It’s like a music aficionado, film geek, or a book lover. What’s your favorite? The Beatles? Kurt Vonnegut? Early ’80s U2? Joseph Heller’s Catch-22? Maybe Reservoir Dogs or The Maltese Falcon? The age-old question meets a foodie every week it seems when a co-worker or a new friend discovers this trait about you: what is your favorite restaurant? First, let’s think about what makes our favorite exactly that. To me it is familiarity, that ability to conjure up happiness. A favorite is about recalling and recreating joyous, memorable moments that make life worth living.
My favorite restaurant is one that’s developed over the past few years, becoming more and more ingrained into my persona each time we eat there. There is a charming restaurant on Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village called Canelé, named after a cute little pastry originating from Bordeaux, France; it resembles a mini-bundt cake and possesses a buttery-burnt shell encasing a spongy, textural little treat that each diner takes away after dinner here. [By the way, it’s pronounced CAN-ah-lay.]
They don’t take reservations but they offer a range of seating options. They have some bar seats where one can swoon over a glass of wine erstwhile observing Chef Corina Weibel’s simple but magical dishes over the open kitchen. There’s a large communal table that could fit anywhere from 8-10 able bodies in a Euro-style setting. Use this for a casual dinner with friends or a loved one if you don’t mind the additional company. There are also a number of tiny little tables along the shoebox space that lines two-tops and four-tops in perhaps 800 square feet (perhaps less). I don’t advise people that are claustrophobic should dine here.
The food more than makes up for any spatial deficiencies at Canelé. The menu, written in chalk on a long beam stretching the dining room, features French bistro classics redone with a bit of Lucques and Chez Panisse in mind. Think market-fresh, seasonal vegetables with leg of lamb, braised pork short rib or duck confit. Grilled tenderloin or roasted branzino could please anybody while the beef bourguignon or spaghetti alio e olio is good for any simple dinner. Count on $10 corkage, very reasonable these days, or consider something from the polished wine list that pairs perfectly with almost any combination of courses (they run you a very reasonable $35-40 a bottle). Appetizers shouldn’t be skipped, with fresh salads and other French classics hitting the mark, such as dandelion salad or brandade with tangy tomato confit. In between, maitre’d Jane Choi, though diminutive in size, pokes across the room to ensure that all customers are served well. An experienced front-of-house with time done at NYC’s famous Balthazar, she remembers that service and comfort are a good restaurant’s signature aspects.
What transcends the ordinary restaurant experience here is the entire concept – its desire to be a distinguished member of the community of Atwater Village, serving fresh, delicious cuisine that’s reasonably priced, well-executed, and accommodating for a number of occasions whether it be a weeknight dinner, a quiet anniversary dinner, or even a humble birthday celebration. Or one could bust open the festivities with mere $10 corkage, bring out two or three bottles of delicious wine and make it a night out. The food will remind you why you chose this place (or why you don’t return more often), the service will put you at ease, and the ambiance and wine will finish off the evening in good cheer and merriment. One note: I don’t remember ever getting dessert here, most probably because I’m so full by the end and because the little pastry given away when departing offers enough sweetness to carry me through to the next meal, or the next time I come back to Canelé.