Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Under The Radar: Buffalo Club (Santa Monica, CA)

Buffalo Club is a fine dining restaurant in Santa Monica that's been around for 19 years, and yet not that many people these days seem to know about it.

The exterior looks like a dive bar - that's because it used to be before the current proprietor bought it and reinvented it as a restaurant. Walking in, though, especially after the recent renovation, reveals an interior much different from the outside - an elegant, dimly lit, quiet, dining room. After the latest renovation, there are now two dining areas: the white tablecloth Iroquois dining room and the more casual (and cheaper) Garden Courtyard.

The chef and part owner, Patrick Healy, has been at the restaurant since its inception, a rare feat for fine dining chefs in LA these days. Healy trained in France under Alain Ducasse and other 3-star Michelin chefs before opening his own restaurant and later joining Buffalo Club.

We let the sommelier, Brayner Ferry, pair everything for us and he welcomed us with a brut rose from La Maison du Cremant de Bourgogne.
Our dinner was off to a great start with the Dungeness crab salad, avocado wrap, asparagus, Belgian endive, spicy gazpacho ($23). Pictured here is half of the portion, the restaurant split them for us.
The precious crab salad sits atop the gazpacho and covered by fresh, creamy slices of avocado. It's not quite salad, not quite soup. Either way it was a great, light way to whet your appetite. None of the flavors were too strong as to overpower the crab, instead they come together well.

Crisp duck confit, frisee, arugula, red onion, haricot vert, duck fat potatoes, Bing Cherry gastrique ($19).
While I've had duck confit salads before, it's the first that the duck was this crispy. The meat was rich, but nicely by the greens and the gastrique. This was paired with a classic Chardonnay for Carneros, to cut the richness.

There were a couple of dishes that were served tableside, but they were usually for two, so I decided to go with another dish this time. The Saddle Of Rabbit: Local Farm Rabbit with Root Vegetable Fondue Roasted in Niman Ranch Bacon, House Dried Tomato Risotto Natural Juices ($36)
The tender rabbit meat is stuffed with the vegetable "fondue" and wrapped in bacon. I haven't had many rabbit dishes before but this was definitely the most tender and juicy out of the ones I've tried, complemented well by the subtle risotto.

wine My rabbit was paired with a Morgan 12 Clones Pinot Noir, made from 12 different pinot noir varietals. It was pretty fruity for a pinot but still light, perfect with food. My friend's dish was paired with a Melville Syrah, which is lighter than the usual Syrah and a little spicy.

She had ordered the Pan-roasted Colorado Lamb Loin, spinach-parmesan bread pudding, sugar snap peas, morels, thyme-infused lamb reduction ($42)
The lamb was cooked properly, very tender. The savory bread pudding was a fluffy, cheesy goodness.

There were also many inspired side dishes ($12 each) like the Parmesan Parsley Spaetzle. Instead of a creamy, cheesy cause, the parmesan makes an appearance as crisped pieces, adding a textural dimension.

They also have a great mac n cheese: the Macaroni and Vermont Cheddar

We took a look at the Garden Courtyard menu, a cheaper and more casual menu, and had to get one side dish that caught out eye: Bourbon Butternut Squash ($7). Some of the other side dishes also make an appearance in the courtyard menu for $7.

You almost don't need dessert after the bourbon butternut squash, but who am I kidding? I always get dessert. Chocolate lovers should get The Buffalo Bar: Crunchy milk chocolate and dark chocolate with marshmallows, hazelnuts and light caramel sauce ($13)

I was very impressed with my dinner at Buffalo Club. The location is a bit off the beaten path and the exterior is deceiving, but while all the food in the Iroquois room leans classic old-school, they were all very well prepared. The proteins were cooked perfectly and everything was well-seasoned with nothing being overly salty or overly rich. The price point is high but the food, wine pairing, and the service are holding their own. If you're saving that money for a special occasion, check out their Garden Courtyard for a cheaper menu or lunch. I'll also be coming back to try out one of their barrel aged cocktails.

The Cocktail Hour on Tuesday-Friday from 6-8pm features $6 cocktails, beer, and small bites and Wednesdays feature 50% off all wines from the Garden Courtyard list.

Buffalo Club
1520 Olympic Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 450-8600
Buffalo Club on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: this meal was hosted


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