For over 20 years, Chef Joe Miller has brought the people of Venice, particularly in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood, a casual yet refined take on California-French cuisine with dishes and tastes that have patrons returning time and time again. Over the years, while the neighborhood has apparently transformed into its now indie, trendy self, Joe’s has remained true to its original form.
I had the privilege of dining here not too long ago and was treated to an 11-course dinner alongside a handful of fellow food and writing enthusiasts. We were presented items from their new fall menu, and both Joe and his Chef de Cuisine, Kris Tominaga, both came out for each course to explain the dish in detail. Well, apparently Kris was a little shy and maybe came out twice during the entire meal.
Glancing over the menu, it definitely did feature a lot of seasonally fall ingredients and all sounded quite enticing.
Starting our progression off was a charcuterie platter of pork, rabbit, duck, proscuitto, and chorizo with pickled vegetables and purple mustard. Between 4 people on my side of the table, I managed only a couple of small nibbles of the pork, chorizo, and proscuitto, but they were all quite good.
Our amuse bouche arrived: chestnut soup with parmesan froth and guanciale. For those of you who don’t know what guanciale is, it is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from a pig’s cheek meat. The flavor and texture of the soup was spot on and the parmesan froth lent out its natural saltiness to balance the subtle sweetness of the soup.
1st course was an Eastern fluke crudo with finger lime, radish salad, salted grape, and saletta. Some sort of 1-2 bite sashimi dish with citrus seems to be a more widely practiced opening course, especially since fresh local fish seems to be more readily available for restaurants. Also, a light fish such as this paired with citrus is just about a near perfect combination. The radish salad and salted grape provide wonderful herbaceous and sweet, respectively, contrasts.
Next came pan seared foie gras with persimmon prepared 2 ways, pistachio butter, brioche, and huckleberry vinaigrette. The piece of foie gras was seared wonderfully, and just being 1-2 bites, I attempted to get everything into one single bite. I will have to tell you, the way each element worked with each other, it just, well…. worked. I personally LOVE foie gras, so even this small 2 bite nugget was such a treat.
Next in the progression was pan roasted dayboat scallops, braised artichoke, sunchoke puree, cauliflower mushroom, and yuzu kosho butter. I personally LOVE scallops, so I was excited to see this dish. The other elements definitely brought a sense of the autumn season onto the plate, and the flavors were complimentary.
Staying in the ocean, we moved onto a grilled Fijiian escolar, with parsnip puree, local squid, crisp pork belly, fuyu persimmon, okinawan purple sweet potato, and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. Yes, quite a bit going on this plate. The fish was perfect, the parsnip puree had good flavor, however I wasn’t able to much of the other elements on the plate. Not because I don’t feel the flavors were prominent enough, but again, I was sharing the family style dishes with 3 other people.
Next course featured slow roasted jidori chicken breast and pistachio roulade, served with chestnut and foie agnolotti, Brussels sprouts, pancetta, and rutabaga puree. The chicken was nice and the pistachio added a wonderful nutty balance. The agnolotti was quite flavorful with the chestnut and a touch of foie gras. However, the brussel sprouts and rutabaga puree seemed to be lost in this dish.
As for a finale of our savory dishes, and what ended up being probably one of the favorite dishes of the evening: Sonoma lamb sirloin, served with a beet risotto and lamb ragout, with bulls blood greens. The lamb was absolutely cooked perfectly with no gaminess (several “Oh my God”s were said between I and one of my fellow diners), and the beet risotto had nice flavor and seasoned well, which was a little surprising because I was expecting the beet flavor to overpower a little. The bits of lamb swimming throughout added further subtle richness to the dish.
For dessert, we were offered 3 different dishes, all served simultaneously. The first of these was a pumpkin crème caramel, or flan, with pumpkin seed streusel, caramel, and chestnut ice cream. The custard had good flavor, but I couldn’t get over an apparent grittiness, however, the streusel and ice cream were wonderful texture and flavor contrasts.
Next dessert I tasted was a warm baked apple, with cranberry-caramel sauce, and allspice crème fraiche. While the flavors and textural contrasts were there (which I look for especially in dessert, I will be honest and say this was my least favorite of the 3. I hate to speak rather unfondly of dessert, especially being a pastry chef myself, but even those with a sweet tooth do not like everything in the dessert world.
The last of the desserts, and definitely my favorite of the 3, mascarpone cheesecake, with figs, candied pistachios, honey-cinnamon sauce, and vanilla ice cream. The cheesecake had great flavor and texture, and the other elements paired with each other quite nicely. I definitely may need to “steal” this idea for potentially future work.
While I heard my fellow diners mention that there were definitely some hits and misses throughout the progression, we all came to an accord that the meal was wonderful and that we all enjoyed it very much. I can now see why Joe’s has been around for such a long time, especially in these trying times and the way our economy has unintentionally forced other restaurants and food establishments to close their doors. Chef Joe’s loyal fans will probably never stop coming back, and I hope to soon dine here once again.
1023 Abbot Kinney Ave.
Venice, CA 90291