To say Angelenos are fickle is about the same as saying that we have a little bit of traffic here. Los Angeles' locals jump on food fads faster than TMZ arrives on the porch of the Ivy when Paris Hilton is there. Whether it's small plates, pop ups, food trucks or the latest juice cleanse, LA residents are one to change their eating behavior with the turn of the Santa Ana winds. I wish I could say I was immune to these erratic activities, but I'd like to think that all of my choices are in the name of research, and this is a long way of explaining how I ended up at the Buffalo Club this past week.
I used to go to the Buffalo Club back in the day and enjoy many a martini and meal under the stars on the back patio of the Santa Monica locale. It was a lovely way to spend an evening. Why did I stop going? I don't remember - probably because there was another new spot to try. So when I got an email from the owner and chef of the Buffalo Club inviting me in to taste his latest menu, I paused and thought, yeah, I remember liking that place, it's still open?
Open indeed with the same 2 founders at the helm who have been there for 20 years. 20 years? Yeah, that's before food trucks even rolled onto the scene. I wondered how it has held up over the 2 decades that it's been open.
The dining room looked better than I remembered, and I don't think that had anything to do with the amount of martinis I used to drink there. The interior is actually quite stunning from the glistening mahogany bar to the burgundy leather booths and tufted chairs to the array of artwork, literary portraits and photos from the owner's hometown of Buffalo.
The patio was still in "winter mode" with a cover on top, though it's getting ready to be stripped off shortly to move into the summer swing. It's a lovely place to sit outside with a craft cocktail and take in some of the small plates on the more casual menu offered in the Garden, where most items were reasonably priced under $20.
A trio of oyster shooters seemed as good of a place as any to begin. The tomato horseradish tasted like a tiny bloody mary, wasabi caviar lime was sweet with a little heat and the ginger soy was my favorite with salt and sour to swoosh down with the briny oysters.
Crab and avocado is always a classic pairing, but Chef Healey gives it a unique twist by putting in a shallow pool of spicy gazpacho. There was punch in the sauce, elevating the crab salad. The well versed sommelier provided impeccable pairings and I was also impressed at the very approachable and reasonably priced wine menu served in the Garden.
Stuffed squid was skewered and placed in a Provençal style tomato sauce with pepper, olives, garlic and basil, only I don't think there was enough spice. I wanted more differentiation either in the calamari filling and/or more contrast in the sauce.
When the salmon hit the table, I decided to be a good sport and eat a few bites of the finicky fish that everyone in the world has tried to get me to love with no avail. Chef Healey has been preparing this heavily peppered and caramelized salmon steak since the opening so I knew I had to try it. It was outstanding, but don't try this at home...for me at least. The key is the thick pepper crust that lends sweet and hot notes to the delicate fish. I've never seen that large of a coating and it was a definite winner.
The oxtail dumpling was good in the oxtail department, but a bit chewy in the dumpling department. The Niman Ranch oxtail was well flavored and cooked, but unfortunately it was wrapped around a thick dumpling that didn't give the filling enough room to shine with its heavier exterior.
The chef knows his meat. Generously seasoned Korean BBQ Wagyu short rib had just the right amount of spice and paired nicely with the creamy, crispy cole slaw underneath.
We moved indoors where they serve a more upscale and pricier menu and we enjoyed the final meat dish of Colorado pan roasted lamb. The tender, medium rare lamb was surrounded by a thyme infused reduction and piled high with morels, under crisp sugar snap peas. The accompanying spinach - parmesan bread pudding muffin was also a sight to behold due to flavor and consistency.
A really nice dish with a lot of components that paired well with an easy drinking biodynamic Spanish wine from Dominio de Punctum.
Since Chef Healey has some roots in France, we ended with a classic bread pudding that was also served classically table side. Unfortunately the pudding didn't want to fully cooperate with the pretty presentation and stuck and then spilled out in sections. The flavors were still all well represented and left us fully satiated, thinking about the classics.
While there's an element of excitement in trying a new place, the food can be hit or miss and the setting, noise and service are all variables that can make or break an evening. The classic establishments that have been around longer than a presidential term or two are on one hand comforting, while also being equally refreshing. There's no surprises, except for perhaps new seasonal specials or drinks. You know what you're going to get and that's good service in a nice setting with solid food. We can only hope that this might also be a trend to catch on soon.
Note: I was a guest of the Buffalo Club, but as always, all of the opinions are my own.