My neighborhood is slowly becoming more, how shall I say it, gentrified, sophisticated, hip and cool. When little gourmet stores and café’s begin popping up all around with words like “organic” and “artisan,” you know the neighborhood has turned that corner. Well, Mar Vista is coming into its own. We now have both the above with those exact words to describe the various eating and drinking establishments coming to this sleepy unknown part of the Westside.
Recently I visited one of these places called The Curious Palate on Venice Boulevard within walking distance of my home. It is a small, cute take-out market and kitchen which has about four tables inside and four on the street for you to enjoy your meal. They also have a very nice selection of gourmet products such as olive oil, vinegars, chocolates and the like.
The day I had lunch there I met a friend and it was very busy when we arrived at noon. The service was decent, although the prices a bit steep for a salad and sandwich.
I was thrilled to see the place in my quiet neighborhood, which did not have a hint of gourmet food or drink for miles around except Venice Grind, which is a so-so coffee shop that sells pre-made sandwiches and not so great coffee.
The Curious Palate is run by “two friends who share a passion for all things delicious,” it says on the menu. What could be bad with a description like that?
I was looking forward to my lentil salad with feta, roasted peppers, avocado and special homemade dressing. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? I am a huge lentil fan and make them all the time in our house so this was a true test of a place. I also ordered a “Big Curious Salad” that supposedly came with greens, feta, olives, beets, baby artichokes, olives, roasted peppers and “Elliot’s famous vinaigrette.”
I must say I was not impressed and how hard is it to season things properly? Well, I have found after trying many hundreds of places it is not easy to use salt for most chefs and God only knows why as it is the single most important ingredient in food. Hello! Salt brings out all the flavor and without it, you taste nothing!
That said, they obviously didn’t use enough if any salt in their famous dressings.
My curious salad was quite the opposite — a pile of greens with very little vinaigrette and a small serving of beets to one side and one artichoke heart that was as baby as you can get (as in teeny weeny). Where was the feta, olives (two tiny ones ), roasted peppers (one strip) and this vinaigrette was hardly there let alone famous. The lentils, I hate to say, were not much better; almost no feta, avocado or the special homemade dressing was once again not to be found.
Both salads were over-priced at $9.50 and $3.45 respectively and my friend’s order was also a bit on the high side. An egg salad sandwich for $7.95! What! These are eggs after all, not smoked salmon. Her sandwich was decent but not as described on the menu; served with “lemon, thyme, guanciale bacon from Salumeria.” Where and what the heck is that?
I will try it again and order something else to give them a second chance, although I must say I was bummed that there wasn’t a great gourmet place in my neighborhood after all.
Now here is a great lentil salad, enjoy!
Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curried Lentil Salad with Walnuts
1 cup French lentils
1 bay leaf
1 red pepper, diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped mint
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 cup olive oil
1) Combine the lentils and bay leaf in a medium saucepan with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer and cover. Simmer about 20 minutes until tender. Drain. Transfer to a medium bowl and remove bay leaf. Add the red pepper, scallions, walnuts and mint.
2) Combine the garlic, lemon and curry in a small bowl and whisk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the olive oil slowly and taste for seasoning. Toss the dressing with the lentils.
3) Serve at room temperature.