Fine food fun
Kal’s Mediterranean Bistro reintroduces familiar flavors in a playful way
By Erica Wayne 08/01/2013
With the annual dineLA Restaurant Week coming to a close, last week was a great time to sample some of the best cooking around at bargain prices.
Take Kal’s Mediterranean Bistro, for instance. It’s only been open a couple of months, serving an extremely interesting menu with dinner time appetizers running from $6 to $12, entrees $14 to $33 and desserts from $6 to $9. But, for the last part of July, a full three-course dinner could be yours for only $25. Fantastic!
Kal’s interior couldn’t be more pleasant. The deep, relatively narrow space is clad tip to toe in rich woods and wood veneers, reminiscent of a 19th-century country manor library (without the books): polished floors, wall panels bordered in bead and reel and coffered ceilings with acanthus surrounds. Tables are wood as well, with ornately carved edges and bases.
A huge carved wood bar dominates most of the back third of the restaurant. The front windows are etched glass. Fin du siecle-style chandeliers and fixtures cast a soft glow, and a quiet jazz background (both vocals and instrumentals) soothes. As we perused the menu and wine list, we enjoyed favorites by Ella, Dean, Nat and Frank. Service is attentive.
But none of this would make up for poor food and drink. And I’m glad to say Kal’s doesn’t disappoint. We started our meal with one of the few special dineLA offerings that isn’t on the regular summer menu: falafel, four deep-fried nicely seasoned chick pea patties on a bed of yogurt with a smattering of parsley and a dollop of rather mild hummus, which could have used a soupcon more garlic, cumin and lemon. The usual hot sauce, tahini, chopped veggies and pita were missing, but not at all missed.
Our other appetizer was tabbouleh, with kale (the latest celebrity veggie) added to the traditional parsley, bulghur wheat, tomato, mint and lots of lemony vinaigrette. It was delicious, although the mint was a little too muted for platonic perfection in my opinion. In fact, my only criticism of Kal’s kitchen is the gentleness of some seasonings.
One entree was a moist filet of salmon with saffron (more color than flavor) rice and a tangle of sautéed broccoli. Bright red sumac was sprinkled decoratively around the edge of the plate. Our other main dish was a generous portion of hanger steak, perfectly cooked to medium rare, with basmati rice and delicately sliced carrots and zucchini. (Flat iron steak is the cut on Kal’s regular menu, served with patatas bravas and spinach.) The beef came with a dab of tzatziki sauce (which it didn’t need, but which would certainly have complemented the salmon).
It was difficult to choose our sweets. Aside from ice cream, there were three: Greek yogurt panna cotta with cucumber granite, watermelon and mint; kanafeh, a pastry shell filled with orange blossom-scented cream cheese and pistachio; and “black and white,” chocolate gateau, white chocolate ice cream and muddled strawberry anglaise. I would have gone with the first two, but my mate, alas, likes chocolate way more than either cucumber or orange blossom.
The panna cotta was as it should be — rich and creamy, without much pungency from the yogurt. Its flavor and texture were beautifully set off by the icy granite and the sweet watermelon-mint “consommé” poured over the pudding by our server. The gateau resembled an unfrosted cupcake, with an intense chocolate flavor. The ice cream was white chocolate as advertised, but was also studded with chocolate chips. And there were slivers of strawberry as well as a hint of strawberry puree in the lush, vanilla-scented custard pudding around the cake.
Several of our dishes had pedigreed ingredients: Underwood Farms kale, Loch Duart salmon and Meyer’s Ranch beef. And we noted that, on the regular menu, duck comes from Maple Leaf Farms and arugula hails from Coleman Farms. It’s obvious that the kitchen is as serious about what it cooks as the proprietors are about their beverage list, much longer than the single page menu.
In addition to a huge number of handpicked wines, both by the glass and by the bottle, there are several creative fresh juice and vegetable-based cocktails (all $13). For example, there’s “Smoke in the Garden,” smoked tomato, fino sherry, lime juice, agave, red bell pepper, scallion and cilantro. And there’s “Bushido,” sake, bonita syrup, yuzu and micro lemongrass. A number of imported beers, a couple of which are rarely found locally, sell from $5 to $10.
Because we were there on a Wednesday, we got to take advantage of Kal’s half-price wine deal: Any vintage sold by the glass as well as by the bottle can be bought for half-price. We got a very drinkable chardonnay for a mere $13.50. By the time you read this, this summer’s Restaurant Week will have ended, so for a cut-rate super bargain like the one we got, you’ll have to bide your time. But most of the dishes we enjoyed are on the regular menu. And, if you’re an oenophile, Wednesday evening is the perfect time to give Kal’s a try.