The Distinguished Gourmand: Belle Vie
Last week I decided to break free from Dinner Club protocol and “go rogue.” A month or two ago I was invited to visit a food & wine restaurant over in the Brentwood / Sawtelle area called Belle Vie. I’m quite familiar with the area, as my roommates and I used to cross the 405 for Wednesday pub trivia at Q’s Billiards back in the day. Ken and KT used to live around the corner from there, and I also dated a girl who lived around the other corner from there. Belle Vie opened a couple years ago, so it came to the neighborhood after my time as a “regular” there. But man, I would have loved to be able to walk to a French bistro with a quality wine program when I was hanging around there.
The week of Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to sample some of Belle Vie’s bites and libations so — along with my trusty +1 — I braved Thursday traffic last week to pay them a visit. We were seated right at the bar, so we had a great view right into the kitchen and of the sundry wines they offer. The decor is very nice, it has a very provincial French feeling. The plantation shutters received a nod of approval from the +1. Clearly, that’s something I would not have noticed on my own. I noticed the faux stained glass window above the bar with artificial daylight appearing to peek through. I consider it a little victory to have noticed the vase on the marble bartop that was filled with white lilies. I’m pretty sure I know what a lily looks like because they are my mom’s favorite flowers. I might be wrong about that, though.
I was told to ask for the owner Victor upon my arrival. Victor moved to LA with his wife a couple years ago and comes from a long line of French chefs. After an awkward-yet-amiable introduction, we began chatting about food and wine. A couple minutes later, glasses and plates began to arrive.
Our first glass of wine was a Côtes-du-Rhône grenache-syrah that I believe was from Domaine Constant-Duquenoy, but I didn’t get to see the bottle for a vintage or anything.
The first dish we received was a nightly special described as seasonal vegetables. The plate contained a gorgeous array of grilled zucchini with roasted red peppers, olives, slivers of almonds and microgreens alongside dollops of some kind of cream/foam. My notes are…not the best. But damn if that wasn’t a perfect way to start the meal. And it paired with the grenache-syrah perfectly, as the cherry/blueberry/plum notes worked to complement the hearty earthiness of the dish.
Our next dish was actually a bowl — the soup of the day. I believe it was described as a butternut squash and pumpkin soup, with chorizo, seeds and a little sprig of greens. “Fuck French Onion Soup!” Victor shouted as the bowl hit the bar in front of us. I told him that this reminded me of a very warm and comforting bowl of similarly autumnal/wintry soup I had in a tiny, dimly lit neighborhood restaurant on some cobblestoned backstreet Paris when I was younger. He seemed pleased with this. He was not pleased with my not eating any bread with my food, but the bar was a little crowded and I didn’t want to make people stand up so that I could remove myself and run to the bathroom to wash my hands. Totally my fault for being a weird germophobe and not wanting to touch the bread with dirty hands. Sorry, Victor.
Also, there was more wine to come:
Our second wine was a merlot-malbec blend also from France (Chateau Les Hauts d’Aglan, Cahors, 2011). I had a lot of fun swirling and sniffing this one, which I’m beginning to learn (as a self-described wine noob) is sometimes more fun than actually consuming the wine! Go figure.
Our final bite of the evening was the Angels’ Eggs. Belle Vie’s take on a deviled egg is served on squid ink mayo with puffed rice and pickled onions. I have to admit I was happy to hear +1 was full by this point because I devoured this dish. I highly recommend ordering this if you find yourself at Belle Vie. I don’t know how well it paired with the wine, but independent of each other they were fantastic.
My overall impression of Belle Vie was very positive. Even though it was a night removed from Valentine’s Day, the place was packed with young couples canoodling in the booths and pairs of friends and co-workers at the bar. I would best describe the vibe and the menu as being great for a date night, or a couple glasses of wine and some snacks with a friend. There were a couple items on the menu that I really wanted to try that I didn’t have a chance to (the mac and cheese, the octopus, and of course the duck dishes come to mind). I’m pretty sure we’ll be returning there in the near future to cross some more items off both the food and wine list. When that happens, I’ll post an update here.
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