Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Would You Like a Footstool?"

Asked our waiter as Pat and I slid onto a banquette and Bob and Richie pulled up chairs at our table. He had two black "boxes" under his arms and at first glance, I thought they were kids' booster seats! Gracefully, Pat and I declined.

It reminded me of restaurants in Baja where ladies are given a footstool for their purses (El Rey Sol) and the Estero Beach Hotel where our waiter pulled out a chair (I thought he was joining us) then picked my purse up off of the floor and gently deposited it in the chair.

Michael Franks and Robert Bell have a playful touch -- instead of offering bread and butter, staff puts out small dishes of a gently-flavored onion dip (creme fraiche is one ingredient) and a white bean dip and a basketful of restaurant-made potato chips and poppadams (and, yes, I had to ask what they were. Delicious!)

They have been co-owners of Chez Melange, their creation, for the past 26 years. Their new location is 1611 S. Catalina, Redondo Beach 310-540-1222. The signage is mostly over the patio, but there's another entrance into both the restaurant and the new gastropub and that's the door next to the garage driveway. Nice touch -- the "door" to the dining room is a brown velvet curtain.

The dining room is elegantly understated with muted walls and a judicious use of dark wood trim. The wall facing us was windowed, but at night the curtains are closed which mutes any noise. Tables are spaced just far enough apart to give privacy to one's conversations. Servers in crisp white shirts and black pants were friendly and plentiful.

Our water glasses were swiftly filled, drink orders taken -- they have a beer list (!) in addition to a wine list. Richie ordered the split pea and bacon soup ($8) and the crab-stuffed prawns, wrapped in prosciutoo and pan-roasted with a basil lemon sauce ($15.) I started with the romain salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese ranch dressing ($9) then the prawns. Pat stayed with just a bowl of split pea soup, planning to share Bob's veal sweetbreads with Italian black truffles and porcini mushroom risotto ($26.)

All of our food was very good indeed and portions were generous. My salad fed me, Pat and Richie! The crab-stuffed prawns came three to a plate and were huge. Since I avert my eyes from sweetbreads, liver, all innards, all I can tell you is that Pat and Bob said they were delicious. The forkful of mushroom risotto given me had a sweet and garlic-y taste. We finished off with a creme brulee (Pat and Richie's favorite) which came to the table properly blasted on top and cool and creamy underneath ($8.)

Dinner -- food only came to $80; beer and wine was $60 and I tipped appropriately. (I paid because Bob and Richie are both Navy veterans and this was my "Thank you, veterans.")

When you cost out $140 for dinner for four, we see that dinner was only $20 for excellent quality and flavor dishes and a bar bill of $15 is not hard to rack up when a (singular) glass of wine (low-end) is $7. For $35 a person we had a wonderful meal in a lovely room with excellent service!

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