Few snarls from Little Beast
Infant Eagle Rock eatery nears purrfection
By Erica Wayne 07/24/2013
L ittle Beast in Eagle Rock opened in mid-June. We tried it just after it celebrated its one-month birthday; and, for a baby restaurant, it was amazingly mature. The proprietors (who titled it after a pet name for their young son) set up shop in the 100-year-old Craftsman cottage on Colorado Boulevard that previously housed Larkin’s (a soul-food restaurant which departed in late 2011) and did a transformative renovation.
Despite my core belief (notwithstanding Paula Deen’s fall from grace) that there can never be too many places serving deep-fried grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken and waffles, I’ve got to admit that Little Beast has nicely gentrified the venue with its upscale menu, crisp service and spiffy new décor. So farewell mac ‘n’ cheese, jambalaya and hush-puppies and hello arugula, artisan cheeses and charcuterie.
The cottage has been gussied up with a vibrant blue repaint (replacing dull brown). Its high-ceilinged interior is now sparkling white instead of mustard, bringing out the rich dark wood moldings and floors. Seating has also been upgraded. In addition to freestanding tables and chairs, tables along the periphery walls of the main dining area are parked next to a row of comfy upholstered benches with large attached throw-pillows.
The two wraparound porches and the morning glory-bedecked patio also sport a higher grade of furniture. (Larkin’s outdoor seating could best be described as rustic.) And although we chose to avoid the 90-plus-degree temperature by opting for indoor seating, the exterior tables, visible through Little Beast’s many windows, were well-filled by 6:30 p.m.
Our party of four was able to cut quite a swath through the relatively small menu: 11 small plates, six mains (plus one special) and four (plus one special) desserts. The hot weather influenced us to pass up starters of duck liver mousse ($10), cheese and charcuterie boards (each $14) and wild salmon tartare ($14) in favor of summer salads — burrata and peaches ($12), watermelon and feta ($10), charred cantaloupe and arugula ($10) and roasted beets ($10).
All four were drop-dead gorgeous and large enough for all of us to sample. My favorite was the luscious watermelon and feta, plated on a bed of arugula with translucent circlets of radish and a subtle honey vinaigrette. Second best were the rounds and chunks of red and golden beets, garnished with a few orange slices and a dollop of herbed goat cheese.
The generous glob of burrata with its dice of peach, peppery rocket, basil and dribble of balsamic vinegar was quite good. So was the charred cantaloupe with pickled cucumber and tiny cantaloupe and honeydew balls doused with mint vinaigrette. The quality of the fruit was a little disappointing. The peach was flavorful, but crisp rather than juicy (not fully ripe?). The thin slice of cantaloupe had grill marks but no smoke taste, and the melon balls weren’t sweet at all.
Our entrees ranged from the “ordinary” Little Beast burger (with charred red onion, lettuce, heirloom tomato,
Worcestershire aioli and fries — $15 plus $2 for cheddar, gruyere or blue) to the “sublime” emerald green English pea risotto (with shaved pecorino, sweet butter, mint and a hint of lemon — $14). We also ordered pan-roasted chicken (drenched with cognac morel jus, perched on a raft of asparagus with a generous spoonful of roasted corn kernels — $19), and the night’s special cioppino (lots of seafood and veggies, rich tomato sauce, toasted kale and a slab of crisp garlic toast — $26).
As with the salads, there were almost no complaints. One observation: the burger seemed to grace more nearby diners’ plates than any other item! Two inches of well-charred but medium rare — as ordered — beef, it was perfectly seasoned and set off nicely by the aioli’s tang, the onion’s muted sting and the intensity of the blue cheese. The bun was a beauty, although its well-tanned good looks were deceptive; it had little character. But the mound of thick-cut fries was quite tasty.
Wines on the single-page list at Little Beast are reasonable ($28 to $44). I was delighted to see that most were from outside the United States, bucking the trend of many local restaurants to concentrate on California vintages. Our selection, a 2011 Cotes du Rhone ($31), was just dandy. If you want to bring your own bottle, the restaurant charges a steep $14 corkage fee.
Finally, we turned to sweets and ordered two: Belgian chocolate pudding with Chantilly crema and shaved chocolate ($6); and warm fallen apple pastry with dulce de leche and vanilla whipped cream ($7) plus four spoons. I neglected to notice a slight difference in the printed menu and the one I’d pulled from the Web site a couple of weeks earlier. The updated description of the pudding (now on the Website as well) includes Maldon sea salt.
Now, I may be one of the very few who detests excess salt (even gourmet sea salt) on caramel and chocolate, not to mention pretzels, nuts and popcorn. What Nora Ephron once quipped about capers (“anything that tastes good with capers tastes even better without them”) goes double for salt IMHO! My tablemates agreed. Had we spotted the change, we would have asked for it to be left off.
Nevertheless, once we’d dug down a bit, we agreed that the densely bittersweet pudding was excellent. Ditto for the apple “thingy” whose fruit had been swathed in filo or puff pastry before baking. A warm caramel puddle and snowy whipped cream cap brought the enormous strudel-like confection to sinful completion and us to surfeit, full of good food and praise for the remarkable newborn Little Beast.
1496 Colorado Blvd.,
Beer and wine/Major cards