By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
There’s a joke about the secret of comedy, and it is only funny when told wrong. You probably know it, and if not, ask your friends and I’m sure someone will share it with you.
The answer, of course, is timing, and it’s important when it comes to restaurant meals as well. At any good restaurant there’s a rhythm we expect to experience – prompt arrival of menus, leisure to choose what we want, and then an orderly procession of dishes from appetizers to soup or salad, main course and dessert, but it’s often something we only notice when it goes wrong.
We had an object lesson at a recent visit to Truxton’s in Westchester, a restaurant I’ve patronized before and is one of the more inventive places in this area, just north of Los Angeles International Airport. As is often the case, they were packed when we arrived. The hostess estimated that we would wait 10 minutes for our table, and we were indeed seated with menus within that amount of time.
From there on, things went oddly. Our server handed us menus, recited the specials, and then disappeared for about a minute. When he came back, he asked if we wanted drinks and appetizers. Since we hadn’t finished reading either section, we hadn’t made a decision. To his credit, he was helpful when asked for recommendations; he knew the menu well and didn’t fall back on the “everything is good” platitude.
We decided on the housemade potato chips with blue cheese sauce, bacon, green onions and chopped tomato. The idea was excellent, the execution wasn’t – the crisp chips had been tossed with a thin blue cheese dressing which softened them almost instantly. If the dressing had been on the side, or if chunks of blue cheese had been used instead, this would have been a winner.
The Caribbean Crunch salad that arrived at the same time – a combination of greens with papaya, mango, pickled onions, fresh basil and avocado – was excellent. The salad also contained taro chips, which I usually don’t like, but they worked perfectly in this combination.
We ordered glasses of two different Sauvignon Blancs, a Joel Gott and a Charles Krug. The Gott was our favorite before the food arrived, and as we were taking our first bites of the appetizer we discussed whether we might like the Krug better when paired with the salad. We were interrupted by something unexpected – the arrival of the rest of our dinner, a daily special of seafood pasta and an order of the popular beef brisket. It had been no more than two minutes since our salad and starter had been delivered.
Our server apologized as he put our plates down and then headed for another table, and when he next came into view I pointed out that the meals had arrived long before we were ready. He offered to put them under the heat lamp, which would not have done any favors for my wife’s pasta or the coleslaw on my plate. The appropriate thing would have been to take the items back and have them remade when we were ready, but that option was not offered, so we finished our appetizers while our dinners cooled.
When we got around to the meals they were still fairly warm, and the brisket was delicious. The menu boasts that the meat is rubbed with 11 spices and slow-roasted for seven hours, and the combination makes it very tender with a complex, peppery flavor. The three slices were a substantial meal, and along with good mashed potatoes and excellent horseradish coleslaw, it was quite a meal.
My wife’s pasta was less to our liking – several sauces were offered to complement the mix of shrimp, fish and scallops, and the garlic cream sauce she chose tasted flat and undersalted. A small portion of green herbs added an indistinct flavor, but a bit more boldness would have improved it greatly. The pasta was properly cooked al dente and the seafood was portioned correctly, but it just didn’t have much life or interest.
As compensation for the mistiming of our dinners, the server offered a free dessert and we selected a chocolate pecan tart. This was well made, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce, and proved that this kitchen’s strengths extend to sweet items.
The bill was $82 for dinner for two with a glass of wine each. They would have sold two more glasses of wine if we had been able to finish the ones we ordered with our starters. Despite the mixed results with this meal, Truxton’s is still on our list of go-to places in the area. It’s one of the only modern eateries in the area, and there are enough things that they do well to keep us coming back.
Truxton’s American Bistro is at 8611 Truxton St. in Westchester, by the corner of Manchester Avenue. Another location is at 1329 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica. Open Mo-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sa/Su 9 a.m.- 10 p.m. Free parking in adjacent lot, full bar, children welcome, wheelchair access OK. Corkage $10. Menu at truxtonsamericanbistro.com. 310-417-8789.