There are plenty of transportive restaurants in Los Angeles, plenty of places where you could look around and imagine yourself to be in Korea or Mexico or Russia. Napoleon and Josephine, the new Melrose Avenue restaurant that opened in December, is just such a place, although the location to which it transports you is a bit of a fantasy. Still, it's a damn cute fantasy, one that has Corsica as its inspiration.
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and while it's actually slightly closer to Italy, it is part of France. The food, as you might imagine, is influenced by both France and Italy but also by the island's native ingredients. Napoleon and Josephine is run by Corsican native chef Olympe Ricco and musician Cedric Savelli. It is staffed by Corsican servers who beam and thrill at telling you about the food and wine of their homeland, who struggle a little with English in that oh-so-charming fashion often captured in movies about bicycle-riding, dark-haired women in small French towns. There is a lot about Napoleon and Josephine that's reminiscent of small European towns, both the Hollywood and the real versions.
The dining room is just plain adorable, if you go in for the European old-china/lace-doily/vintage-lamp look. It really does feel like the overstuffed home of a French granny, and the dark red booths and mismatched fresh flowers on every table make it one of the most overtly romantic rooms in town. Unsurprisingly, it was booked solid through Valentine's weekend.
Apart from that, it's barely been booked at all. The restaurant has been weirdly empty since opening. I'm not sure why this is, but it might have to do with how old-fashioned the whole thing feels, from the decor to the food.
Indeed, the food is maybe the most transportive factor here, and it transported me directly to the small country restaurants throughout Europe, and particularly France, where you eat good and hearty food that isn't life-changing but is honest and classic. Almost every dish had a vinegared green salad as side garnish. Puff pastry, fumet and mushroom cream sauce all make appearances.
Corsica's Italian influence is felt with stewed veal over polenta, lasagna and cannelloni. There's a classic French pot au feu, which comes with pert green sauce ravigote and Dijon mustard, which your server will spoon onto the edge of the bowl. If you have a nostalgic craving for pot au feu, this will certainly fix it, though those without that need might find $35 a tad steep for a bowl of clear broth and boiled beef and veggies.
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But still, there's something sweet and lovely about this place, this food. It's certainly more interesting than much of what else is on offer in our ever-more-similar parade of new restaurants. If you ate at Napoleon and Josephine in Europe, it would be a romantic glowing memory. Why not go ahead and make that memory right here on Melrose Avenue?
Napoleon and Josephine, 7212 Melrose Ave., Fairfax. (323) 424-7487.