sausages, terrines and charcuterie items. Things seemed even grimmer when my plus-one, whom I asked to come along to provide an omnivore perspective, bowed out last minute for an emergency.

But what turns out to be a shocker is me having a hard time choosing between the promising vegetarian dishes available on the menu, and what two or three things I can order with my finite stomach space.
Monmousseau Rosé Sparkling
To help stall for time to make food decisions, I got a glass of Monmousseau sparkling rosé ($9) from the Loire Valley; another expectation blown out of water, as you can tell from its uncharacteristically copper hue, foreshadowing its markedly different flavor profile to most other blush bubblies; rather than smelling berry-forward & slightly toasty, this one is more like a poached pear with warm sweet spices and a bit of vanilla-honey-maple aromas too, something I'd expect more from a Cognac or a bourbon. Flavorwise, it had a touch of sweetness and a slightly heavier body but still enough acidity to make it a nice meal-starting sipper.
Burrata & Tomato Confit
For starters, I contemplated getting their mozzarella & leek tarte flambé ~ but scared that the flatbread will be gianormous, I went for the more sensible-sounding burrata with tomato confit and pesto ($10) instead. And I am very pleased with the choice as this turned out to be amazing dish, the tomatoes were wonderfully ripe-tasting and so unbelievably sweet that I even asked co-owner Florence (Bruno's wife) if any sugar or syrup was added, which was an obvious 'No' (they've just been oven-roasted very slowly with a little olive oil and garlic, she replied.) Whereas a caprese salad might have needed some balsamic vinegar for the sweetness, here the caramelized sugars of the roasted tomatoes were enough to complement the garlicky-basily pesto and the creamy-richness of the burrata. Furthermore, the tomatoes were served atop crispy polenta triangles (better view here) which were a nice textural contrast against the everything else on the plate.

As main dish, I also faced a little tough choice -- deliberating between getting a salad, their penne with arugula and garlic confit or their trio of their side dishes. Opting for a little more variety, I went with the third option and got a side course plate of pomme frites, sauteed lentils and oyster mushrooms fricasee ($16).
Veggie Sides Trio
Of the three, the third left the most remarkable impression, the oyster mushrooms had tons of woodsy flavor and a deceptively meaty texture (in fact, when it first arrived I thought there might've been chicken in the fricasee from appearance alone!) The lentils were a nice little surprise too, being used to lentils stewed to a mush in Indian restaurants, it was nice change of pace to get this firmer, sauteed version -- kind of like Israeli couscous in mouthfeel with an earthy, stewed black bean taste. Finally, the frites, lightly tossed with salt, garlic and parsley -- they were good and actually reminded me of SeriousEats' perfectly thin and crispy fries since they pretty much fulfilled every criteria. But my personal allegiance lies with the thicker, twice-fried frites like the ones at Wurstkuche or the fried-extra-long "well done" version at In 'n Out so these didn't wow me on their own. However, I discovered that I can DIY my own garlic fries by dipping these in the garlic-infused oil that the starter olives were soaking in (comes with bread service) so by the meal's end the plate was pretty much devoid of the taters too.
Floating Island
For dessert, I asked Florence to recommend her favorite from the menu and thus, I got the floating island ($8), a simple but elegant dessert with consisting of a meringue floating atop a sea of creme anglaise. No stranger to this dessert, I was pleased that the meringue was on soft, wet and whippy side like the topping of a lemon meringue pie as opposed to a hard & crumbly like macaron cookie or a pavlova--since this means I don't have to deal fragile pieces flaking and breaking off and getting soggy too fast. The anglaise itself, with little snakey ribbons of caramel, was also delightful -- a perfectly slurpable dessert soup that I kept spooning long after the meringue island is gone. If my adjacent tables were vacant, I might've even sucked out every last drop from the rim of the bowl. But alas, they weren't, so I stayed civil.
Saint Amour Patio
As I was sipping my espresso and going over my notes, I was also observing the number of French patrons this place attracted . . . even in the cozy patio that seats about 30 max, there were at least three four-tops where the customers spoke in complete French to Florence and the waitstaff. No stranger to ethnic dining in So Cal, this definitely speaks for the restaurant's authenticity as a brasserie, not to mention building a good enough loyalty amongst clientele that they feel comfortable enough to speak in their native tongue amongst each other and to the almost all-French crew. In the same brasserie vain, the prices here are very reasonable, with starters & wines by the glass around $10, entrees around $20 and desserts at $8.

And of course, the biggest endorsement I could make for a hosted meal is whether I would come back on my own dime, which I would happily do and actually looking forward to . . . even as a vegetarian. I can't wait find a plus-one to share that leek-mozzarella tart with and finally get that meat-eaters perspective, and I for one am already feeling the amour for that tomato confit and floating island.

What Do Others Say?
- Food, She Thought found "the concept is simple and lovely, the execution could be better" but still plans on a return trip
- Exilekiss said it "still needs to settle in and refine itself" but gave props for a few consistently solid dishes
- LA Foodblogging loved their bread and housemade charcuterie, finding it a "perfect place to settle down with a long, leisurely lunch and a glass of wine"
- Tomostyle "could go on and on, as I cannot contain my excitement" for this place's "true French bistro food in a true French bistro environment with true French staff and true French hospitality."
- LA Times' S. Irene gave it a lukewarm one star but does give "thanks to two hardworking French expats for bringing us a brasserie that celebrates typical French cuisine"
- LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold called it "Paris in Culver City" and a "decidedly useful bistro" with an "air of cheerful Parisian diffidence that is hard to manufacture."
- LA.com liked the food and that "the bar and waitstaff are almost entirely French [staffed], and not only that, but they are actually polite"
- Culver City Crossroads' Mary McGrath was impressed and said "it lives up to the reputation. It’s affordable, and there are no noses in the air."

Le Saint Amour
9725 Culver Blvd
Culver city, CA 90232
(310) 842-8155

Le Saint Amour on Urbanspoon


Anna A. said...

I want some of your mater-mozzarella! Also, I've never had a floating island before - the first time I heard about it was from my mom's microwave cookbook circa 1988.

Diana said...

Your description of the Rose is beautiful! I can almost taste it! I've been addicted to the stuff lately - it's definitely the summer of Rose!

ChocoMeat said...

That DOES sound like an amazing rose! It's not easy finding the good ones, but when you do, it's quite a treat! Will look for this one!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Very nice! :) I'm glad there were plenty of vegetarian offerings for you, and I'm glad to hear they're still delivering some good quality dishes. I should go back soon. :)

bagnatic said...

as a hard core carnivore, these veggie dishes actually look really appealing...that says a lot.

H. C. said...

@Anna, I'd be curious at how to nuke out a floating island... kind of.

@Diana, I'd say every summer is perfect for rosés -- it has certainly come a long way since the syrupy Calif. white zins of a decade ago.

@ChocoMeat, Le Saint Amour actually has a really fun, interesting and affordable Frency wine list. I also had a lovely Cote d'Or Burgundy there that went for less than $50 a bottle.

@Exile Kiss, can't wait to hear about your follow-up on it, and hope you change your mind about that crispy polenta!

@Bagnatic, does that make me a veggie enabler now?

stuffycheaks said...

thanks for the reminder, cuz this is on my list! except sorry, i'm gonna bypass the lentils.. heard their boudin noir and duck confit are delicious. can't wait to try the fries too

Prefer said...

Love this entry, I totally want to go check this restaurant out. I ate at Church & Bistro last night, which was really good, and this new LA dining deals site just posted a special deal – $10 for $20 at Church & Bistro. I encourage everyone to check out at www.preferdine.com. Let me know what you think!


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