Monday, May 28, 2007

Le Petit Restaurant on Ventura Boulevard

Oftentimes, the litmus test of a fine [western] restaurant is its wine service. Simply put, a knowledgeable and gracious waiter or sommelier truly makes a dining experience more sublime. Le Petit Restaurant (formerly Le Petite Bistro) excels in this regard without much pomp.

Located on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, Le Petit has been one of my favorite French bistros. This semi-casual, small restaurant with an intimate and personal atmosphere is a place that my wife and I have patronized for the past 5 years or more (more regularly before the birth our daughter). I would attribute our loyalty as patrons to their courteous service, the good food, decent prices, and perhaps most of all, their gracious wine service.

Their wine menu, while neither extensive nor exquisite, should manage to serve most occasions. Bottle prices are very reasonable (’04 Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay for $75…about the same at retail.) and half-bottles are available as well. Best of all, they allow guests to bring our own wine for a $10 corkage fee. To me, this speaks loudly about how they regard wine as unpretentious accompaniments to their cuisine. On most visits, I bring my own to Le Petit and happily pay the reasonable corkage fee, which pays for a first class service. It’s worth it.

When my wife and I visited Le Petit for the umpteenth time last Saturday, we brought a 2001 Chard Farm Pinot Noir Finla Mor from Central Otago, New Zealand. We purchased this very bottle from a store in the Marlborough wine country during our honeymoon 4 years ago. It was the very same wine that we enjoyed together at Orbit, the restaurant on the top of the Sky City Tower in Auckland. Suffice to say, each delicious sip of this wine brought back fond memories.

Upon arriving, our waiter graciously acknowledged the bottle in my hand, inspected its label, and readily prepared 2 Riedel crystal globes on the table. When we told him that we’d start with something harder as aperitifs, he gladly uncorked the wine to let it “air” while we enjoyed very delicious lime margarita (for her) and a smooth Grey Goose vodka martini with olives. Both cocktails hit the spot just right and wound us down sufficiently.

(At 10pm, less crowded by then)

Our waiter insisted that we did not hurry with ordering our dishes, and we were more than happy to oblige his suggestion. We eventually ended up with a plate of César salad and a bowl of onion soup gratinée with melted Gruyere cheese for starters. As entrées went, we ordered a filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes and Dijon brandy sauce (for her), and a grilled veal chop with shallots, asparagus and mashed potatoes. Both entrées were cooked to medium temperature perfection. We closed our meal with an order of raspberry crème brûlée to share. Everything was excellent, except for the onion soup, which I found to be a bit too salty.

Another pleasant point about Le Petit’s wine service: asking for a bucket of ice to cool my red wine was a totally painless experience. The request was complied without a single flinch or a note of absurdness. On many occasions at other lesser “fine” establishments, I had to reconfirm my intent, either in response to a polite inquiry or by the server’s unintentional body language.

And the ‘01 Chard Farm Pinot that we brought to the restaurant? Just great to pair with the dishes we had. It was supple and mellow, yet resplendent with red berries, cherries and lively acidity. 4 stars (vg).

The wine took us back to the top of Auckland. The only downside being this was the only bottle I had, and I have not been able to find one by the same producer in the United States (online or otherwise).

Le Petit Restaurant (formerly Le Petite Bistro)
13360 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Food 3.75 stars (g – vg)
Wine selections 3 stars (g), corkage fee $10 per 750ml
Service 4.5 stars (vg – ex)
Overall 4 stars (vg)


Steven Dodd said...

I'm uninitiated on the wine thing. Is a Pinot Noir not to be chilled but simply room temperature or a little below?

I have been enjoying martinis lately. I've made both vodka and gin martinis, and while I didn't used to like gin, I really like it in a martini. 2 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, 1 part water to smooth it out. Couple olives with a little brine too. Mmmmm, fantastic. I'll keep experimenting with it to perfect it.

~ Phyll said...

Steven, the oft misleading rule of thumb for the serving temperature of red wines is "room temperature". However, what it means is "cellar room temperature", which ideally is closer to being around 60 to 65 F.

Personal experience: I got a funny look from a waiter AND he questioned me when I asked for a bucket of ice for the bottle of shiraz that he brought to the table. It came to me perfectly at room temperature. Unfortunately, it was the exact room temperature at that outdoor restaurant, which was around 90 - 95F. Without a doubt, the wine tasted "stewy" for having been stored warm for who knows how long, even after it was chilled down.

Having said all that, the best rule of thumb is the temperature YOU like it at. Whatever floats your boat.

I'm not a big fan of straight vodka. But a vodka martini with a touch of vermouth or gin is quite sublime. My favorite vodka has been the Van Gogh brand (Holland). But it is rarely offered by restaurant bars...not sure why.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phyll,
I've been reading your marvelous blog for quite some time and was planning of getting in touch with you. This entry finally gives me the opportunity to do this.
While we both share a passion for tea, my expertise on wine is rather limited. But I live in New Zealand and I'd be happy to investigate a source for you. A friend of mine is a wine maker here in New Zealand (I've just published a story about a gyokuro tasting I did with him last night.) and I'm sure I can find your wine if it's still available anywhere.

~ Phyll said...

Hello Jo,

That is an extremely kind gesture on your part! And thank you for the compliments about my blog. The same goes to yours!

2 or so years ago I contacted Chard Farm in Central Otago to ask how one can procure their wines in the States. The sales manager responded along the line that -- if I remember well -- the only option was for me to buy direct.

Unfortunately, wine is not like tea...bottles and liquid are heavy, so the shipping cost was prohibitive for me. Not to mention the potential that the wine could be subjected to unsafe temperature while in-transit via normal post. Wholesalers who buy in bulk have the luxury of economy of scale and the incentive to ship their wines in air-conditioned containers.

As a result, I forego the option of buying direct.

It's purely a sentimental wine, though it happens to be very nice, too. There are other decent Central Otago Pinot Noir available for sale here. But I would be so delighted if I can get my hands on some Chard Farm PN. If it requires more effort than a very small one, then please don't bother.

I appreciate your kindness, and thank you again.