Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Village Idiot

For my father-in-law's birthday, Edan and I took him to one of the newer restaurants in his neighborhood, The Village Idiot. The Village Idiot serves pub food -- bangers and mash, fish and chips, etc. -- along with pints of Boddingtons and some local brew from the Craftsman Brewing Company, a local Pasadena microbrewery. I'd heard good chatter on the food blogs ever since the VI opened in the old Chianti space last January. As if I needed further encouragement to try it, Jonathan Gold recently named it one of his 99 Essential Los Angeles restaurants.

The VI is spacious, with high ceilings, dark, black wood, and exposed beams. The south side of the restaurant features large windows that open to the street, giving diners a view of the sort of people who frequent Melrose Avenue. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, but it does give the rest of the place a lot of natural light and a pleasant breeze -- nothing to scoff at in a place that has a partially exposed kitchen. I called on Saturday afternoon to book a table, but was turned away, as the VI doesn't accept reservations. Because I am a professional worrier, I was certain we'd have to stand at the bar for an hour Sunday night. Not so. We didn't get a coveted window booth, but we were seated at a table right away. On a Saturday night, I could see waiting a while for a table, but there's always the bar.

The menu is pretty upscale for bar food -- butter lettuce salads and ale-steamed mussels -- but most of the items are some variation on what you'd find at a typical pub. We ordered a romaine salad with caramelized red onions and a parmesan crisp, as well as the aforementioned butter lettuce salad, which included granny smith apples, walnuts and bleu cheese. Both salads were good, but the romaine was clearly superior. Edan can't stop thinking about it. We also ordered the ale-steamed mussels (regular readers should know that Edan can't pass up a good mussel dish, despite Anthony Bourdain's warnings). Aside from the large serving (there were more than enough mussels for the three of us) and the tasty sourdough "mops" (croƻtons), the dish was forgettable. Not as tasty as the mussels we make at home, but not bad, either.

For entrees, Bob got the cornmeal-crusted catfish, served with black eyed peas and greens. Edan got the burger (with a slice of Gruyeres) and fries, and I got pork sausages over mashed potatoes. My dish was good. Very reminiscent of the sausages and wine I like to make in the wintertime. The sausages themselves were nothing special (Again, why is it so hard to get really good sausage?), but the red wine sauce was quite good. I tried Edan's burger, and I thought it was great. Very tender meat, cooked exactly as she ordered, and a light, fluffy bun. The fries were fries -- nothing more, nothing less (well, maybe a little less). They were a bit like In-N-Out fries -- very airy, but sort of hollow at the same time. The catfish, which came with a spicy andouille sausage and tomato sauce on the side, looked great. Both Bob and Edan thought it was good.

Since we were celebrating, I demanded we get dessert. The best thing on the menu seemed to be the chocolate chip cookie with a scoop of almond-fig gelato. The cookie was as big as a plate, and served warm. Other than the romaine salad, it was the best thing I tasted all night. The cookie was so rich that the gelato was very much a necessity to temper it a bit.

The Village Idiot would be a great place to grab lunch or an afternoon beer while you're out looking for vintage sneakers or a pair of spiked, black leather thigh-high boots on Melrose. Grab a booth by the windows, if you can, and enjoy a pint of something cold. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a dinner destination, per se. The atmosphere was pleasantly casual, but as we were leaving it was filling up with folks at the bar, and getting pretty loud. For a casual dinner, though, it was great.

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