Eat This, Grandma
It is a generally acknowledged truth among those who regularly eat out that a whole roasted chicken is always better at home. The whole bird is too much for any one person, and the 40 minutes or so required to cook it is an awkward wait for most customers. Many chefs solve the problem by pre-cooking chickens, or roasting halves and pieces to order, but these birds lack the deep flavor, juiciness, sticky-crisp skin -- the gestalt -- of the best Sunday-dinner roasters. Simply put, restaurants can rarely beat Grandma on this one.
The new Globe Venice Beach, however, is a glorious exception to the roast-chicken rule. The Globe, in the former home of 72 Market Street, has been open about four months. The chef and co-owner, Joseph Manzare, worked at Granita and Spago Hollywood before opening his own place, the Globe, in San Francisco. Here, in L.A., he serves a whole chicken for two -- a practice well-known up north (Zunis been doing it for more than a decade) but still novel to us Angelenos. (Its such a good idea, I suspect well see more of it.) The Globes roast-chicken recipe varies from day to day, but the night we had it, the seasoning on the golden caramelized skin suffused the flesh with its flavor. There was one small problem: Though the dark meat was juicy and cooked just right, the breast was a tad dry. This, in turn, made me wish for more of the sauce, an unusually good concoction made with verjus, a sour, tenderizing grape juice. The chicken was served with just enough pomp, on a plate balanced on a wire rack, and was accompanied by individual casserole dishes of potatoes aligot -- mashed potatoes with so much fontina cheese (too much, in my opinion), they came up in a continuous strand from the plate -- you had to cut them! Even with these small equivocations, the chicken was soul-satisfying in a way one rarely experiences in a restaurant. Look out, Grandma.
Globe Venice in general has a beguiling hominess and bonhomie -- I can understand why the northern Globe is a favorite hangout for other chefs. Gone is 72 Markets haute cool style; here is a more relaxed decor, including large, colorful, if less than skillful paintings and some enormous mosaic vases that could have wandered away from one of Barbara Lazaroffs big design productions -- Granita, perhaps. Globes service staff seems to be mostly smart, friendly, unpretentious young women whose good, cheerful personalities fill in for a lack of professional expertise.
Ive read that Globe Venice is a serious restaurant, but I dont think so. I think its a pleasant neighborhood place, a wannabe watering hole. To be a serious restaurant, everything, from the decor to the service and the food, would require far more attention.
Salads are just like what a decent home cook throws together: Greens with chunks of Maytag blue cheese are heavy with a bland dressing. An heirloom tomato salad tossed with a similar bland dressing and feta cheese tasted as if it had been made hours before; the tomatoes were already getting that soft mealiness around the edges. Carrot soup was, as one diner described it, a salty, unidentifiable mash. We had better luck with shellfish. Steamed mussels are served with a dollop of pesto and chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes -- a small meal. Fresh Malpeque oysters were sweet, cold gulps of sea.
As for entrees -- well, the chickens the thing. But leg of lamb, slow-cooked and big-flavored, served with mashed potatoes and a roasted-vegetable puree, has nourishing, rib-sticking, Grandma-made associations. Although the pork chop is colorfully presented with small, round red and yellow peppers and sliced purple onion, the meat is dry and tasteless.
Grandma also couldve made the desserts. Chocolate flourless cake, a bit hard at the edges, tastes like a really good, chewy brownie in the center. The sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream could have used both more whipped cream and juice. And the banana napoleon reminds me of something my mom might have tried out on a dinner party with imperfect success: The pastry element, a nondescript cookie, was not crisp or thin enough, the fried banana layers somehow not luscious enough.
Although the food isnt yet thrilling -- except, of course, for the share-able fowl -- theres still something easy and alluring about Globe Venice. Its a place to grab a bite with a good friend. With luck, if you order right and the kitchen is on, you wont regret it. Or, like me, youll at least be willing to come back, if just for the plain good vibes.
72 Market St., Venice; (310) 392-8720. Dinner Tuesday--Sunday; lunch Wednesday--Friday. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrees $15--$22. Major credit cards.