Saturday, March 5, 2011

Comme Ca - If Only There Were More Gourmet Happy Hours 'Like This'...

...at a lower price.  It's always exciting for me to find a happy hour that isn't all about the alcohol (though that's important too!) but also puts its best foot forward in terms of food.  Comme Ça's stated philosophy is that "food, wine, service and ambience must all be running at the same level" - and delivers on that promise.  Your first instinct upon seeing the name might be to immediately associate it with the french expression "comme ci, comme ca", a common response to "comment ca va?"  - which means "how are you?".  But it doesn't take long after setting foot in the place to know that it can't be further from English equivalent of that phrase: "so-so", but more to do with the direct translation of "Comme Ça", which means "Like This".  And indeed Happy Hour at the restaurant is exemplary on every level besides price. 

"Designer" and I decided to visit on a Monday, a first for us both - since we had the day off, we decided to have a last hurrah before returning to the daily grind the next day.  We immediately fell in love with the modern, clean, chic black & white color scheme and relaxed yet upscale vibe.  There was also a small counter housing the wet and raw bars (the oysters looked so gorgeous we would have been happy to perch at the counter like seals at SeaWorld, clapping our fins together, mouths open and ready to catch and slurp each bivalve as the bartender tossed them to us - but managed somehow to focus on the purpose of our visit, the special HH menu instead).  Happy Hour starts at 5pm daily, and we arrived just a few minutes before.  The bartendar, Uval, let us know we could either sit at the bar or pull up to any of the three high-top tables right next to it. 


Unlike many restaurants / bars, Happy Hour at Comme Ca means cocktails and food from a special menu (vs. discounted prices for existing items), plus deals on alcoholic beverages.  So first things first:  Though the food menu had us salivating, there were only three cocktails on the HH drink list.   Vodka Rose, El Diablo and Copper Fix ($6 each) - unfortunately, none of them really excited us - so defeating the whole purpose of Happy Hour for us in this arena (saving $$$) - we decided to go with more creative sounding drinks from the "18A" Cocktail menu instead.  Totally in love with the savory / spicy cocktail trend, we decided to try Hot Pepper Smash ($12) Bourbon, Thai chile, lemon wedges, honey, muddled, shaken, strained & topped with crushed ice and a sprig of mint.  Designer originally wanted another drink with vodka, but as vodka does not sit well with with her (she will literally get sick), we asked if Uval can replace it with another liquor - not knowing if anything else would work with that combo of ingredients.  Uval was very accommodating, and ran through a list with us - finally landing on rum.  But then designer decided to go for Hot Pepper Smash instead, though rum sounded appealing - so she ended up doing Hot Pepper Smash with rum instead of Bourbon. While discussing customizations (which I would normally never do, with food! I love tasting things as the chef intended) I think I mentioned that I am excited by really creative concoctions with unexpected ingredients (like Katsuya's burning Mandarin - with citrus and cranberry kicked up a notch with chili and jalapeno) and Uval offered to make a totally new drink for us if we're willing to experiment with him - an offer we couldn't refuse!  The product we ended up calling "Oasis" ($12) was made with agave nectar, vodka, thai chile, dill and bell pepper!  It was a sophisticated drink with nuanced layers of flavor, well balanced, just the right amount of sweet with a unique herbal tinge of dill, and just a bit of heat from the chile.   The Oasis turned out to be one of my favorite cocktails of all time!   And Uval said once people around us saw it, they also started to request it.  Even though the cocktails were $12 each, and it was technically a 'school night' - we had to go for second rounds of both!

Uval's warm, personal approach really made the experience for us - besides the custom drinks which really created a memorable experience, he circulated through the customers at the bar / tables like a PR pro (I mean that in a good way!) - and made sure everyone was enjoying their drinks and food.

So high scores on drinks, ambience and service - now on to the food.  After devouring the complementary warm, fresh-baked baby baguette - we did stick with the HH menu on that front - starting with the Peruvian Bay Scallops ($9) with parsnip puree, and caramelized fennel.  For some reason we were expecting seared scallops in a savory preparation - when the dish arrived it was nothing like what we envisioned, but actually, much better!  Not sure if they ended up replacing the dish as I didn't see any parsnip puree - but this was more like a scallop ceviche, raw scallops with citrus - the scallops were smooth and tender, counterbalanced by the clean taste and texture of the grapefruit and crunch of fennel.

Next up were the Dungeness Crab Croquettes ($8) with harissa aioli - these were Designer's favorite of the meal, crispy on the outside and warm, juicy and sweet chunks of crab inside. 

I really, really wanted their version of poutine - with its promise of liquid gold over crispy hearty goodness via a sunny side up egg topping a mound of pommes frites slathered with sausage gravy and white cheddar curds.  But unfortunately, they were out of it that day.  So our next small bites plate was Vegetable "A La Greque" with burrata ($9).  A great dish (though the burrata of course cannot top Osteria Mozza's, the ultimate for me in LA), with the creamy cheese balancing well with the crunchy, market fresh slivers / slices of legumes.


Of course, though this wasn't dinner proper - we couldn't leave without dessert.  We started with Uval's recommendation, a plate of  all that is good and right with the world.  It's what you would get if a buttery, fluffy chocolate bread pudding mated with a molten chocolate cake and produced a GENIUS child.  Its name?  Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding ($9) served with vanilla bean ice cream.  The melty chocolate center flowed out on contact with our forks, and we didn't stop to take a breath (or notes) until every last morsel had been 'Hoovered' from the plate.
Because our stomachs are indeed bottomless, we debated whether to order a second serving of bread pudding.  But because it was so rare to see Marron Glacés (candied chestnuts slow cooked in sugar syrup) on the menu - I got Designer to agree to try it.  Marron Glacés at Comme Ça ($9) involves candied chestnuts, poached dried figs, caramelized walnuts, lemon-thyme ice cream.  I loved the idea of this dish, but in the end all the ingredients did not come together in a cohesive way for me, and I wished we'd gone as planned to order a second bread pudding.


All in all, we had a lovely time at Comme Ça, which would have been a role model in every regard from food, drinks, ambience to service - with the exception of price.  Granted we ate way more than normal people would at happy hour, and we had two rounds of full-priced cocktails, but our bill came out to $100 for two (half of it was in full priced cocktails), which is not what we set out for when heading to Happy Hour, at all.  At Waterloo & City, with its bigger portion sizes of heartier gastropub gourmet, we would have left stuffed and had four rounds of fun, original drinks at half the cost. 

If Comme Ça could just offer more selections of cockatils including some of the more exciting 18A ones at half price, and either offer larger portions of small plates or take down the price a bit, I would say everyone should have a Happy Hour 'like this'.  But in any case, next time I am feeling well-funded, I would definitely be back for several rounds of the "Oasis" drink and Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding for starters!!!
 


On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 95%
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Comme Ça

8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Ph: 323.782.1104      
Website: commecarestaurant.com
OpenTable:  Look for reservations

Happy Hour:  Daily 5-7pm $6 cocktails (3 choices), $8-$9 small plates, $4-$7 beer, $5-$9 wine
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