Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dinner: Rustic Canyon

Today, let's talk L.A. (finally!).  L.A., and food, and I'll even throw in some photos, because really, isn't that what this was supposed to be about in the first place?  I don't know how things got so off track...not that I've minded.  I'm pretty sure talking about my friends, my mommonumental life changes, and random ridiculosity is my favorite thing to do.  But for those of you who poke your head in around here every so often hoping to hear about gallivants and adventures in the city of L.A., I do apologize for being so me-centric lately, and I hope you haven't abandoned me yet.  Because today I have something just for you!  So let's do this.  Let's talk about Rustic Canyon.

Rustic Canyon is a wine bar and "seasonal kitchen" (aka restaurant with food that comes from the ground instead of the freezer) in Santa Monica, owned by husband and wife chef team, Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb.  Zoe and Josh (we're on a first-name basis in my inner dialogue) are not only the culinary superstars behind my favorite brunch place ever -- the charmingly understated, farmer's market-esque Huckleberry in Santa Monica -- but they also might win the Ashley Pearson prize for cutest couple of life.  For reals.  Please look at this picture of them.  And then please read this bio on Star Chefs.  See what I mean?  I just want to squeeze them and give them a puppy.

And if you were too lazy to read that bio, let me fill you in on the highlights.  Zoe (who may or may not be my soulmate) started out in art school, then proceeded to culinary school in NYC, followed by stints at Mario Batali's Lupa, and then Jardinere and Tartine in San Francisco.  So basically, she's a winner.  And she can probably paint a portrait of you staring enviously at your screen right now.  And she's got an adorable pixie hair cut like Lisa's.  But lest you think that Josh is unworthy, let me tell you, he can hold his own, too.  He started out in publishing (a literary man! swoon), and then transitioned into the culinary world by cooking dinners at underground supper clubs.  I'm not even kidding you.  And he has the cutest most genuine squinty-eyed smile!  I'm in love with them both.

Must move on.  Ok, Rustic Canyon.  This place left me with the most overwhelmingly peaceful feeling of comfort.  It's not over-done in any way -- not in its decor, attitude, or cuisine.  The interior design is  natural-modern, but the pillowy booths and clay red walls make it homey.  The waiters and waitresses smile a lot and they look like your friends.  I kind of wanted them to be my friends, actually.  (But that could also be me, being in find-friends mode, and that's a whole other story.)  The food is fresh, filling, and soothing.  It's not startling or unexpected.  But it is really really good.

We started with olives marinated in a light, citrus-y olive oil and rosemary.  Perfect with the white wine.  Then we ordered the burrata.  This burrata came with artichoke hearts, fava beans, and ramps, all drizzled with a stinging-nettle pesto and toast to spread it on.  Quite Mediterranean.  But I must admit, as much as I wanted to absolutely love this appetizer, it was just not up to par with the burrata masterpiece at the Tasting Kitchen (you might recall my ridiculously enthusiastic endorsement of that delicacy).  The Rustic Canyon burrata was served too cold, and I'm not sure what stinging nettles are, but they make for a slightly bland pesto.  I looked for the salt, but they didn't have any on the table (too chic for salt?).  So next time, I'll try the squash blossoms (with goat cheese and mint yum!).

But don't worry - it got so much better.  At the recommendation of the waitress, I ordered the jidori chicken with soft polenta, wild mushroom, and marsala for my main dish.  I don't even remember the last time I ordered chicken in a restaurant because it always sounds like the boring option that's only there for the picky 10-year-olds to me, but after the waitress' glowing recommendation, I couldn't not order it.  And I believe Brian's reaction sums up the experience quite perfectly: "Damn, this chicken is so good it doesn't even taste like chicken!  How'd they do that?"  How, indeed.  The chicken was soft, smooth, pillowy even, simmering in a bowl of savory, warm polenta stew flavored with whiffs of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of heat.  I don't think I even used my knife.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I ate the whole meal with a spoon.  How did they do that?

I unfortunately did not have dessert, this meal being right after my two-week long finals binge and all, but I had my eye on the kumquat tart and the Boston cream pie (I wouldn't mind some right now actually).  If you insist, I'll go back and try one.  OK, three.  Do you always have to be so demanding?

Bottom line: healthy, feel-good comfort food brought to you by the cutest chef team ever.  This isn't a try-it-once-to-say-you-did kind of place; this is a place that will quickly become your neighborhood favorite, even if you don't live in the neighborhood.


Lisa P. said...

EeeeK that couple!! What the?? How do they exist?? Can I be one of them?? I'll even be the literary AMAZINGLY handsome husband if I have to. Looks like my kind of place. I will now begin learning about LA through you. (Y'all know I'll never go.) (. . . okay maybe for one or ten visits).

Leslie said...

ALWAYS choose squash blossoms. ALWAYS. I loooooooooooove them. I mean I also love burrata. So I would have had both.

CG said...

Have you seen that episode of Modern Family where Mitch & Cameron are trying to be buddy-buddy with a restaurant owner? If not, watch it.

Ashley said...

Haha Lisa, you said ya'll and LA in the same sentence. And no, I haven't!!! But now I want to go find it! Because I seriously want to be these people's friend.

And Les, we will just have to go back and get the squash blossoms together!

Rachel said...

Can you believe that I drive by this place twice daily and still have never been?! Your post though makes me definitely want to move it up to the top of my list!

Ashley said...

Rachel, you should definitely go for dinner sometime! And let me know how the dessert is :)

Also, I just saw your recipes tab, and I looove all the ideas you have up there. I really want to try out the fish tacos, and the slow cooker shredded Mexican beef (I've been looking for something to make in that giant slow cooker of mine...)!