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Firefly Keeps It Simple and Smart

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just across from Sparks Woodfire Cooking on Ventura Boulevard is this new Studio City destination: an ivy-covered building with only the discreet presence of a valet station and a tiled doorstep to mark the location of Firefly.

Inside is a dimly lighted bar furnished with burnt-orange velvet couches. The walls are covered in books, only it’s too dark to read. Don’t pack your Itty Bitty Book Light because they’re a strange collection of Reader’s Digest compilations, old law books, matched sets of this and that, along with the odd novel, such as “Scarlett,” a sequel to “Gone With the Wind.”

Off the bar is the surprising dining room. Once a patio, it’s lined with cabanas framed in muslin curtains. More tables are grouped around a fireplace in the middle of the room. On the walls, pierced brass sconces cast a lacework of light to create a setting that could be titled “Lawrence of Arabia Meets Met Home.”

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Firefly’s menu is short and not very ambitious, but in this context, that’s definitely a plus. The place is more bar and social scene anyway, but also somewhere to get a bite to eat or have dinner with friends. The setting with that fireplace and the cabanas definitely invites lingering.

Dinner starts out with crusty, fresh-from-the-oven La Brea Bakery bread. A bottle of red from the eclectic wine list cries out for a charcuterie platter to start. Priced by the person (an order for two is plenty for four to share), it includes thinly sliced salami, coppa and pale pink ham, with some charred roasted peppers, Nicoise olives and cornichons heaped in the middle. Nothing could be simpler or more satisfying.

And that’s all it takes for one of my guests to declare himself a fan of Firefly. By the time he tastes the sauteed sausages and peppers, another appetizer, he’s infatuated. The straightforward saute is a homey dish of good ingredients simply prepared. It doesn’t take a genius cook; that’s the beauty of it. And that’s what’s so smart about Firefly’s menu. It’s doable.

Mussels steamed in vermouth with shallots are delicious too, served with their reduced juices on a plate instead of the usual bowl. This appetizer would make a good light supper entree, too.

All is delightful until we hit the main courses. The best thing about the skewered shrimp are the skinny pommes frites that come with them. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to slather the pancetta-wrapped shrimp in an oily caper sauce. They’re better off naked. The burger is a baroque construction of beef, bleu cheese and avocado on a firm, chewy bun that makes eating it something of a feat without knife and fork. My croque monsieur doesn’t need cheese on both the inside and the outside. I’m left wondering what happened to the sense and sensibility of the first courses.

Those missteps aside, all that’s needed is some tinkering with the menu to make Firefly a bona fide hit. It’s hip, it’s reasonably priced, and it’s open late. In the Valley, at least, there’s nothing like it.

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Firefly, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 762-1833. Open for dinner only, Monday-Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Appetizers $4 to $10; main courses $10 to $18. Valet parking.

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