BLD, the newish offshoot of the much-lauded Grace (which Steve unfairly despises), is everywhere we look these days. Everyone from The New York Times to Irene Virbila has decided to crawl up chef/owner Neal Fraser's ass to sing his praises for reinventing the casual dining scene in L.A. We think it's a load, but we cannot argue with the convenience of the place, which is open late and is on our corner. Plus, the room -- formerly a grim little spelunker's paradise -- is now light, spacious, and inviting with a good vibe. Accordingly, we eat at BLD when we can't think of any other place to go; however, while it does the trick and is pleasant enough, we wouldn't actually drive there. The important thing is that we can get a decent salad there in a pinch -- and that's how it became "Bad Lettuce Dinner" in our household, courtesy of Anthony after Steve complained about having to endure another dinner consisting of salad and, uh, salad. (And yes, I do cook for Steve -- frequently and with pleasure -- but when he spends his lunch hour gorging on tacos with his work cronies, a salad-based dinner is often the most appropriate coda to his otherwise unhealthy day.)
In all fairness, a few things at BLD are indeed worth leaving the house for. Steve and I are both fans of the well-proportioned butter lettuce salad, with its flavorful balance of fresh greens, consistently sweet cherry tomatoes, smoky bits of bacon, and a light but kicky blue cheese dressing. I also like their tuna salad over greens, which is prepared with roasted garlic aioli, celery root, and pistachios. Although these ingredients sound interesting, the ultimate execution is merely better than the average tuna salad, but not transcendent. It is, after all, just tuna. Recently, Steve ordered a special salad of frisee with bacon, blue cheese, and pear, which happened to be "very good." (I wrote "great" and my curmudgeonly lesser half just corrected me.) But Steve genuinely does like their Spanish Scramble, an egg dish with chorizo, manchego cheese, and piquillo peppers. He orders it sin lomo in the interest of restraint. The problem is that it's only available in the mornings, and we tend not to go out for breakfast.
I used to order the innocuous curry chicken salad, which happily is not a mayo-fest (unlike their crab salad, which is Steve's worst nightmare not involving raisins). I think it's best to order the curry chicken over greens instead of as the sandwich it's intended to be because the lame bread with which the sandwich comes isn't worth the calories. Lately, I've been ordering the caesar salad with grilled shrimp, which is a nice, light dinner option. The shrimp is flavorful and well-seasoned (though it does walk a tight line); the caesar itself is a little bland, but generally is not overdressed, which is good enough for me most nights.
Steve's occasional go-to is the serrano ham and manchego panino with piquillo peppers and honey. I give it an "e" for "eh." Although serrano ham with manchego is an objectively good combo, the piquillo peppers overwhelm and it is hard to love a panino with such mediocre, dry bread -- especially when the sublime panini at 'ino loom so large in one's culinary consciousness. If I'm going to eat wheat, it better rock. Other things we've tried haven't been worth repeating -- the aforementioned crab salad (which is sickeningly mayorific), the braised pork sandwich (fine but dull), and the burger (which Steve says is bad and overseasoned, but I have not yet tried). Anthony likes their "Self-Constructive Dinner" (shouldn't it be "Self-Constructed Dinner?"), a handy little arrangement in which you can select your protein, sauce, and Cartman's all-important side dishes; but I found the chicken option a little greasy for my taste.
Still, I must give Bad Lettuce Dinner props for a number of things, such as offering Epoisses -- a creamy Burgundian cow's cheese with which I fell madly in love on the portion of our honeymoon that we spent in the Loire -- on their excellent, comprehensive cheese menu. They also offer charcuterie made by Fra'mani, apparently a big deal in the foodie world and something that makes my husband happy. Also delighting my husband (and by extension, me) is the generally good wine list. And the last time I was there, my friend ordered fries and, while they were not Carney's level, they were still pretty terrific -- thin and crisp and salty.
My biggest gripe with BLD is the service. Although the pretty servers appear to try hard and are friendly enough, they very rarely get things right. Recent annoyances include touting the special black bean soup, but serving black-eyed pea soup; bringing out whole salads and charging accordingly even though half salads actually were ordered; and never remembering the wheat-free request of no croutons, please. It's the little things that make a restaurant great and this kind of nonsense does not help BLD's case.
Tonight, still a little sick and on antibiotics, Steve and I decided to get out of the house for a quick Bad Lettuce Dinner. With an hour wait (fair enough, it was 8-ish on a Saturday night), Steve decided to pop his head into his beloved Hatfield's next door to see what was up. Super-cool Karen Hatfield was gracious enough to get us a table (and a lovely one at that) in a mere 15 minutes even though her restaurant was fully (and well-deservedly) booked. We ended up eating and spending more than we planned, but you know what? It was totally worth it. So, Bad Lettuce Dinner, you -- like Mark Bittman, Jonathan Gold, and Padma Lakshmi before you -- well, you can suck it.