In LA, it's a rather tricky affair when restaurants decide to put game meats on the menu. Sometimes it gets so buried with other flavors and texture you wonder why even bother with an exotic meat, and at the opposite end of the spectrum there are dishes that so unapologetically, unctuous and gnarly you kinda regret ordering a whole entreé size portion of it. Basically, you would feel jipped for that premium price.
So I was quite pleased to report back from a media dinner @ Chaya Venice that their Venison Fair (going on until Dec. 11) have something for every palate on the foodventurous-ness spectrum, from innocently curious to the full "Game On!"
As such, I'll start with the most innocuous dish and go progressively wilder, so hold on to your palates.
Of the four dishes featured in this fair, the mildest one is definitely the venison meatballs with marinara sauce with pappardelle & shaved parmesan. I would've guessed veal if I tasted these meatballs blind, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering the herbs & spices in the meatballs themselves and the vibrant tomato sauce. And overall, this was a hearty and satisfying course, but if you are looking for more of an "Oh, deer!" factor - I'd vye for one of the three below.
Such as the venison chili con carne - given how spice-heavy this was I thought the venison-ness of this would be pretty mellow too, but the meat's gamey flavor and leaner texture does shine through here since venison steak chunks (as opposed to grounded up in the meatballs) is used. While the menu disclaimed this was 'spicy' - for me it was totally tolerable amount of heat, more of a 4 or 5 on a 1 to 10 scale.
If you are looking for a distinct venison flavor, go for the Texas-spiced venison burger. Yes, the meat is grounded up, but it's a whole big solid patty of it that really let its flavor and texture (that I place as a hybrid of bison & lamb) shine through. Of course, you can always pick apart the burger to taste the venison alone, but I personally loved its accompaniments of peppery, crunchy arugula, mildly-hot pepper jack cheese, the sweet-and-hot combo of spicy mayo and red pepper chutney, and of course, the crispy fattiness of thick-cut bacon. (Note that these were special slider versions served at this particular media dinner, on a regular order it would just be one normal-sized burger.)
And for those gung-ho about tasting deer in all its glory, go for the roasted venison tenderloin with blueberry peppercorn sauce. If you don't care for fruity sauces on your meat dishes, you might want to ask for it on the side, but I had no problem with it drizzled on top, the berries and peppers added a playful complexity and balance to the venison slices. Combine that with the haricots verts, mushrooms and chestnut puree and you got quite a forest-themed main course on your plate.
And at the server's suggestion, for all these deery dishes we shared "The Ball Buster", a 2009 Australian Red Blend from Tait Wines that proved to bold enough to hold up to more spice-heavy courses, but with a fruit-forwardness and soft-enough tannins that makes it sippable on its own too.
Also surprising is the number of "hard coffee" drinks they have on their menu (always a fond reminder of my days on the East Coast, where these are more prominent -- presumably so people can warm up and get buzzed in two different ways!) The Cafe L'Orange I got was just citrusy & liquored enough to add a delightful zing to the coffee without compromising its smoothness (unlike say... poorly made Irish coffees that just uber-bitter and burns going down the throat.)
Finally, no worries if deer isn't your thing -- their regular menu is still available for your dining pleasure. If nothing else, their all-night happy hour is worth a checkout too.
For other takes on the Venison Fair, check out the posts by my dining compadres that evening: TreasureLA & Savory Hunter.
110 Navy Street (cross: Main St)
Venice, CA 90291