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dineLA: Cafe Pinot

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Womens' magazines used to be full of articles about how to take your outfit from day to night. Red lipstick, a few bobby pins, a pair of heels and voila! Cafe Pinot is a day to night restaurant. As the sun sets over the skyscrapers, Cafe Pinot slips on a little lipstick and goes from business casual to special occasion.

Wednesday night LAist accepted an invitation to test out the dineLA dinner menu. The first thing we noticed was the availability of vegetarian options, assuming the risotto is cooked without chicken broth. The menu seems basic upon first glance, but the high quality of the ingredients and careful execution made the simplest-sounding dishes exquisite.

It was a little puzzling to have an empty bowl with what appeared to be creme fraiche set upon the table, but then the server produced a little pitcher of soup to pour tableside. It may seem like a modern conceit, but have you ever tried carrying a hot bowl of soup across a crowded room? It also kept the butternut squash soup nice and hot. The "creme fraiche" was chai chantilly, and the soup was garnished with toasted seeds, and fried sage. The soup was light, not weighted down with heavy cream or intense spicing, a perfect comfort for a chilly evening.

Another starter was Albacore tuna with tomato mousse, avocado, and ponzu onions. As usual with Joachim Spichal restaurants, the tuna was fresh and of good quality. The creaminess of the avocado nicely offset the tuna and the microgreens added a hint of grassiness.

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We did not try the third starter, Wild arugula salad with Chevre, Marcona almonds, and Sherry gastrique because it was just too dang cold for salad. But I'm certain a vegetarian or supermodel would have been grateful (although the supermodel might have picked out the cheese and asked for the gastrique on the side).

Herb-roasted chicken breast was outrageously moist. Sides like haricot verte and lots of root vegetables were seasonal and farmer's market fresh. The North Atlantic wild salmon salad had such a healthy piece of salmon, it did not seem like a salad, but more like a salmon entree with an awful lot of wilted kale. The grapefruit was a nice change of pace for a citrus. The meaty fish was moist and the skin nicely crisped. The dish we did not try was the Wild mushroom risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano

For dessert, we finished with Vanilla panna cotta, cool and creamy on the palate. The subtle flavor was counterbalanced with an intense raspberry sorbet. What the menu refers to as "pistachio biscotti dust" is really more of a candy, like broken bits of the inside of a Butterfinger.

I guess I was in a candy frame of mind because the Chocolate mousse gâteau with salted peanut and caramel gelato also took me down that path. The base of the layered dessert was like a Kit Kat. The peanuts combined with the creamy chocolate mousse were the perfect assist to make it reminiscent of a Payday Bar.

Speaking of bars, as soon as I found out they had a hearts of palm cocktail, I had to try it. The drink was dubbed the Grisel, perhaps because ithe hearts of palm look like ice shavings. The cocktail, which was developed by mixologist Alex Alvarado, consists of rum, St Germain and hearts of palm. It was clean and refreshing, with just the right touch of sweetness, as drinks with St Germain tend to be. The hearts of palm shavings were delicate and played pleasantly on the tongue. Definitely making a nice ending to a special occasion.