Sometimes it's helpful to imagine that there is an unspoken checklist for every stylish small-plates joint opening in Los Angeles these days -- a collection of requirements floating in the subconscious of every restaurateur looking to start what constitutes a "gastropub" these days:
1. There must be at least one dish consisting of roasted or fried Brussels sprouts, preferably but not necessarily involving pork fat.
2. Light fixtures should look as outdated and inefficient as possible, preferably something with wire filaments; if you're using the original Edison patent, you're headed in the right direction.
3. Cloth napkins and kitchen towels are interchangeable, ideally the type with a colored stripe and the texture of covered-wagon canvas.
4. Each server must use the phrase, "We do things a bit different around here" when introducing the menu, even if they in fact don't.
5. The use of outsized wooden boards, heavy enough to be used as bludgeons, shall be required when forming any combination of cheese, charcuterie, mustards or pickled vegetables.
Which brings us to The Corner Door, the newest place to score every checkmark, a hip industrial-chic gastropub that opened on Washington Boulevard about two months ago. The block is quickly becoming the Mar Vista Murderers Row of restaurants -- both Waterloo & City and Roy Choi's A-Frame are a fork's throw away.
There are some things to like here: grilled corn with brown butter and smoky chile; grilled asparagus with cilantro pesto, a mound of burrata and a crispy fried egg. Both end up being more satisfying that the underwhelming burger. The cider-glazed wings aren't bad either, char-grilled and covered in a sticky-sweet sauce that tastes like something you'd find at an Americanized Chinese restaurant.
The most frustrating contrast, though, involves stone fruit -- specifically a delightful salad of grilled apricots, prosciutto and fresh ricotta that tasted like the height of summer. If you hoped to experience those same succulent fruits again for dessert in the nectarine and apricot crisp, you'd be disappointed. Everything is cooked down to a syrupy jam, rendering gems of some farmers market into something indistinguishable from canned fruit.
Cocktails, engineered by former Manhattan Beach Post barman Beau du Bois, are in the early running for best in the neighborhood: the "Dutch Prison," a mix of anise-flavored arrack, curaçao, lemon cordial, peach, black tea and cinnamon, is balanced, boozy and charmingly exotic.
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The Corner Door has potential (young couples from east Venice are always eager for another neighborhood spot), but you get the feeling that a certain portion of the menu is color-by-numbers -- pulled from some secret crib sheet written specifically for L.A. gastropubs. There is hope, though. Look at a place like Freddy Smalls, whose kitchen started off in a confused haze before shifting into its current state as a poor man's Animal.
Corner Door chef Luke Reyes previously staffed The Tasting Kitchen under Casey Lane, and his best dishes nail that kind of unfussy, stuff-a-chef-would-make-on-his-day-off aesthetic. Scrawled onto a blackboard is a loose collection of specials, including a nightly sandwich offering served after 10 p.m.; recently it was a gooey breakfast stack stuffed with egg, bacon and a thin slice of melted cheese on grilled Texas toast. A couple of dudes wolfed down an order along with their IPAs, in between pokes at a skillet of roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with feta and a vinegar pan sauce. A late-night pseudo-Egg McMuffin isn't exactly high cuisine, but we'd call it a step in the right direction.
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