Los Angeles is and always will be my favorite city in the world, and a lot of that can be credited to the vibe in Venice, and Abbott Kinney in particular. Having savored Gjelina before and many spots in neighboring Santa Monica, I finally scored a reservation and the hippy and art focused Tasting Kitchen. With an ethereal ambiance and more candles than stars of the night or than the pools that mushroom around California, I was escorted to the dimly lit bar surrounded by candlelight flickering on chalkboard walls of menus and graffiti. Perfection. Casey Lane of Portland ran the scene, with an Oregan-style western restaurant which had a trattoria, cozy feel and an unmistakably Californian crowd.
The menu was littered with Californian staples, with a focus on breads, cheeses, braised meats, vegetables and an overall slant towards all things smoky, burnt or bitter – my favorite flavor profiles. I started with an alluring coconut curry gin cocktail which smelled and tasted exactly like one would have expected – a colder version of the Thai curry classic with a powerful punch of gin!
I first bit into with a simple radicchio, hazelnut and pear salad, mostly due to my love of hazelnuts. Beautifully plated with the purple and green offsets, the juicy and seductively sliced pears were a favorite, a crunchy but sweet element that offset the bitterness of the legumes. And thankfully, there was a massive dollop of hazelnuts that made this a winner of recent salads.
The recommendation from the chef was that of lentils rapini, which usually is not my choice, courtesy of a history of despising lentils. This one came on a bed of flavorful bitters topped with burnt greens and a hint of toasted parmesan and bread crumble, which made for a savory, uninterrupted and carb-free bite! Truly an inventive way to treat a grain and vegetable, which matched well with the multi-layered cocktail too. The sweet and savory bartenders poured me an old fashioned to help me digest the bitters before indulging into my favorite: dessert.
Many know that I have a penchant for carrot cake. This one was in fact a ginger carrot cake with apricot sauce, glazed carrots, rum raisin ice cream and pomegranate. And cheers to the chefs for making something as lousy as a carrot become so sexy. Plated in the most ethereal and imaginative way, the cake formed one part of the dish (dark, bitter and burnt, too!) while the ice cream formed a second, interlaced with fresh pomegranate arils and glazed carrots. Complexly put together, I scooped up all the elements into one of the sexiest bites I had ever had. The spice hit me immediately, offset by the sweet rum ice cream and cut by the tartness of the fruit and fibrous carrot. Truly a feat in the world of carrot cake gastronomy!
The vibe of the place was so addictively alluring that I longed to linger, for the candlelight ferociously flickered on the walls and the bar seemed to grow magically larger. Oh Venice, I will love you forever.