Nesting Nicely – At five months old, Café Birdie is maturing quickly

Café Birdie and Donald Trump’s presidency were both hatched in November. Although the restaurant’s opening was a couple of weeks later than Trump’s election, there’s no doubt that Café Birdie’s management is quite a bit more advanced than the new executive regime. And I’m grateful that even though there’s been a lot of buzz about Café Birdie, self-aggrandizing “tweets” from them have been mercifully nonexistent.

We dined at the Highland Park restaurant late in January in order to take advantage of their participation in the winter dineLA event. A three-course dinner with a complimentary glass of house wine (red, white or rosé) was only $39 and included quite a number of dishes on the regular dinner menu. When we arrived at 6:30, the joint was jumping. Loud rock, loud conversation and loud sounds of dishes and utensils being collected. Luckily, we were in the mood for loud.

Rather than trying to talk to each other (the tables set against the banquette running along the north wall are so close that it was just as easy to keep quiet and eavesdrop on our neighbors’ conversations), we perused the menu, ordered our wine and absorbed the atmosphere as we awaited our food. And, despite the relatively full house, the wait wasn’t long.

Our appetizers were impressive. A huge log of unctuous mushroom toast (open-face grilled baguette heaped with a messy but delicious stew of chanterelles sautéed with crème fraiche, parsley, garlic and pecorino — à la carte price $15) hogged the center of its oval dish. It shared the limelight with a dinner-sized Technicolor pickled beet salad with frisée, pea tendrils, pomegranate, roasted baby carrots and French feta cheese ($3) — pretty as a picture and subtly dressed.

We continued to listen in to the first date exploration of the two young women to my right (one punk, the other business chic) and a more practical home renovation discussion by the couple to my left as we forked, knifed, sipped and let the mingled sounds of voices, music and crockery blend together and wash over us. The din that had accosted us upon arrival faded into the background as we greedily attacked our food.

Soon, but not too soon, entrées replaced our starters. We had chosen from a list of three on the dineLA menu. Despite a description by an early reviewer (Brant Cox with theinfatuation.com) of the potato purée in which Café Birdie’s braised meatballs ($14) nestle as a “life-changing sex bath,” we decided instead to try the equally but perhaps not as colorfully lauded Moroccan-spiced fried chicken tenders with harissa aioli dip and a slice of lime ($14) and the black pepper tagliatelle with sun choke purée, cavolo nero (black kale), toasted hazelnuts and pecorino ($16).

Both mains were immensely satisfying. The chicken tenders were exactly that — nearly melt-in-your-mouth. The chicken had been marinated and each piece in the stack had been coated in spiced batter and fried to a dark golden brown crunch. One warning: we took most of it home and it didn’t take well to reheating. Be sure to eat it all on-site straight out of the fryer rather than doggie-bagging it. On the other hand, our tagliatelle was dandy from first bite to next night. The thick presumably house-made al dente noodles, much heartier than most, surprised us not unpleasantly, and the contrasting flavors and textures of the sauce were impressive.

No choice was needed for dessert since here were only two offerings: a chocolate tart with salted caramel, vanilla bean ice cream and hazelnuts and a vanilla bean panna cotta with winter citrus with pistachio brittle. The chocolate filling in the cookie dough crust was dense but not bitter, caramel thick, buttery and not overly salted, ice cream scoop perched rakishly atop the wedge, with the whole covered in a shower of coarsely chopped nuts. Our custard was immensely rich and sweet, its accompanying blood orange slices a vibrant contrast and the crisp brittle both decorative and tasty.

We didn’t linger after our meal (it was a work night) and because it was dark by the time we arrived and the dining room was dimly lit, we didn’t get a full picture of Café Birdie’s “nest” during our visit. We noted the marble-topped bar with backless stools along the south wall, the matching round soda fountain tables and chairs in the middle of the room, our own copper-topped rectangular tables, the sponged pastel walls, the teal painted wainscoting, the high open-beam ceiling, a trio of large mirrors above the banquette and lovely leaded glass clerestory windows above the plate glass windows and door of the façade.

What we missed was a chance to wander back behind the dining room to see the outdoor brick-enclosed patio dining area and the separate structure which houses a “speakeasy” bar supposedly featuring a different list of adult beverages than the Café itself. And, speaking of alcohol, while Café Birdie’s wine and beer selections are good, one of its highlights is the cocktail menu with signature drinks like Obvious Child (bourbon, gentian root, peach liqueur, honey, peach bitters and fresh lemon – $10) and Blue Skye Medicine (scotch, violette, ginger, orgeat, cucumber and lemon – $11) that were hard for us to pass up.

Of course, this won’t be our last visit to the fledgling Café Birdie. Although it’s only open for dinner on weeknights, we’re planning to head over for Saturday or Sunday brunch in the near future. Their French toast (with seasonal berries, ricotta whipped cream, maple syrup and butter – $13) perhaps with a side of bacon ($5) sounds like a perfect pair-up with an Obvious Child.

And a Blue Skye Medicine should go well with the restaurant’s wild mushroom soft scramble (crème fraiche, bacon, fingerling potatoes and grilled baguette ($14) or perhaps an order of that magnificent Moroccan-spiced fried chicken, one of the carryovers from Café Birdie’s dinner menu, which all by itself is seductive enough to lure us over to Highland Park again and again. Here’s hoping Café Birdie isn’t migratory and lives a long and successful life exactly where it was born.