It is dumb luck then that Papilles (French for papillae) opened in another dank elbow of a strip center, almost below a bridge in a notably Lynchian section of Hollywood. Papilles may not be in my neighborhood, but it is in one that I can embrace. The restaurant rather boldly claims inspiration from so-called bistronomy, the Parisian trend that emphasizes intelligent, high quality food at affordable prices, frequently on prix fixe menus, and convivial, casual settings. Bistronomy has lured several modernist titans including Le Comptoir’s Yves Camdeborde into eschewing the chase for three Michelin stars with its attendant superfluous frills (and greater financial risk) which perhaps explains its allure to restaurateurs in Los Angeles. Papilles honors this new Parisian way: For $35, the customer gets two options in each of three courses and may choose from a shelf of wines that are reliably left-wing if not as recondite or enjoyable as those Messrs. Jancou and Amdur would pour. The interior matches the prices; 10 or so tables and an open kitchen squeeze into a tight space whose dark colors and assorted pictures of flowers offer traces of outer arrondissement charm.
The chef is Tim Carey, who despite an apprenticeship with a local Ducasse alumnus, is a kid in a Dodger cap with a chef’s knack for profanity, or at least that is his schtick. With help from an assistant or two, Carey cooks his heart out on a nightly basis under what I imagine are serious financial and self-evident spatial constraints. Accordingly, the preparations are straightforward and, this being California and not Paris, more Chez Panisse than Le Comptoir.
Do not expect, as you can at Le Comptoir’s dinner service, a slim jewel of a gougère that demonstrates a virtuoso mastery of balance between bread and cheese or a fusiony Raviole de crevettes dans son bouillon, A La verveine et chanterelles, a dumpling for all intents and purposes served in its own East Asiany broth with dried chanterelles and verbena, the flavorful shrimp inside cooked to a soft near-perfection. And while Papilles will not serve astoundingly delicious rognons de veau de lait, the chef, I’m guessing, is under strict instructions not to serve said kidneys with deep-fried tuna fingers and broccoli, puréed Hatfield’s style, which Camdeborde strangely has no qualms about doing.
With the statewide ban on foie gras weeks away (which will affect only the few restaurants statewide that serve the luxury item), restaurant insouciance is at a premium these days. Naturally Papilles added a genuine torchon to the appetizer list that is helped along by a syrup or coulis made from those ever famous Harry’s strawberries plus a few berry wedges for good measure. Forget any asinine comparison to foie gras in France, the foie was good, and any avian suffering, therefore, worthwhile. Let’s hope Papilles practices civil disobedience post-July 1. After all, the de rigueur distribution of ashtrays in K-town watering holes poses an irrefutably greater health risk (and thus deeper moral problem) than the alleged mistreatment of a few birds, and the L.A.P.D. does not seem so feared at Toe Bang.
The Wife loved her soft-shelled crab which was as fresh as can be. Deftly fried to emphasize the crab’s essential lightness and accompanied by piquant mustard greens, my delectable single bite was superior to the one served at Lucques a few weeks later. (Maybe the season had already changed?) At an unavoidable stop-and-chat at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, I learned that Papilles failed to sell what must have been a minuscule allotment of soft-shelled crabs. So don’t expect kidneys on the menu anytime soon. I will lodge no complaints against the roast tomato veloute soup, bright orange in color with a couple of whole, baby sun tomatoes sitting in the mix, but I should have ordered the crab.
My main course, sautéed local halibut served with fennel, olives, baby sun tomato, encapsulates what I love about Papilles. The chef has a knack with halibut, emphasizing the fish’s inherent flavor by cooking to a soft texture. The first time I had the halibut, a small part was slightly undercooked, a mistake not replicated a few weeks later when serving the halibut in a light bourride broth with perfectly tender baby squid and manila clams.
The desserts tend to be a cheese and a sweet. Accordingly, we bifurcated into a separate cheese course, sharing a plate of Brillat Savarin, the soft cow’s milk cheese that was delicious enough to offset the mild nausea I experienced from seeing raisins (the conservative variety!) served as an accompaniment. We ended with a classic strawberry tart that will ensure our return. Anyway, let’s hope Lou reopens soon. I miss the scallops, the Faugeres and even that platter of domestic cheeses.
6221 Franklin Ave.