Coral Tree Café

11645 San Vicente Blvd.
Brentwood, CA 90049
Price: $

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer

Brentwood’s Coral Tree Café is where sunny Southern California atmosphere and tasty Italian-by-way-of-California cuisine meet; an ambidextrous environment where, in a single night, one might find UCLA students on laptops, couples on blind dates and tables rearranged end-to-end into one long, vigorous conversation.

Full disclosure: I’m already well-versed in Coral Tree Brentwood, having frequented often before and after a kitchen fire temporarily took out the business for one-and-a-half years in the mid-2000s and long after the adjacent The Cheesecake Factory went under.

However, aside from the exquisite Baked Macaroni and Cheese, a tour de force hot mess of pasta dripping in creamy white cheeses (white cheddar, Parmesan, Monterey Jack and Danish blue cheese) and dusted with panko crust, I usually came for the coffee and didn’t partake in full-course meals.

Until now—the occasion being an early July launch of its new menu.

A collaboration between the parent company’s guiding Executive Chef Joseph Gillard and Coral Tree Café Chef Omar Chavez, who has worked at this location for six years, the new menu’s updates of core items reflects the restaurant’s healthy eating resolve.

As Chavez told the Palisadian-Post: “We wanted to refresh the menu and use local ingredients,” sourcing said recipe components from local farmers markets and Country Fresh, a Ventura-based company.

They’ve started working with Imperfect Produce and are now swapping out caloric sauces for Imperfect olive oil in such components as the house-made scoop of Curried Chicken Salad (a delicious mash of chicken breast, golden raisins, red onion and carrot in a light curry dressing) that tops a bed of romaine lettuce, Roma tomato, cucumber and red frill in balsamic vinaigrette.

The long-standing Veggie Soup is now gluten-free, as barley has been removed, with collard greens and red potatoes added. The house-made meatloaf is also gluten-free but that in no way means flavor-free.

Turkey Melt

In fact, of the sandwiches we tried—which included the staple Turkey Melt (with Havarti cheese)—the Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich, housed between halves of a ciabatta roll with Roma tomatoes, arugula and chipotle mayonnaise, stood out.

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich has also been rebooted, with a delicious cut of chicken breast topped with brie cheese, pear, arugula and rosemary mayo on ciabatta.

Santa Carota Burger is the grass-fed, organic beef experience a gourmet burger lover will itch for, combining a half-pound of quality meat with a carrot finish, cooked medium rare with miso mayo, lettuce and tomato within a brioche bun with a side of pickles.

For vegans or folks trying to reduce red meat intake, try the Brentwood-popular Beyond Burger, served with olive mayo on vegan bun.

Perhaps the most noticeable menu change-ups can be found in the salad section. And even though the sound of a salad sounds slight and light to the ear, make no mistake, anyone ordering salad here will not go home hungry.

Two of the house’s major salad bowls have been revised. Chopped Salad now has cotija cheese instead of mozzarella, with the addition of a very tasty pickled shredded red cabbage, which perks up the entire bowl.

Curried Chicken Salad

Coral Tree has always offered a steak salad, but the noticeable difference here is the Thai influence—a heaping bowl of Thai Steak Salad packs Napa cabbage, red frill, lightly pickled farm veggies, basil and crispy shallot with sweet chili vinaigrette grilled and chilled prime sirloin.

Lox Toast, a simple yet very effective open-faced sandwich layered with generous slices of Kosher salmon and avocado with pickled red onion atop herb-whipped cream cheese spread across crispy sunflower-poppy seed bread, singed just enough to deliver some savory interplay between fish and flour. (Vegans: Try the Avocado Toast.)

Other new additions include herbs and fennel to the Coral Tree Tuna Salad.

The menu revamp includes updated salads.

It goes without saying that one of the benefits of visiting Coral Tree is atmosphere galore. Since taking over an erstwhile Louise’s Trattoria, Coral Tree has made ample use of the interior’s high ceilings with self-consciously barn-like rustic décor, loaded with external amenities, including two patios and a massive fire pit.

Coral Tree—in fine hands under incoming General Manager Benito Jasso III, who this month replaces exiting General Manager Simon Mashian after an eight-year run—does vend wine and beer, while reliable desserts include house-made Carrot Cake, Godiva Chocolate Cake and a rainbow of macaroon flavors (vanilla, coffee, chocolate, pistachio, salted caramel).

I capped off my meal with a nice shot of Macchiato. Can’t visit here and not indulge in a caffeinated beverage.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, we did order the four-fromage Baked Macaroni and Cheese … and it still hasn’t lost any of its luster. Some things, thankfully, never change.