Stranded In The Southland

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

JiRaffe in Santa Monica

M.'s off gallivanting up and down the east coast for a week and a half, so I've been left to my own devices. I figured that this was the perfect time to go out and sample some west-side restaurants with my pal G. from work.

G., the sort of crazy polymath who is into avant-garde classical music and slasher movies, was up for some fine dining. After perusing Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential LA Restaurants, we decided to check out JiRaffe -- I'd been reading hyperbolic reviews of their gnocchi on Chowhound for the last year or so.

As long as we were going to be in Santa Monica, G. suggested we stop by Hennessey + Ingalls, a stunning art and architecture bookstore. The place is a palace, chock full of not just the gigantic coffee-table books of architecture that you might find elsewhere, but also books full of the kinds of fussy details I'm interested in as the new owner of a Craftsman bungalow.

I'm still trying to figure out what I need to read about the house, though (heck, I'm not even sure where it fits into the architectural firmament -- is it really a Craftsman bungalow?). After leafing through a few books, I figured that maybe I'd spend some time at the local library figuring out the basics. I know I'll be back to H+I, though, once I've got a little more background under by belt. It was spectacular.

JiRaffe was also spectacular, but a wee bit disappointing as well. I've eaten a bunch of great meals in LA, and I've felt very comfortable in some mighty nice restaurants. And I've felt uncomfortable and unhappy in a few, too.

Maybe it was my dislike for the casual affluence of Santa Monica ("But we care so much about the environment and the poor!"), or maybe this just wasn't a friendly place, or maybe it was just the fact that I hadn't dined out that often with G., but I never felt very comfortable in JiRaffe.

On the other hand, the food was excellent. I had a couple of appetizers rather than a main dish. The purple peruvian gnocchi just knocked my socks off -- these weren't your traditional gnocchi in texture or taste (with very little of the characteristic potato taste) -- but they were chock full of strong flavor from the broth . Yow. Similarly, the roasted rabbit was wonderful -- I particularly enjoyed the strong olive tastes in the dish, although the rabbit itself didn't totally rock my world.

G.'s seafood risotto special was pretty solid as well. I'll probably brave the slightly uncomfortable atmosphere just to get a crack at the food again -- besides, I often have a better time on a second visit.