I ventured to Studio City for dinner recently. Yes, this is news. I live near the beach and while I will trek downtown for a good meal, there's something about going to the Valley to eat that feels like a whole other level of commitment. Don't yell, I know about Katsu-Ya, Asanebo, Firefly, it's just another world.
So what got me there? A few things, or rather people. The executive chef of is CJ Jacobson. I became more familiar with CJ on "Top Chef" than his previous duties running the Yard in Santa Monica. He's all about local, utilizing the best from farmer's and markets according to season. And that brings me to the other person who prompted my drive east. You may recall my time in the forest trying not to pick and eat poisonous berries with master forager, Pascal Baudar. If not, a reminder here. Pascal told me that he supplies three restaurants with his foraged goods, Melisse - check, Trois Mec - check, and Girasol, where I had never been, so it was time to experience the last in the trio.
The interior at Girasol is much more posh than I would have imagined, and I'll leave out the "for the valley" part. A modern and funky swirling design lines the ceiling and flows out down the walls. Chairs are comfortable. The room is light with a nice outdoor patio. Service is friendly and attentive. Ok, Studio City, I'm listening.
Out came the first dish, called beets and berries. Yes, there were beets and berries as advertised, but then there was a story about Hope. Hope, our waiter explained, was the rescue goat, yes they evidently have rescue goats, that helped to provide the cheese, or really yogurt, for our dish. Not only this, but Hope is blind. I didn't know whether to high five my dining companions or send the plate back. Well, we weren't eating goat meat, just Hope's milk. There were notes of mint and spicy herbs with a drizzle of olive oil, but I would have loved it if Hope maybe ate some lemongrass from time to time so we could get a little acid or brightening to the overall flavor.
A sweet and warm corn soup with wild sage arrived next, and how sweet it was. I could have used something to balance the sweetness like bits of chorizo perhaps, but the crispy kale on top did what it could to provide a contrast of bitterness to the soup.
It's rare when I'll order chicken in a restaurant because that's why I feel like most people go out to eat - to get away from chicken, but with my other option being my least favorite dish of salmon, I decided to have a try. Let's just say that all my salmon loving friends had chicken envy after sampling both. It had to have been cooked sous vide because it was so moist and flavorful, but still had a crisp, fatty crust. A rainbow of colorful carrots nestled next to the chicken, all sitting in a very light meyer lemon broth.
The fennel crusted salmon was also light with a wild spring herb broth, but I will confess that my dining companions requested salt to pep things up on the dish, and evidently it did make a large difference.
There were some interesting herbs included in the mains, but we found out later that Pascal isn't supplying anything to Girasol right now and CJ told us himself that he hasn't been finding many fresh herbs due to the lack of rains in LA. He's had to dip in the freezer lately for moments like this. There were still deep notes of licorice and other spicy greens to enhance our mains. The house bread was also noteworthy with a nice thick crust, soft interior, and homemade lovage butter. Yes, lovage. Look it up.
Dessert was a decadent chocolate mass that tasted like one of the best brownies you've eaten, topped with a salted caramel ice cream that might be your new favorite summer flavor. It was mine in Paris. It was rich and luscious and kept me satiated for the drive back.
I'm not sure my mind has been changed on the valley, but judging from the full house at Girasol on a Sunday night, they may not need me in their neighborhood.