RESTAURANT REVIEW : Beau Rivage: Bit of Mediterranean in Malibu

As you head north on Pacific Coast Highway, the years begin to fall away. By La Costa Beach it's about five years ago, judging by which Westside restaurants seem to have been cloned. When you draw near the wilds of Zuma, just as Beau Rivage looms on your right in a blaze of fairy lights, it's maybe 15 years ago.

More specifically, Beau Rivage is like the ambitious restaurant in some high-budget artistic town such as Carmel in the '70s. It's a place of wooden beams and massed flowers, with a potbellied wood-burning stove in the middle of the floor and antique stuff all over the walls.

More. You are brought chicken liver pate when you sit down. The regular menu is calligraphed in semimedieval script, and the waiters are obliged to recite an immensely long list of specials, which they can't always remember. The kitchen has discovered spices (e.g., cumin in the winter squash puree), and one of the specials might be duck in green peppercorn sauce.

Oddly, Beau Rivage insists on calling itself a Mediterranean restaurant, even though Norwegian salmon in cream sauce is likely to be one of the entrees, everything comes with sweet-and-sour red cabbage and the waiters wear little short Tyrolean jackets.

Still, this part of the Malibu coast loves Beau Rivage, and it's pretty easy to see why. It's a friendly place. The piano player politely goes from table to table asking what people want to hear, and the extensive wine list has a refreshingly wide range of prices.

And the food is rarely demanding. One of the few things I've had from the calligraphed menu (the specials nearly always sound more interesting) was a plate of tiny, delicate clams baked with prosciutto and mozzarella, more or less clams for people who'd rather be eating pizza.

I've had some good things: a goat cheese salad with wonderfully rich olive oil, and a nice dish of monkfish with chives. I've had some plain but likable things like a tomato-and-white bean soup that was sort of like peppery marinara sauce on perfectly done beans, and a mussel salad with a very light olive oil and tarragon vinegar dressing, if not a whole lot of mussels. The Mediterranean fish called bronzino had a nice fluffy texture; the taste was OK.

But there were some awful flaws. The lamb chops in mild tarragon sauce were fatty, and the veal chop with mushrooms (at $26) amazingly fatty. I give the place credit for having wild boar on special, and I do believe it's wild (chewing on this rugged meat is great for fantasizing about being an outlaw in Sherwood Forest), but the enterprise is called into question when the red wine sauce is spiked with canned cherries that have been soaked in brandy. Who wants the raucous sting of boiling alcohol with their meat?

The desserts have included a truly wonderful hazelnut tort, mostly consisting of meringue plus a thin layer of bitter chocolate. The chocolate pecan pie is, as usual, a sort of brownie. But the pear tart seemed to be made with a canned pear.

Come to think of it, that's kind of '70s too. I guess you pay your money and you take your decade.

Beau Rivage, 26025 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (213) 456-5733. Open for dinner daily; Sunday brunch. Full bar. Parking lot. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Diner for two, food only, $51 to $88.

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