7511 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Simply put, Barbette blew our minds.
Enter this West Hollywood newbie and one is instantly transported to the Belle Epoque. That is the vibe of the main room and bar, as the charmingly rustic, province-harkening back room (usually reserved for big parties and special events) feels like the interior of a quaint little spot up Rue Lepic in Montmartre.
Given the attention to detail to the scenery and decor, there was almost an initial sense that Barbette’s owners—Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson, the team behind the nearby, classy Jones and Bar Lubitsch, as well as The Pikey on Sunset, the luchadorable El Carmen on 3rd Street and the long-running hipster diner Swingers—were overcompensating with their latest concept, which just opened in May.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Oui, we must tip our chapeaus to the man behind the menu—Executive Chef Robert Flaherty, who started out his culinary career in New York, first at the Michelin-starred Spotted Pig and later at Chef April Bloomfield’s White Gold Butchers.
At Barbette, Flaherty has devised a menu that emphasizes quality over quantity and that is not a bad thing. To be clear, these plates are ample and will not leave you feeling hungry afterward, yet the menu is sparse on choices and the kitchen does not heap overkill portions onto your plates that, yes, some restaurants around town seem to do as a way of making up for a core lack of craft.
Everything at Barbette is house-made from scratch, including the scrumptious French bread. Pure and simple, Barbette Sourdough, served with real butter, defies categorization. On the restaurant’s website, there is a passage explaining Flaherty’s very personal quest to devise his own sourdough baguette. Indeed, his mad laboratory experimentation has worked, and the slices are so stellar, we ordered a second round.
Chilled Shrimp came with a fennel aioli and proved a light and terrific combination; also worth trying are the salads, including the Endive and Beet selection we chose; a colorful mélange highlighted by reddened leaves resembling kimchi and savory pieces of bleu cheese and candied walnuts.
The restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan counterparts for most meals, and our waitress said the Vegan Cassoulet—Sonora beans, basil oil, crimini mushrooms, pumpkin, cauliflower and olive oil-fried bread—is a very popular order.
The main attraction, however, came in the form of the meal. Steak Frites (steak with thin-sliced French fries) came as either 6 oz. or 12 oz. The smaller is a hanger steak but we opted for the larger flat-iron selection.
At Barbette, there is no need to “Americanize” your steak by dumping ketchup or A-1 on it. Marinating in its own juices with a side of chimichurri sauce, this steak speaks for itself. You’ll sop up every last drop on your plate with your bread.
You will want to indulge in the Moules Mariniere, doused with white wine and fresh garlic and accompanied by grilled olive bread and a mustard aioli dipping sauce. The crossfire of flavors is sublime, and this entree does the cities of Paris and Brussels proud.
And if steak is not your thing, Crab Rice, Salmon and Chicken Diable entrees are among your options.
Dessert boils down to four choices; nothing revolutionary in terms of the type of selections offered—including Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Chocolate Mousse and Sorbet (raspberry and champagne flavors the night we visited)—but the mousse we opted for, which arrives with touches of fruit and peanut brittle—was well executed and went especially well with the winning cup of cappuccino (concentric hearts design included) we asked for.
Oddly and conversely, the weakest part of Barbette’s offerings is the cocktail program, which pales in potency to the quality of the food here. Highlights included the black-licorice lean of Absinthe, fired up right in front of you, and the spicy Gold River, combining mezcal, Amaro Angeleno, apricot, lime, turmeric, agave and habañero. The purplish Northern Trick, a gin-and-coconut water-informed libation with lemon and blue pea flower, appeared attractive and tasted OK.
However, don’t let the mixed drinks be the main reason you visit Barbette—a sure bet if you crave high-end French. As unlikely as it may appear, the cuisine and atmosphere here are strong enough to top the list of many restaurants we’ve reviewed for the Post since mid-2015. Yes, the food here is that good.
Note: Barbette is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. However, the general manager promises the bistro will open for brunch in 2019, and I, for one, will return to partake in this additional new menu. Can’t wait to see what else Chef Flaherty has in store for us. Bien joué!