Does Los Angeles need a new bistro or brasserie? Mon Dieu, no. There have been so many of these trendy French eateries opening in the last two years that city planners should issue a moratorium. We have officially reached critical mass for pommes frites. Such moratorium, however, would have deprived us all of the new Culver City brasserie le Saint Amour, which opened its quaint Gallic doors last Friday. Levered into the wedge of shops that dead-ends with a Starbucks in downtown Culver City, le Saint Amour is co-owned by Bruno Herve Commereuc, a wirey Frenchman who ran downtown’s Angelique Cafe until he and his wife Florence sold the restaurant in 2006. Angelique was the sort of place where vats of duck confit bubbled in a kitchen the size of a Left Bank closet. After he left Angelique, Commereuc made charcuterie for local restaurants, among them Jason Travi’s Fraîche, just a cornichon-throw up the street. Commereuc makes all the charcuterie and works the front of the house with his wife; chef Hugues Quinard is behind the stoves.
Le Saint Amour, like the original brasseries–tiny Parisian taprooms that served simple beer food–is centered around charcuterie, here Commereuc’s superb sausages, terrines and patés. Slices of headcheese, a jigsaw in aspic, c0me with salad, a confetti of hard-boiled egg, shallots and parsley. Other small plates are prettily but simply displayed, centered around the kind of traditional French food (pigs’ feet, sweetbreads) that’s become trendy with the bistro craze. But unlike many other trendy brasseries, the prices here reflect the economy that brasseries originally demonstrated: the only appetizer over 10 bucks is a foie terrine.
Main courses are traditional: entrecot au poive, half a roast chicken. But Commereuc’s sausages–and duck confit–round out the basics. It’s worth a seat at the banquette just for the boudin noir (below, left), blood sausages that are blissfully tender, their abundant richness tempered by seared apples. The only main over $20 is a Guinea hen stuffed with foie and cabbage, a fitting extravagance for a French sausage-maker.
Desserts are predictable but well orchestrated. A tarte Tatin, a chocolate mousse. Even better is the ile flottante (above, right). Floating islands can be dreadful, a pouf of anemic meringue sailing on overabundant creme Anglaise. But this one is lovely, like a giant square marshmallow.
There are some kinks to work out: many dishes badly need salt, and the espresso is awful. But the place already feels homey and practiced, and maybe this makes sense. The brasserie comes equipped with old Angelique regulars, and the menu is built around charcuterie made by a veteran. It helps too that the place seems genuine, not a chef’s vanity project or an investor’s jump on a restaurant trend that’s already shown serious signs of malaise. Sure, there are too many pommes frites on LA menus. But you can never have enough duck confit.
Le Saint Amour, 9725 Culver Blvd., Culver City. (310) 842-8155. www.lestamour.com (website under construction). Open nightly for dinner 5:30 – 10 p.m.; lunch service begins at 12:30 p.m. on June 15th.
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