There’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to Los Angeles: this side of the hills is good, and that side is bad. And by “that side,” I mean the San Fernando Valley, home of strip malls, the porn industry, and the iconic “Valley girl.” Of course, strip malls, porn, and Valley girls all exist in Hollywood and Beverly Hills and all over Southern California, but it’s just so damn fun to be snobby about the 818.
The dirty little secret though is that that Studio City and Sherman Oaks (two proud Valley communities) boast dozens of great restaurants. Most of them, however, are just really tasty eateries. Despite Ventura Boulevard’s impressive restaurant row, there’s not a ton of culinary excitement going on over the hill. Luckily, Raphael in Studio City reminds us that urbane food does exist in the Valley. I recently visited the restaurant as part of a media-comped dinner, and I was certainly surprised by the quality and artistry on display. Pictures after the jump…
The evening starts off with cocktail hour. As I’m on a jalapeño / tequila kick of late, I opt for the intriguing Cilantro. It’s tequila, cilantro, jalapeño, cointreau, and agave nectar. My kind of drink.
The cocktail list takes me to a happy place.
As we sit down, we’re greeted by a small army of stemware. I become instantly afraid that in the midst of a colorful story, I will mindlessly swing my arm outward and knock over each glass like some strange version of table bowling. I therefore remain restrained and limb-conscious.
Our large amuse-bouche. For the life of me, I cannot remember what it was, but I can assure you that it was very tasty.
Dipping sauces for the forgotten amuse bouche. Also very tasty. I clearly was so busy stuffing my face that I didn’t jot down notes. And thus I have been shamed out of the food blogger community.
Our first course: a beet salad with clementine, watercress, pumpkin seed, local goat cheese, tarragon, pistachio. From this angle, it all looks like it was plopped down on the plate, but it was actually quite artful. And the beets were divine.
Second course: tuna tartare with green papaya, cilantro, coconut, lemon grass, pak pai and taro. I loved the coconut in this dish, and the purple flowers added both beautiful color and — dare I say it — whimsy to the affair. The plating and aesthetic reminded me quite a bit of Red Medicine in Beverly Hills (which is a good thing).
A seared diver scallop with uni (YAY!), English peas, and black garlic. This was well received by all.
A closer look at the scallop. Nom nom nom.
Again, 2D does this dish no favors, but in person, this jumble actually looks quite lovely. And what is it? Pork belly! (with “Brioche, nước chấm, pickles, capsicum, five spice saucisson à l’ail, herbs”). Think of it as a sophisticated take on banh mi.
Roast duck breast with garlic, Chinese broccoli, sweet soy, sudachi, Asian pear, ash and flowers. I don’t know what sudachi is, but I was happy to have it. Additionally, the “ash” came from a process that Chef Adam Horton later described to us. I wish I could repeat it to you, but it was a rather involved bit of molecular gastronomy that had my head spinning.
After the mains were done, the restaurant poured us some homemade limoncello — the kind that goes down so smooth and easy it’s no wonder why Danny DeVito once got famously wasted on the stuff before an appearance on The View. This was the real deal, kiddos. Just as good as the homemade limoncello I once enjoyed at a rural outpost in Provence. And yes, I’m totally bragging that I once went to a rural outpost in Provence.
For dessert, we were served “Broken Blueberries,” which came with an elderflower panna cotta, white chocolate, violet, and lime. It was beautiful. Too bad I hate berries so much. Palate fail for me.
Luckily the good people at Raphael provided me with a berry-free chocolate dessert that was both visually arresting and flavor-wise delicious. It definitely satisfied an intense chocolate lover like me.
Lastly, the meal ended with some strawberry macarons. I, of course, refrained from having any, but everyone else enjoyed them quite a bit.
Overall, I was highly impressed with the delicate, artful food at Raphael. Each dish certainly had many components, but they were less busy and more clever. This was not food that was deconstructed for deconstruction-sake. It all worked in a meaningful way. And at the end of the day, it all tasted lovely. Maybe The Valley isn’t so bad after all?
11616 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604