Fraiche – Santa Monica – Valentine’s Day

Photo by KevinL on Flickr

I just dined and dashed for the first time in my life.

It looked pretty risqué when they did it on Silver Spoons, and my years of Catholic schooling have instilled such a high level of guilt that I would never even consider stealing anything, but I felt that in this case, it was warranted.

My fiancée reminded me that we’ve never actually gone out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. I thought we had, but apparently all of those nice dinners were for birthdays. Okay, fine. This year it was on. I gave myself a solid 3 weeks of planning time to find a place that would not be a pain in the ass to get to after work and I settled on the Buffalo Club in Santa Monica.

Last Friday, the Buffalo Club gave me a call and informed me that the city of Santa Monica had ordered them to make some repairs and because of this, they would be unable to open for Valentine’s Day. The woman on the phone seemed very apologetic and sounded as if she were bracing herself for an extreme tongue lashing, so I told her it was fine. She apologized again and said that they would like to offer me a free bottle of wine the next time I stopped in. That works. I’m sure they don’t want to be closed on Valentine’s Day, and the free bottle of wine gesture is nice enough that I will head there in the near future.

But then there I was. Reservationless on yet another Valentine’s Day in LA. With five days to come up with something.

First I dm’d my Twitter buddy and LA cocktail connoisseur Caroline on Crack for Santa Monica restaurant suggestions. She had a lot of helpful suggestions that are on my to-do list, but it was a crazy week at work and after I got out of a day’s worth of meetings I decided to just check OpenTable.com.

My ideal dinner time was 7:30. That would give the fiancée time to commute to Santa Monica from Glendale and me from Playa del Rey.

Something to consider on Valentine’s Day in LA: Traffic on side streets is absolutely insane. I don’t know what it is, but I remember traffic being just as insane last year. I’m talking traffic jams on Arizona in Santa Monica. If you know the area, you know how ridiculous that is. Lotso dudes bringing home heart-shaped boxes of candy in a hurry, or something.

Fraiche in Santa Monica had a reservation open at 7:30. I immediately thought two things:

  • What luck! A nice restaurant right down the street with a table open at 7:30pm with only 5 days notice!
  • This place still has a reservation open at 7:30pm? How badly does this place suck?

I figured, if it was good enough for Larry David in the “shit where I eat” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, it would be good enough for my Larry David-loving fiancée and myself.

So it was on. 7:30 reservation. Party of two. Let’s do this.

It was actually pretty rough getting to this reservation on time because of the aforementioned insane Valentine’s Day traffic, but we made it. The front desk woman was friendly and immediately showed us to our table in the back room.

People in the back room were packed in pretty sardine-like but this was to be expected as any business would want to fit as many people in as possible during a holiday. The crowd hum was loud enough that we could avoid eavesdropping on our table neighbors if we chose to do so. The room was lit with those fake candles that would have done the job had we not been freezing back there. A nice open flame would have been a welcome and warm addition but this place was already a fire marshal’s nightmare so I can see why they weren’t willing to push it.

One of the staff dropped off a plate with a square of butter on it. Five minutes later bread arrived. We ordered a bottle of wine. Ten minutes later wine arrived.

We’d studied the 4 course meal for a few days so we knew what we wanted. I was excited to order the Beef Wellington because none of the chefs on Hell’s Kitchen can ever seem to get it right. I also had some duck on the way. To start I ordered the bone marrow panna cotta because it sounded adventurous and Anthony Bourdain seems to love bone marrow. I figured it would be no big deal if I didn’t like it because I had three other courses on the way after it.

We received our first course, the bone marrow panna cotta for me, and an asparagus salad for the lady. The salad was really just a few greens mixed with a few pieces of asparagus. The bone marrow panna cotta tasted like cream cheese if cream cheese had no taste at all. Whatever, no big deal, bring on the wellington.

We waited for the second course.
And waited.
And waited some more.

Because I enjoy my fiancée’s company, time didn’t seem to move to slowly for me. She is clearly not as entertained by me so she noticed that after 2 hours of sitting there, we’d only had the first course.

And we killed the bottle of wine.

Our waitress came by and apologized for the wait and said she’d be back with another bottle of wine. I assume we were not going to be charged for it.

We waited ten more minutes and that bottle never arrived.

The couple next to us arrived about an hour after we did. They received their beef wellingtons.

I headed to the mens room and saw that the whole restaurant seemed to be in total chaos. It occurred to me that we could just slip out the door and no one would notice.

I returned to the table. We were cold, hungry, thirsty, and really all-around bored. There wasn’t even any music playing. This felt like restaurant detention.

So we hit it. We stood up and casually walked out the door. We went home and cracked open a couple cans of soup, threw some crackers in, and watched Downton Abbey, all the while thinking that this was the most memorable Valentine’s Day we’ve spent together, because we dined and dashed, and therefore we are badasses.