Brentwood’s new Tavern is the kind of place the Westside has needed for years, a big, comfortable space that functions as a gathering place for the gentry without locking out the less well-heeled. The airy complex incorporates a takeout counter and a decent bakery, a selection of pricey condiments and a tiny wine shop that seems to specialize in picnic wines, and a tasteful post-Regency rear dining room grand enough to serve most entertaining needs. A lot of restaurants have tried to fill the niche, including the posh outlet of Hamburger Hamlet that used to occupy this spot, but this is the latest project of Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, the creators of Lucques and AOC, and their perfect pitch, their understated California cool, make Tavern absolutely the restaurant of the moment, from the Louis Armstrong floating down on the sound system to the Green Goddess dressing on the salad with avocado and crab, from the roster of gougères and spiced nuts at the bar to a surprisingly comprehensive children’s menu that includes veal-intensive meatloaf with mashed potatoes, carrot purée for the infants, and pasta with cheese and butter but without parsley, which is universally considered yucky by the 8-and-under crowd.
Goin, of course, is the closest thing in Los Angeles to a farmers-market deity, and her first dinner menu is almost painfully seasonal — mussels and clams are served with the early-spring staples of artichoke and fava, and mustardy deviled chicken, served with a great heap of oiled, toasted breadcrumbs, is given its presence by a tangle of sautéed leeks that surely would be ramps if they could. The beautifully caramelized diver scallops come on a bed of tangelos and melted green garlic, the last of the winter fruit meeting the first breath of spring. Everybody on the service staff of the restaurant, from the bussers to the waitress to the sommelier, will try and sell you on the roasted asparagus with polenta and a breadcrumb-crusted fried poached egg, and they happen to be right — the slightly thickened yolk drips down to enrich the polenta, the juice within the thick spears becomes almost sugary from the heat, and the pungent shards of pecorino cheese slice through the richness like a blade. Tavern’s warm beignets and its version of Lucques’ famous walnut tart were delicious, but I felt compelled to order that asparagus for dessert.
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Tavern: 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 806-6464 or www.tavernla.com.