Goldie's is one of those restaurants where even an outsider, having never been to Los Angeles before, could be dropped out of the blue onto its patio and tell you exactly what city she was in. The giveaways are in the seating, much of which is outdoors and uncovered and therefore needing a climate with little rain; in the verdant living wall of plants that flanks one edge of that seating; in the jaunty, polka dot shirts of the waiters; and (a dead giveaway) in the other customers who are all talking about their scripts and roles and producers and wrap parties.
The menu might be something of a giveaway as well: While food writers in other major dining cities complain about too much meat, too many different kinds of fat collected on one plate, L.A. is blessed with chefs who worship at the altar of vegetables, and Goldie's chef, Thomas Lim, is no different. In fact, the one other city in the world where Goldie's might fit right in is Sydney, Australia, a sunny, lush metropolis that shares a lot in common with L.A. in attitude and style. It's Sydney that bore Lim; there he gained quite a reputation as chef at Duke Bistro, a bastion of avant-garde dude food, which resided above one of the city's many pubs.
Goldie's, which sits on West Third Street about a block east of the Beverly Center, is owned by the same folks (also Australians) who own the Eveleigh, West Hollywood's Euro-California bungalow. Goldie's green patio flows, via an open garage door, into a room split down the middle. One side provides indoor seating, the other an impressive bar backed by towering shelves of all manner of liquors and liqueurs, backlit so they gleam with promise. The folks behind the bar deliver on that promise.
Led by bartender Brittini Rae, Goldie's cocktails are one of the restaurant's great strengths, in part because they're quite different from much of what's going on at other cocktail bars around town. Drinks are as ingredient-driven as booze-driven, making for combinations like mezcal with beet basil shrub, sherry vinegar, ginger and lemon. The Battery Park, a Manhattan variation, arrives with a great ball of amber ice, colored by Peychaud's Bitters. The Third Street mai tai, made with toasted coconut milk, dry curacao, orgeat, fresh basil and chocolate chili bitter, is one of the better cocktails I've had this year, compelling because it is both cerebral and silly, combining serious drink-making with the guilty pleasure of tropical ingredients.
Lim's cooking plays with a different set of contradictions. On the one hand, much of it is intensely modern. On the other, the kitchen proudly employs almost primitive techniques, with a majority of the cooking done on an open hearth that burns both coal and wood. Fire is practically an ingredient at the restaurant, and when it's used well, the results can be stunning. The grilled cucumber with charred green garlic is a redefinition of a vegetable usually employed in a supporting role. Here it's the smoky star of the show, with paper-thin, crunchy ribbons of celery and a pool of cooling avocado creme coming together to create a meditation on the color light green, on water-heavy vegetables and our expectations of what they can be.
Grilled baby leeks arrive over Taleggio fonduta, the cheese's ripe funk pairing beautifully with the sweet, tender onion of the leeks.
In a recent special, meaty lobster mushrooms were served over an egg scrambled so slowly it was more pale yellow sauce than anything you'd recognize as a scrambled egg, redefining your expectation of what a dish of eggs and mushroom might look like. Expectations are thwarted often at Goldie's — the steak tartare looks fairly standard, except the binding sauce isn't the usual mustard and egg but rather dabs of tangy, caramelized apple. A burrata and grilled watermelon salad comes topped with "toasted milk," a breadcrumb-like crumble that takes the idea of scorched milk and turns it on its head.
House-made pastas are somewhat puzzling — the tagliatelle on the menu comes with hunks of sweet Dungeness crab livened up by tarragon and lemon, but the pasta itself was a little thick, blunt and clumsy. But a special of squid ink garganelli with peas, corn and tomato was lovely, the bite and depth of the black pasta pairing beautifully with the super-fresh burst of summer the vegetables provided.
And there are dishes that simply disappoint, like roast duck breast with charred and pickled corn, in which the duck comes in great slabs that are awfully close to greasy, and could have benefited from something green and fresh on the plate to contrast with all the richness. For a chef and restaurant so concerned with vegetable love, it's odd to see out-of-season Brussels sprouts on the menu at the height of summer. They come fried into a flurry of crispy leaves and are doused in sauce described as jalapeño hot sauce but which tastes very much like that stuff on garlic broccoli from cheapo Chinese takeout joints.
Service is friendly but can at times oscillate between the zealous over-recommending and selling of certain dishes and then, in the same evening, complete abandonment for long stretches. You'll get the speech when you arrive about small plates for sharing, and wonder at the bottom third of the menu, which certainly is not priced in the small-plates range. You'd be right to wonder — many of these dishes are priced as entrees, and not cheap ones at that, but still basically sized for sharing. The $28 chicken comes in juicy strips with a couple of chanterelles hidden beneath them, topped with large sprigs of purslane, which is both pleasingly vegetal and oddly viscous once chewed. Black bass with crispy scales showcases a fun trick wherein the fish scales are made to stick straight up and have been crisped to the shattering point. Three small hunks of fish come over a white onion puree; the whole thing is pretty, although slightly one-note — and quite expensive at $26. Goldie's is the type of place better suited to those who don't really look at prices or think much about the difference between a $15 plate and a $30 one.
Lim's aesthetic, particularly his way with vegetables, is hugely original. Ingredients are hardly ever employed for the textural and flavor purposes you've come to expect. They're often turned on their head — a cucumber as smoky warm base rather than snappy, cooling salad component: milk as a crunchy garnish. Very little of what you order at Goldie's comes to the table as you might expect it, and in this era of everyone-serves-the-same-goddamn-beet-salad, that is refreshing indeed.
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Paired with the great cocktails and the lovely setting, Goldie's can be an awfully fun place to celebrate being in a sunny city with amazing produce, to sit among the beautiful people and let this food — for better and worse — surprise you.
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GOLDIE'S | Two stars | 8422 Third St. | (323) 677-2470 | goldiesla.com | Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Mon.-Sat., 6-11 p.m.; Sun., 6-10 p.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. | Small/medium plates $10-$36 | Full bar | Street and valet parking