- Reporters Desk
By Gretchen Williams, Dining and Cuisine Writer
In Aix-en-Provence, the spring is emerging slowly, trees blossoming in pink and white, tulips and crocus in all shades of yellow, purple, crimson and coral. The warm weather is encouraging the locals to venture out, filling the ancient church and leaving no empty seats in the cafés along the boulevard. An impromptu flea market of treasures forms, with family heirlooms and cheap imports mixing for added interest. Deep in the south of France, life is rooted in tradition, in the appreciation of simple things and the passing of the seasons. The promise of Easter and the welcomed sunshine bring out families, older folks, hipsters on Vespas and several local dogs.
The same French ambiance and flavor abounds in LaBuvette, on lower 7th Street in San Pedro, which is among the delicious destinations gaining a reputation for hip as the town blossoms again on the restaurant scene.The atmosphere is decidedly French, with lovely interiors, subtle lighting and signature French blue accents. The wide bar is inviting and accommodates the casual diner as well as someone just stopping for a glass of wine or cup of excellent coffee.
Cirque du Soleil at the Port of LA is providing a natural clientele for La Buvette, but the crowd is certain to linger even after the acrobats finish flinging themselves about. The wine list is superb, highlighting the French offerings, but the California wines are well chosen. The early summer in Provence calls for the light and dry rosés of the region, served chilled, a wonderful companion to the appetizer “Maman Compagnon.” This savory tart is made with a family recipe, using locally grown tomatoes, Gruèyre cheese and Dijon mustard.
Locally grown is not a joke — the splendid mesclun salad is produced from Green Girl Farms, the charming organic ranchito at 14th and Mesa. Traditional charcuterie plate has cheeses comte, bleu d’Auvergne and brie with coppa, sopressata and cevapcici from A-1 Deli for the local touch. Old World favorite onion soup is made with Madeira and molten with Gruyere, a real taste of France.
The halibut tartare is the most sophisticated dish on the menu at La Buvette, which is probably the only place to eat this fish in the area. Local wild caught ikejime halibut is specially prepared from the instant it is caught. As soon as the fish is landed, it is killed and bled to preserve it in its best possible form, then iced and delivered to the chef immediately. This results in a wonderful dish, served crudo with avocado mousse, cucumber and microgreens and herbs. This dish alone is ample reason to become a regular at La Buvette.
Of course, the pomme frites are another excuse to drop by. The mussels and frites are a massive pile of mussels cooked with white wine, garlic and herbs. The pomme frites are the best real French French fries ever!
The traditional technique fries the potatoes twice, to ensure a steamy inside and crispy outside. The steak frites, a classic executed perfectly. La Buvette is the place for the fantasy French bistro meal; steak frites, glass of red wine and the film star of your choice, perhaps Bardot or Depardieu?
Gascony style duck with bleu cheese polenta and figs will fascinate even the jaded diner, full of flavor and interesting contrast, with greens from Green Girl Farms for crunch. Beef bourguignon is the time-honored French comfort food, deeply braised with red wine, tender beef in velvety sauce, just the thing for a cool evening. The fish of the day is always subject to the whims of the sea, using the freshest variety available that day.
Desserts are interesting to contemplate. The classic crème brûleé is beautiful, not too sweet, crowned with amber burnt sugar, made by an angel. Chocolate ganache tart is dark chocolate, smooth and sweet with nutty crust, perfect to share. The ‘lemon cloud’ is a mystery. Big chunks of roasted beet in a dish with lemon curd and some “crumble.” Sorry, this was neither attractive nor tasty.
La Buvette is a new jewel in the crown of lower 7th Street. It’s part of a lineup that features cherished local Whale & Ale Pub and new favorite Mediterranean restaurant Sebastian’s, and frankly deserves better than the view of the half-pint liquor store and the Shipscaler’s local. Perhaps some potted street trees or festive landscaping would be more inviting, as well as some true sidewalk dining during the day.
Friendly security and designated parking might ease the pain of West Los Angeles prices in downtown Pedro. Dinner reservations are advised, especially for weekends.
Editor’s note: Roasted half chicken with potato purée and demi and New York steak were just added to the menu.
Details: 424-342-9840; www.labuvettebistro.com
Location: 335 W. 7th St., San Pedro