Steve Cooper Tasting Dinner @ Redwood Bar and Grill Recap 08/26/10

The opportunity for haute cuisine served in a pirate-themed bar was too much for us to pass up, so I made my way to Redwood Bar and Grill last Thursday to try Steve Cooper’s second go at a four course tasting menu with wine pairing provided by Bar Covell’s Matt Kaner and dessert courtesy of Jessica Koslow at the Village Bakery.

I’ve only been to Redwood a handful of times, but adore the spooky, wood-paneled bar. Skulls, lanterns, and dimly lit oil paintings of naked mermaids adorn the interior, creating a dark and moody shipwrecked vibe. Picture a grown-up version of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with a salty bartender and his heavy-handed pour. Redwood has a solid menu in and of itself, with “gastro pub fare” translating to one of the better burgers (meat or veggie) and sweet potato fries I’ve sampled in LA.

Entering Redwood a bit late for the 7pm seating, I was immediately cooled and calmed from the sweltering LA summer and ushered to my table in the back of the restaurant. As I was dining awkwardly alone with my camera and my notebook, I was a bit disheartened to see that the tables were set individually (a few two-tops, one long table seating eight, and two four-person booths). While I can assume the majority of attendees (all couples) would have preferred to remain insulated from each other, sitting family style in such a cozy setting would have provoked more thoughtful conversation about the food and wine (alongside a wine tutorial, perhaps?), or at least made it less obvious that I was eavesdropping on all parties by sheer closeness to their table.

After the super cute and incredibly attentive waitress made sure I was comfortable and hydrated with a vodka soda, I settled in for the first course of tuna tartare and the Pure Evil Chardonnay. While a huge sashimi fan, I seem to only eat this particular preparation of tuna at Tasca which is always served chilled and with taro chips for dipping. This was not, but the difference was not unwelcome - the room temperature tuna was clean and fresh, with just a hint of heat from the chili, the overall effect pairing nicely with the sweetness of the wine. With the salty kale chip, the dish was a light start to the rest of the meal.

The second course brought the glazed quail with squash and hearts of palm. The quail was, well, quail. The smallest of birds did a disservice to the perfectly sweet and savory orange and tarragon glaze, which would have shined better on a larger portion (roast guinea hen?) for a major course. The hearts of palm had a tangy bite that distracted from the quail, but the squash were cooked and seasoned perfectly - neither over nor underdone, both pet peeve holdovers from my vegetarian days.

At this point, three drinks in and starving (the tuna was my first meal of the day), it took all the self-control in the world to first photograph and then slowly savor the third course of oxtail and gnocchi with shredded carrot and saffron cream. What I really wanted to do was wolf the entire plate of delicately braised meat and comforting potatoes in one bite, but by then I had made friends with Jake and Gina, the lovely couple at the opposite table who had taken me into their conversation on Sandra Bullock movies and LA home prices (I'll now Netflix The Proposal and watch it in my overpriced apartment). The only critique I could muster for this otherwise impeccable dish was one of personal taste - I prefer hot to warm temperature-wise.

The third course found me more soused than one should be to truly enjoy the dreamy buttermilk panna cotta by Ms. Koslow, which just gives me a good excuse to visit her and her offerings at The Village Bakery in Atwater sometime soon. Jake and Gina assured me that the dipping cookie that came alongside was the perfect accompaniment to the creamy dessert, but my gluten-free self had to take their word for it.

After dinner, Cooper treated the patrons to a few acoustic songs, which put a personal touch on our evening. With our dessert wine in hand, we (Gina, Jake, Koslow, and myself) retired to the Redwood patio, savoring the flavors from the evening to talk about baking, dating, rabbits, and biochemistry, all of which I happily and hazily recalled despite my crippling hangover the next morning.

In all, Cooper succeeded in what he’s good at - bringing people together to celebrate the arts (in this case, the artistry of food). We’ll keep our eye out for the next showing, and until then stay tuned into his Feed Your Head blog and cooking show for dishes to try in the comfort of our own kitchen (although we’re not opposed to being a test subject for new recipes, ahem.)