Sunday, April 18, 2010

Akasha: Does upscale comfort food have more pedigree than flavor?

rhubarb tart, strawberry ice cream, Akasha
I don't usually read a bunch of other reviews before I sit down to write about a restaurant. It's like reading a movie review before you see the movie: there might be spoilers. But I had to go back and read S. Irene's review of Akasha before I wrote this, to see if there was something I was missing at the groovy, green Culver City restaurant run by chef Akasha Richmond. Well, one thing we were missing was the big basket of Breadbar bread -- we never saw any bread. And the comfortable chairs she mentioned were absent --  ours were too low and strangely pitched. So, 1 1/2 stars from the L.A. Times, for "an everyday restaurant with healthful comfort food." Miles Clements calls it "agreeable."
I think it's my fault for expecting something non-everyday from Akasha -- the ingredients are well-sourced, it's a pretty room with artsy light fixtures, there's a well-put together cocktail, beer and wine list -- but the food just didn't seem that compelling.
bass with artichokes and pea puree
Last Monday night, a live jazz trio was playing -- nice enough if you like live music, but they might have mentioned it when I made a reservation since I was hoping for somewhere quiet to catch up with my sister and her family. It was a bad sign when nothing on the menu looked that tempting. My brother-in-law's attractively-plated wild bass and my sister's trout were perfectly fine, as were my salad with kumquats and sunchokes. None of the entrees were calling to me, so I had pulled pork sliders from the starters menu. Again, fine, correct.
rice flour-crusted onion rings
Sommelier David Haskell tweeted that we must try the onion rings: the rice-flour crusted rounds are light and greaseless, but not particularly addictive. There's nothing particularly wrong with Akasha's food -- it's just that I can think of half a dozen places where I've eaten lately where the food had more vibrant flavors, where I'm more excited to return. Akasha seems like a good place for well-heeled Westsiders who want to have their pulled pork and mac 'n cheese and feel like they're eating healthy too, but maybe it's just not my kind of place.
Fortunately, the meal was redeemed by dessert: a wonderful rhubarb tart with a buttery, crumbly crust, perfectly tart fruit and homemade strawberry ice cream.
9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City
(310) 845-1700

Akasha on Urbanspoon


SinoSoul said...

don't "get" this place. had to try due to JG's 99 Essential, and everything, from the lamb sliders, to onion rings, etc. was underwhelming. didn't want to be impressed, but the flavors didn't match the price tag.

We had rubard + strawberry crisp cream recently and that, of course, was just dandy.

Anonymous said...

I do like the food here a lot, actually. The wine list is what I take issue with.

The food is all high quality, locally sourced ingredients, and I think it shows in the dishes the restaurant puts forth.

But the wine is mostly large production, corporate brands. I really wish the same attention was paid to finding authentic wine that AKASHA has spent sourcing high quality ingredients for the food. Then I'd be truly happy there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I really get your post. I had an amazing experience there on Friday night - but I definitely would not call Akasha comfort food. I don't think any place that serves quinoa, tofu, or sugar free organic desserts would qualify for that label. I also had both items you had photoed - the tart and the onion rings - and even thought they were not "comfort" foods, I couldn't stop myself from wanting more of both.

DailyChef said...

I've never been here, but I really love the pictures you took. Gives me a good idea for what to expect.

Diana said...

I think part of the reason that Akasha's food is somewhat "underwhelming" at first glance is because our palates have grown so accustomed to overly salted dishes cooked with generous amounts of butter/oil and sugar. Because Akasha cooks very "clean" the resulting dishes can seem a bit underseasoned in comparison. She does, however, have a keen sense of flavors and when you really take in each dish as a whole, you can see how she strives to create flavor through the ingredients themselves. Sometimes it works (her tofu and quinoa dish is great, and I enjoyed a halibut & risotto dish I had there in December), other times it doesn't (the sunchoke and persimmon salad was a miss for me too).

Ultimately, I respect what she's trying to do -- even if it might not necessarily blow my tastebuds away. In a country that is growing fatter by the minute, it's nice to know that there are chefs out there like Akasha.

christie said...

This is one of the few places I've been where I left actually angry.

My husband and I chose this place on Valentines over other tempting spots in Culver, and were sorely disappointed. Looking at the menu, I saw gnocchi, pizza, risotto, meat dishes, and other "hearty" looking dishes. I couldn't have been more wrong!

They brought us what appeared to be good bread, but it was rather dry and not even warm. We ordered the cannellini bean hummus with onion flatbread as an appetizer. The hummus was so bland and boring. I've had better hummus at Spitz for $1. Then we both ordered the butternut squash gnocchi as our meal. It came out and when I looked at the plate I thought "Really"? They give you EIGHT pieces of par-cooked gnocchi surrounding a tiny bed of wilted, grainy spinach. My husband an I both looked at eachother with looks of disbelief on our faces. It's EFFING GNOCCHI, people. $16 should get you a freakin' boatload of mind-blowing gnocchi.

We couldn't wait to pay our ridiculous $50 check (and that's without alcohol or dessert) and go get some real food. It was a seriously laughable experience

Anonymous said...

Been twice, totally hated it. The food was horribly expensive for what it was, and yes, boring. I'm not a big eater at all, yet I left hungry. I had some fish hiding 5 or 6 tiny bits of steamed veggies underneath. Dry, bland, boring.
It was horribly loud, and the area we sat in was cold (drafty). The service was incredibly slow, if very nice. I'd rather go to Le Saint-Amour, or even FraƮche, than Akasha.

Los Angeles Photo said...

wow..that's nice..feels like i want to eat it..

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pat,

Thanks for the review. I still haven't stopped by yet, but now I may wait a bit longer. :) So is it Live Jazz every Monday night? Thanks.