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Let's Do Lunch: Joe's

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There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

Since the early 1990s, Joe's on Abbot Kinney in Venice has been a perennial favorite spot, particularly among the lunch and brunch set. From a table among a room full of those providing midday host to power meetings and ladies-who-lunch, the California-French eatery's $18 three course lunch was the perfect balance of affordable and fine-dining.

It was a busy day at Joe's, and with almost every table in the light and airy dining room and connected patio full, it was a shame that there were only two servers on duty, of which ours, it turned out was doubling as bartender. The shame in this was that our cocktails from the list of rock-n-roll named creations, most of which are spirit-citrus combos, were a pricey forgettable at $12 each. Skip the cocktails when it's not the cocktail hour, and go for a glass of vino if you'd like libation with your lunch.

Owner Joe Miller and Chef de Cuisine Michael Bryant have a lovely prix-fixe lunch, however, and diners can select an appetizer, main, and dessert from a fairly substantial selection, particularly in the impressive range of entrees that goes from a Reuben sandwich to a grilled steak. For starters, we tried the elegantly restrained Hearts of Palm salad and the classic leek and potato soup. The simple salad was attractive and fresh, though glances at the same dish on other tables indicated a bit of a plating imbalance in the kitchen. The soup was velvety and surprisingly light, due in part to the leek's dominance over the potato, which gives the soup a more tangy taste.

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Of the entrees, we opted for seafood. The locally-caught grilled squid was irresistible in print, and proved to be an attractively composed plate of fresh squid nestled inside a fence of plump pink prawns and swimming in a shrimp-studded light cream sauce with pistachios. The large prawns were spot-on in their firmness and flavor, however the squid and smaller shrimp had a slightly mealy overall exterior texture. The sauce was probably both the cause and salvation of this aberration, since the flavor was a nice balance of cream, nuttiness, and the tempered bite of supple chopped leek.

Across the table, the Grilled Scottish Salmon was perfectly cooked and generously portioned, served atop a mound of vibrant green Wasabi Mashed Potatoes all of which were drizzled in a Citrus Pink-Peppercorn Vinaigrette. The plate was so generous in fact, that half of it was packed into a to-go container, to both savor later and ensure room for dessert.

Dessert at lunch is indeed an indulgence, and here Joe's hit a solid homerun. The Chocolate Crunch Cake with hazelnut praline and coffee crunch ice cream was rich and complex in flavor and texture--fun to eat thanks to the almost fizz-like crunch in every bite of cake and a similar zing in the ice cream; a great way to satisfy a chocolate craving without drowning in sugary chocolate syrups or icing. For a fruit craving, the passionfruit curd made for a refreshing end to the meal.

For almost 20 years now Joe's has been a mainstay in Venice, and while our lunch wasn't perfect, it was clear to see why so many people have kept the restaurant crowded and beloved for so long. With continued efforts to engage patrons with fun offerings like Oyster Fridays, and the passion of Miller and Bryant, it's understandable.