When I go to a restaurant that has been open only for a few days, I don’t expect things to be perfect. I expect a bit of a problem with the service and perhaps some of the dishes won’t come out of the kitchen just right.

So it was a surprise when I had lunch at La Cachette on Ocean Avenue a week or so after they fired up the oven. Everything was perfect, particularly the service. Maybe that’s because the chef and owner, Jean Francois Meteigner, was right there watching everything.

Meteigner and his wife, Allie Ko, recently moved to Santa Monica after spending 14 years in Los Angeles.

We elected to eat inside, near the open doors to the patio. It was not crowded and the room was open and airy, with a modern, clean look. The comfortable chairs made it so pleasant that we probably over-ordered.

For appetizers I had the fish soup, and my friends shared a frissee salad and the beet tower that all agreed was good, but not great. The fish soup however was A-plus, with seafood flavor and texture rarely found in the U.S.

For main courses we had the coq au vin, veal scaloppini and one Caésar salad with chicken breast. The coq au vin brought back memories of the 1960s when it was very popular as an “authentic” French dish. And this one was wonderful, with rich, dark chicken meat on the leg and thigh in a well seasoned broth. This too earned high marks. I was pleased that the veal scaloppini was not breaded. I was less pleased with the Caésar salad, but, after all, that’s a Mexican dish, not French.

I’m told by friends that already consider this restaurant as one of their “regular hangouts” that the menu changes often. A cassoulet, not on the menu when I was there unfortunately, was reported to be excellent. Also, I’ve heard the tomato soup and the buffalo ribs are special.

Other reports from some very critical colleagues: The brandade was, to be polite, “unusual.” It was made from smoked fresh cod, not salt cod, so tasted more like a smoked trout pate, and was too oily. Other typical bistro dishes, like rilletes, now seem to be available only on the bar menu. The moules were made in a very well-flavored broth, but were modest in size. The brown bread was excellent, but that’s all there was — no more neutral flavored french bread to sop up the sauces. And, $6.50 for valet parking is at the high end of the usual range.

The perfectly acceptable wine list offers a nice selection by the glass as well as the 15-ounce carafe, which is usually enough for two Americans, or one Frenchman. And the dessert menu was very nice. My wife forced me to sample a couple of desserts. After all, she argued, “how can you review this place if you don’t sample the most important course?”

All in all this is a first class French bistro, with typical prices for fine dining in Santa Monica, where you can expect to spend $50-$70 per person for a two or three course meal with wine. But unlike some restaurants, here I felt it was worth it.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com.

If You Go

La Cachette Bistro

www.lacachettebistro.com

1733 Ocean Ave.

Santa Monica, Calif. 90401

310.434.9509.

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