• Posted by Califia Suntree on September 10th, 2006, 4:53 PM

    i used to have a favorite restaurant in LA–it was called 5 dudley, which was also its address, in venice, a dinner roll’s toss from the beach. it was homey and unpretentious, and very small. it felt like a semi-upscale brooklyn place, which is probably why i loved it. the kitchen was open and seemingly in the middle of the tiny dining room, the bathroom was covered in tres-venice graffiti, the servers seemed like they really liked food…i rarely had a bite of disappointing food there, and always had fun. anyway, for this reason or that, it closed, as restaurants do…an italian place (groan) called piccolo opened in its place. i’ve banned it on principle, out of loyalty, and because i never go out for italian in LA. turns out, the piccolo people scooped up 5 dudley’s chef, michael wilson, and together they opened a new place this summer: wilson, in culver city.
    it’s tucked into a corner of something called the MODAA, which evidently stands for something involving “modern” and “design” and “architecture.” it screams all those things, in a dated, ikea-fied way. the wilson dining room is therefore all late-90s neon green and orange, and very hard surfaces. the orange plastic tabletops don’t really do justice to the rather formal and rich food that pours from chef mikey’s kitchen…inventively seasoned meats, in particular. on this warm early september evening the dishes on offer seemed a bit too…wintery. slabs of swordfish, duck topped with foie gras, surf and turf, black truffles…the salads were very good, if not exactly bursting with the season. the most ‘seasonal’ dish on offer, and i’m guessing the tastiest, was an incredible piece of slow roasted pork on fresh corn polenta with pea greens. it was very delicious, as was my pasta with beef and olive tagine-tasting ragout (again, not exactly late summer fare, but…i ate it all happily.) the scallops with shaved truffles looked enticing, although i was put off by the cook who marched out to grate the truffle onto each plate. it seemed like a lot of pomp for this neon “cafe” setting. those scallops looked gorgeous, though.

    anyway, we were happily stuffed and duly impressed. (a note on wine: this “wine bar” has an impressive beer list, which holds top listing on their beverage menu. next time, i will have beer. we tasted 3 of the 4 reds by the glass and 2 of them were exceedingly thin and tannic. the third, a cabernet, was good, but really not worth its $40+ sticker.)

    we eagerly awaited dessert. we loved matt alexander, 5 dudley’s pastry chef, and assumed that the sweets would again be a high point. the dear maitre d’, lari, who we knew from 5 dudley (she’s married to wilson), told us they had a new pastry chef, nina rualo, who was better than matt! the server verbaled the desserts: chocolate mousse, peach crumble, baked “alaskan” (sic). hmmm, i thought, where’s the trick? there must be more to it than that, a hidden surprise? nope: out came our overly sweet, underbaked crumble with a sugary creme anglaise, and our rock-hard, freezer-tasting baked “alaskan” which we needed a steak knife to cut. that had strawberry compote on the side. (at the height of berry season, cooked, sugared strawberries?!) they were truly terrible: sarah lee, to be generous. the price tag for our desserts? twenty-five buckaroos. you read correctly…we complained. we said we missed matt. i can only hope they ditch rualo and find a pastry chef who’s talent and imagination can at least come close to chef mikey’s…leaving on that off-note was unfortunate. as is the cold, generic decor. the food is full of love and imagination–it calls out for a comfy chair to settle into, warm tones to sooth your eyes. i’m not sure i’ll be back, but i do know one thing for certain: man, i miss 5 dudley.

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