After a particularly grueling work week,, "Director" and I decided to head to Raphael for culinary therapy. We were instantly charmed by the exterior wall, formed by a 'living' fixture of vertical burlap-sack-like pockets housing succulent plants. And our eyes only continued to widen once we were led through the beautiful gold / chocolate marble-floored interiors of the serenely sophisticated dining room, and given the night's menu. Since it was a first visit for us both, we decided to go with lots of starters so we can sample more dishes. Then it was our server's turn to have his eyes widen to see two 'smallish' Asian women order so many plates - we found it amusing and endearing when he, concerned for our safety, offered to pace the dishes for us (presumably to avoid our spontaneous combustion all over the new furniture?)
This dish turned out to be probably the most inspired of the ones we had that night - tuna tartare reimagined with a vibrant, skillful mix of textures, colors and flavors celebrating the splendor of land and sea. Fatty chunks of raw bluefin tuna are counterbalanced by crunchy crystallized shards of green curry and light, crispy savory taro chips, which are in turn balanced by the overflowing greenery of fragrant herbs crowned by edible flowers. Kaffir lime adds clean citrus to cut through the sweet / savory flavors, while green papaya bridges the texture of the fish to other ingredients on the plate. Add to that orange dots of a sauce made with sriracha for a hint of heat on the side, and you've got a creative take on an otherwise ubiquitous dish that seems to evoke the ideal and vital beauty of nature itself.
Our last savory dish was Mussels with Spanish chorizo ($15). Loved the clean saffron broth infused with meaty flavor. Sorry no pictures for this one, as it was getting dark by the time we got to this dish in our 5 hour dinner!
Though we did not have any mains with this meal, I have definitely made a note to come back for the 48 hour steak with bacon onion jam.
We barely had enough room for dessert, but were lured by the descriptions and decided to go first with the Broken Blueberry ($9)- a visual feast and sculptural feat made of panna cotta with beet ribbon (that looks like a translucent, gravity defying fruit rollup for grownups, but brittle) and berries. Will have to come back during daylight hours to get pics of this one!
Followed by Banana Bread Pudding ($9) - with housemade peanut butter ice cream, peanut brittle and tempura bananas that tasted like perfectly ripened bananas fried in churro batter. I thought the tempura bananas were divine and actually preferred this to the bread pudding, which I found a bit too dense and soggy.
On top of great food, amazing ambiance and impeccable service, we were also happy to have been able to knock off $50 from the bill thanks to my OpenTable Spotlight deal! Though the menu is a bit on the pricey side, at least for our budgets, and not a place for regular indulgence - we're thrilled to have this fine dining option in the valley!
All in all, a great and masterful addition to the neighborhood. I have a feeling with Exec Chef Adam Horton at the helm, Raphael's bond with the community of SFV and Greater LA will be one that stands the test of time.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 90%
[To find more deals like the one used here, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]
11616 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91602
Parking: Valet for $5 or meter parking on Ventura Blvd (hard to find at dinner time)
Look for reservations: Opentable.com