How The Ouest Was Yum

Ok, it’s not “The Ouest” it’s just “Ouest” but I still like this post title. I hope you do too. If you don’t, please write an essay of 500 words or less explaining what frustrates you about it and send it, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, to: “WHY THE TITLE BOTHERS ME” PO Box 2423626 Pasadena, CA 19119.

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Ouest is on the Upper West Side, or The Upper Ouest Side depending on how cutesy you want to get with the spelling. It’s owned by Tom Valenti who also owns ‘Cesca which my family really enjoyed the few times we ate there. Ouest appealed to my parents because of the celebrity-spotting opportunities it afforded. Steven Speilberg was spotted there by my friend Ian a few months back.

It was raining the night we went to Ouest. We walked in and at first it seemed really small and cramped. But when the host led us to our table, the place opened up like a repressed alcoholic on a drinking cruise. The place is like a cross between Medieval Times, an old speakeasy and someone’s basement. My parents loved it.

There’s a great energy about Ouest. It feels very exclusive but also very welcoming. At the table across from us I was convinced I saw Judy Davis. In fact, I’m 96% sure it was Judy Davis. Judy Davis: if you are reading this, will you confirm if you were there? Thanks!

The food at Ouest, like the food at ‘Cesca, is surprisingly brave and interesting. You’d think that a popular, trendy Upper West Side joint might try to appeal more to the masses, but the menu was strange enough to get me very excited. I started with…oh shit, my salad’s not listed on the menupages menu. I’m pretty sure this is a smoked sturgeon salad, but if anything it’s a smoked fish with that spiky lettuce and bacon bits:

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Inside that circle of smoked fish is a poached egg, and when my fork pierced the skin, the yolk dribbled out and coated the leaves and the bacon and turned this appetizer into a masterwork. I was very wowed and very happy.

Meanwhile, mom had the “Cauliflower Custard with Poached Lobster, Trumpet Royale Mushrooms, Leeks & Basil.” Normally I don’t take pictures of other people’s food (well, except for the previous post) but after tasting some of this, I had to take a picture—which explains why the dish doesn’t look so composed:

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What a weird concoction! But a very satisfying one: the creamy cauliflower custard creates a sea in which lobster and mushrooms swim, and it’s your job to pluck them out and gobble them up. This was like a really rich, really decadent version of Lobster Bisque where the bisque’s not a bisque, it’s a custard. Mom and I fought over this.

Dad had salmon gravlax on a chickpea pancake. He liked it.

For my entree, I horrified my mother and had “Rabbit three ways: roasted leg, bacon wrapped stuffed saddle & confit with green olive, preserved lemon and white corn polenta.”

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My friend Jordan had a pet rabbit in college and so I was more mindful than usual of the animal I was eating. But the Thomas Keller story from the French Laundry cookbook came to mind: the one where he slaughters all those rabbits himself to make himself experience where his food comes from, to never be wasteful. I thought I wouldn’t be wasteful and I’d eat the rabbit. And it was mighty tasty: it tastes like (ok, ok, don’t kill me for the cliche) but kind of like chicken, if a bit blander. The condiments really help.

Mom had lamb and dad had chicken and we were all very happy.

Then, for dessert, we shared an espresso parfait that was truly out of this world with layers of panna cotta and caramel and chocolate and espresso; there was biscotti on top and a big sesame tuille. Is that a tuille? I just called that tuille but maybe it’s not a tuille:

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All in all we loved our meal at Ouest and so did Judy Davis. At least she seemed to enjoy it: she left with a smile. The food’s risky but familiar, comforting but not cloying. Oooh! I just did my first restaurant review “cloying!” It’s my favorite word that food critics use that I never use: cloying. The food at Ouest is not cloying and therefore, you should eat there. Thank you.

PS I just looked up the word cloying and it means “overly sweet.” Maybe I didn’t use it right after all. I’ve totally lost my food critic credibiltiy. Like I ever had credibility!

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