In honor of her mother's visit to Los Angeles last week, Eileen invited me and two other close friends to dinner at Blue Velvet, which was the kind of place where the L.A. Law-Ally McBeal crew would have patronized if they had wanted to nosh on trendy Nouvelle Californian cuisine and air their neuroses. With its eco-friendly digs in a refurbished apartment building, the restaurant has too-cool-for-school decor, such as a unisex bathroom straight out of the Ally McBeal set, and a view of downtown high-rises. The royal blue clipboard set on the plate upon diners' arrival seemed perfect for jotting down an affidavit if it didn't already hold the menu.
Like most hip restaurants in SoCal, food seemed to be an afterthought here. I think the owners knew what a good restaurant should be, but they used a bit of a heavy hand in their execution. They thought a good restaurant should offer an amuse-bouche. Even though it was a complimentary pre-appetizer, this amuse-bouche of a fried potato puff served with a slash of some sauce was nondescript. It might have been better for Blue Velvet to offer more interesting bread, rolls or crackers than to serve something unmemorable. I have to note that unlike a lot of Los Angeles restaurants, Blue Velvet had impeccable service. It was a good thing that the servers wore black T-shirts with their matching pants. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to distinguish them from the customers. The sommelier, for instance, was a floppy-haired hipster who was dressed for the summer in a white blazer and open-buttoned pastel shirt. He didn't seem too into his job. Maybe he became a sommelier only after he hit a plateau with his acting.
Even though she's not a member of The Foie Faction
, Eileen is such a good friend that she recommended we ordered the foie gras as an appetizer. Served with triangle toasts, the torchons of goose liver were smooth and rich. We also ordered some mushroom dish to accommodate the sole vegetarian, Bruna. The mushrooms and foie gras actually went together quite nicely.
In tribute to Eileen's mom, who is working as a physician in New Zealand, where sheep outnumber humans by a ratio of 20 to 1, I ordered the lamb as my entree. I didn't mind that the meat was raised in Colorado rather in Hobbitland. Compared to Eileen's ravioli, which was too al dente and smothered in a salty sauce, and the mediocre fish ordered by Colin and Eileen's mom, my lamb was delicious. I tried taking a photo of my dish, but the light was insufficient and I was reluctant to use my flash to draw attention to our table. Hoping to take advantage of a more relaxed environment by the pool, Eileen suggested that we take our dessert outside. I don't quite remember what we ordered. One was a beet financier and the other was a pudding or flan with caramel popcorn. The third choice might have been an ice cream with pistachios. As I said, the food was secondary to atmosphere at this place.
In case of the bathroom, the atmosphere was a mishmash of cultures, allowing men and women to cross boundaries and transgress however much they want. The Zen garden didn't have any sign saying which part was men's or women's. So you entered whichever stall was unoccupied. For a co-ed bathroom, it was very clean, perhaps too much so that it was industrially clinical.
The sensors for the faucets hanging from the ceiling were so sensitive that they turned on when you walked in front of it. The great thing about the bathroom was that it had huge mirrors on the walls, above a shelf where chicks can plop down their purses to touch up their lipstick.
Or, if you're silly Southeast Asians who grew up in the South as Eileen and I did, you'd take pictures of yourself in the reflective glass.
Bruna joined us in our silliness. Don't worry: We didn't get so cheesy that we sang Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" song. No, our song of the night would have been Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good."