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DineLA: Baleen

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For my final DineLA menu, I thought I should try something in my home town. For years, Redondo Beach was known for fantastic breakfasts and Mexican food, but not much else. For fancy dining you were looking at standard surf-and-turf - Tony's The Chart House, etc. Only in the early 90s when the Westside had filled up did gentrification move down the coast, bringing nouvelle cuisine along for the ride.

Sometimes it seems like this style of cuisine is still finding its sea legs in the South Bay. And that seems to be the case at Baleen. You could not ask for a more romantic location. The lights dancing on the water of the harbor scream romance (and sometimes they scream, "OK, I wore my good dress - now where's the damn engagement ring!).

The interior is perfection, following the tropical woven-placemat monkeys-in-palm-trees theme that has been so popular in home decor recently. Candlelight gives the room a warm glow, and the leather chairs are extremely comfortable for a restaurant. When the weather is cool, sit in the main room - in the summer, the patio will afford a beatiful view and cool ocean breezes. The service at Baleen is first-rate. The waiter was charming, efficient and friendly, with impeccable timing.

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In spite of the location, ambiance and service, I will not be beating a path back to Baleen anytime soon. Although the food was of the highest quality and the dishes were ambitious, nothing was memorable, and except for one dish everything was served lukewarm.

The crab cake was filled with generous amounts of crab, but it seemed like it had been hanging around awhile, and the thick coating was not crisp. The clam chowder was rich and creamy, but again, lukewarm chowder is just not that appetizing.

The cioppino was the one dish that arrived at the table hot. The shrimp and scallops were freakishly large. Someone had chosen to put a provencial spin on the dish, adding baby potatoes, carrots and haricot vertes. The dish did not suffer from the addition, but it didn't really help matters either.

The filet mignon, with an extremely au courant bleu cheese crust, was delicious and tender. But the mashed potatoes weren't even close to hot. After my dining companion complained, our super-attentive waiter rushed back with a fresh side order. I took a forkful from the very center of the dish, and it too was barely warm.

Two sous chefs share the duties of pastry chef, turning out in-house desserts. The dulce de leche cheesecake was light and creamy. The brownie in the sundae, however, was as hard as a rock.

I would call the food uneven at best. But a few simple changes - better quality control and heated plates could change everything. They have all of the elements of a successful restaurant in place. Being part of a large corporation, they should have the kinks already worked out. Hopefully they just have to find their sea legs.

Baleen (877) 225-3365
260 Portofino Way
Redondo Beach, California (CA) 90277

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All photos by Elise Thompson for LAist

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