The dimly lit gastropub with a mysterious name cooks with impressive style and skill
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
Some restaurant names tell you what to expect — home cooking at a place called Mom’s, and you already know what’s on the menu at House of Chicken. All I knew about The Corner Door when we arrived was one detail of the architecture: the door is in the corner.
Then again, it’s hard to say exactly what you would call this place if you were looking for a snappy way to define the cuisine. They serve tapas-style gastropub food, a parade of small plates of great variety. It was that element that had brought us there, as we had been heading for a Brazilian restaurant when I realized that one of our party usually dines vegetarian. Unlike churrascarias, gastropubs are usually veggie-friendly, so I headed a few more blocks to The Corner Door. When we got there, the part-time vegetarian ordered a burger — go figure.
The big, strangely angled room has a nice vibe but is quite dark; the dim lights are obviously intended for decoration rather than illumination. Our party of four ordered a selection of starters and entrees and told our server, Patrick, to bring them out in whatever order seemed appropriate, and then we got to the serious business of cocktails. They have a sense of humor here — the drink called Archery Merit Badge had a fruit bull’s-eye with a toothpick through it like an arrow. It was tasty, and the French 75 was excellent, but the one that would bring me back was a whiskey, Benedictine and Italian bitters concoction that was delicious.
The first item to arrive was one that looked by far the strangest on paper: tacos with pickled mango, black garlic, candied lime, pink peppercorns, feta and cilantro. I don’t know how someone came up with this combination, but it was brilliant — gentle spice from the cilantro, garlic and peppercorns were perfect modifiers for the mango and lime. There was a succession of cool flavors that hit the spot, and even the person at the table who thought it had to be a weird novelty item loved it.
The roasted and fried Brussels sprouts that arrived next were less showy but quite tasty, a healthy bar snack perfectly done. The earthy flavor was a fine counterpoint to the item that followed, which was a butternut squash tortellini in a Marsala cream sauce, topped with arugula. I had been concerned that the squash and Marsala cream sauce would turn out overly sweet together, but a fine balance was maintained by the nutty roasted pumpkin seeds and bitter greens.
Meat courses arrived next: fried chicken; a burger with cranberry and red onion jam, Pecorino cheese and bone marrow mayo; and roast chicken with couscous mixed with feta, almond and yogurt. The roast chicken had been spiced with vadouvan, a mild French variant of curry, which brought subtlety and sophistication to a home-style dish. The fried chicken was even more surprising because it was done in an actual traditional breading and, considering the parade of exotica that preceded it, shows that the kitchen knows when to leave well enough alone. Yes, there was a Sriracha crème fraiche on the side, and it was a tasty dipping sauce, but the crisp chicken was perfectly fine without it.
The burger was the only thing that didn’t work, and that wasn’t due to any flaw in flavor, but because they had used a very light white bread for a very moist sandwich, and it fell apart almost immediately. Change the bread out for a chunk of baguette or a pretzel roll and it would be a winner.
Our final entree was polenta with roasted wild mushrooms and winter squash topped with a fried egg — a rustic Italian dish very well prepared. It was another example of restraint and respect for tradition, a taste of winter’s best as spring produce is coming into season.
We had enjoyed another round of cocktails, but decided that dessert was required — beignets and chocolate cake with strawberry rhubarb compote. Due to an error, we also ended up with pecan sandies. Of the three, it was the chocolate cake that was the hands-down winner. Those beignets were fine with their spicy bittersweet chocolate sauce, the cookies were simple goodness with ice cream and raspberry, but this chocolate cake was easily the lightest, most ethereal cake I’ve had in ages. It was a marvel, and despite our very full meals we could’ve eaten another one.
Our meal for four ran just about $100 for the food, and it was $174 with the cocktails — a bit of a splurge, but it had been a great night out. The Corner Door is cooking with style and skill, and it’s a worthy watering hole with cool style that makes it a fine date night spot.
The Corner Door is open from 5 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Wednesdays and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Full bar. Valet or street parking. Vegetarian/vegan choices available.
The Corner Door, 12477 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City (310) 313-5810 thecornerdoorla.com