This will be a short article because there aren’t many French restaurants left. In the 1950s and ‘60s if you wanted to take out a business client to a fancy and impressive restaurant, you took him or her to a French restaurant, like La Rue on Hollywood Boulevard. Now you take a client to a Japanese restaurant instead, and pay $150 or so per person for one-forth as much food — and without the sauce!
Oh for the good old days of butter, cream, truffles and rich sauces, potato Lyonnaise, and white asparagus in season.
Few French restaurants remain. But we’re lucky that the best of them are on the Westside where we can easily get to them. The star, of course, is Melisse. The chef-owner is not French, and he doesn’t have a wife running the front of the house, but everything else could be in France, and the food is superb. If you have to ask about the prices, it’s not for you. But here you can still luxuriate with caviar and truffle dishes. I love the game bird dishes.
I don’t know any restaurant that gets reviews as stunning as this one. Every dish is perfection, the service is professional, and the wine list exhaustive — it doesn’t get any better than this. Currently there is no a la carte menu, only a multi-course seasonal tasting menu featuring Farmers’ Market vegetables and fruit and locally sourced items, all for $125. Call ahead for the evening’s offerings.
For a real French bistro experience, go to Culver City to Meet in Paris, which is run by a young French couple with a family background in the Paris restaurant scene. This is the best place in town for mussels, there’s a great steak frites, the service is friendly (OK, that’s perhaps the only non-French aspect of the place), the prices are reasonable and the ambiance is casual, with an outside patio covered with awnings.
For the best French food outside of Melisse, and in a casual setting, go to Pacific Palisades, where two of the most experienced French chefs in the United States have opened up iconic restaurants in their own images.
Mimi, from French Canada, ran Chez Mimi in Brentwood for years. And people loved this restaurant. They loved the food, and they loved the staff. When Mimi lost her lease she moved to the base of the Highlands in Pacific Palisades and opened up with pretty much the same menu and pretty much the same staff — much to everyone’s surprise. And the same customers came back. Who else could have such a loyal staff and loyal following?
The new Palisades incarnation of Chez Mimi has a large patio, but a bit of a small, noisy inside room. So when the weather is good this is a great destination. The bouillabaisse is the best I’ve had in Los Angeles. I’ve heard people swoon over the lemon tart. I had a great hamburger there recently, although I had to send it back once to get it cooked to my order. I was not impressed with the chicken nor the mushroom salad, which was one of my favorites at the old restaurant, but when I ordered them the place was only a couple of weeks old, so it was just getting settled into the kitchen. Best of all, Mimi herself is there directing traffic, so you can bet the food and the service will be up to high standards.
At last we come to Maison Giraud, which I helped open. (Yes, you can say I’m biased.) In my opinion, shared by many, there’s no better chef in the Western U.S. than Alain Giraud. And with the new sound paneling and outside heaters, the restaurant is comfortable and appealing. Unlike many Westside restaurants, you can actually carry on a conversation here.
The croissants and bakery products are perhaps the best in the United States! Some reviewers have said the croissants are better than most places in France!
Personally, I love the California tuna niçoise salad, with fresh rare tuna slices; the hamburger with onion confit on top; and each week I look forward to the “cocotte” of the week, sometimes coq au vin, sometimes fish stew, sometimes scallops Provençal. The last time my wife and I shared the short ribs of beef in cocotte and it was perfect. I love the sliced lamb and the chicken Catherine with their light sauces.
One nice feature is the price. Chef Giraud has kept prices down to where you hardly know you are in a French restaurant.
Those are the only places we go to for French food on the Westside Like everyone else, we end up more often at some Japanese restaurant where we pay twice as much for a lot less food.
If you go
1104 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Meet in Paris
9727 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, Calif.
548 Palisades Dr.,
1032 Swarthmore Ave.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.