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Kushi oysters from British Columbia arrive teetering on a pedestal of salt crystals with a lithe apple mignonette (a vinegar-based dipping sauce) on the side. A trio of seared scallops caramelized to look like toasted marshmallows huddles to one side of a rectangular white plate, pencil-thin grilled green onions draped in a curve around them, and a lash of brilliant red wine sauce punches up the contrast. A wicked bite of grilled calamari with minced red bell pepper nestles in the hollow of a Chinese porcelain soup spoon.
Providence, you're thinking, or Water Grill. Possibly Paperfish, Joachim Splichal's brand new seafood restaurant. You'd be wrong. Instead of one of these restaurant behemoths from a celebrated chef, this is a small, family-run restaurant in Glendale called Bashan and opened in early September by chef Nadav Bashan, 33, and his wife, Romy, 31.
The setting couldn't be more modest, yet Israeli-born Bashan, former executive chef of Michael's in Santa Monica and was sous chef under Michael Cimarusti at Providence, is turning out polished contemporary cooking from a minuscule kitchen. He limits his menu to a handful of appetizers and half a dozen main courses, with one or two specials a night. The restaurant is open only at dinner, six nights a week. Whenever it's open, chef Bashan is cooking, with Romy at the front of the house.
In this country, few serious or high-end restaurants are family run. Spago and Campanile were, pre-divorces. These days Hatfield's in Los Angeles and Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa are notable and, incidentally, very successful exceptions to the corporate mini-empires built by entrepreneur-chefs. And now Bashan can be added to that small list of ambitious family-run restaurants.
I have to give Madame Bashan, an Argentine who grew up in this country, a big thumbs up for the warm welcome she gives every guest who walks in the door. She's there every night, usually in a skirt or dress and glam knee-high boots. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she's constantly on the move, watching over the service and running interference with the kitchen.
The restaurant occupies the former Bistro Verdu space next to Rosso Wine Shop. Even when you know where Bashan is, the narrow storefront can be hard to spot. Look for the fairy lights twined around the two trees out front and a couple of tables set out in front to indicate "restaurant," as cars speed by. The interior has been redone on a budget in a restrained palette of cream and chocolate. One wall is covered in grass cloth and hung with a dark wood-framed mirror. Driftwood floats across the other. Overhead is a double row of white chandeliers resembling origami artichokes with ceiling fans hung in between. The dining room is divided from the kitchen by a well-designed set of shelves that double as wine storage.
Tables are bare. What new restaurant's aren't? The whole place has a serene, uncluttered look that lets the food and the diners share the limelight. This is a place to bring a friend who loves to eat. You can talk easily (if there's not a boisterous big table nearby). And you can eat very well. The cooking has a definite personality. Clean and modern, it's more or less sophisticated bistro fare, food that doesn't demand a special occasion, but is much better than that at the usual neighborhood spot, however ambitious.
Everybody has burrata on the menu lately, but Bashan's isn't the same old burrata with heirloom tomatoes. His features bresaola, the air-dried beef of northern Italy, with sweet nutty parsnips, luscious dates, endive and a scattering of pistachios. The medley of flavors is light and delicious. Braised pork belly is lighter than most, too, cooked to a buttery softness and served in a little broth with tomatoes and cranberry beans, and a few steamed mussels. Another appealing starter is crispy veal sweetbreads with piquillo peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley and capers. The sharpness of the capers and the sweetness of the tomatoes provide an intriguing foil for the creaminess of the sweetbreads.
In this weather, soup sounds good, and the chef puts some effort into the idea. Right now he's making a richly flavored kabocha squash soup garnished with dainty squash tortellini and a dollop of onion compote.
Bashan has a light touch with sauces, and really thinks about how to garnish each dish. His cooking is more understated than showy. And he brings a broad palette of subtle flavors into focus with a sure-handed technique. He tends to slip in interesting veggies -- a blood-red Okinawan yam here, grilled scallions there as minor players, but the fish or meat is still the main event. You won't fill up on carbs here, or even many vegetables.
Given that he cooked at Providence, it's no surprise that he's very good on fish. Each dish is individual. Farm-raised barramundi is seared and presented with Jerusalem artichoke, a little chorizo and some shrimp for a distinctive main course. Columbia River steelhead trout is very delicate in texture, but he keeps it moist and serves it on a pedestal of braised daikon with tiny buna-shimeji (brown beech) mushrooms and a smear of sharp garlic ginger puree. I'm not normally a big halibut fan, but I liked the way he serves the flaky white fish Basque style, in a mess of tomatoes and roasted pepper called piperade.
But my favorite dish may be the seared chicken breast served alongside an adorable little salad of shredded chicken leg confit topped with a quail egg. The breast is moist, and the shredded leg is every bit as flavorful as a duck confit.
Meaty duck breast is served in thick slices with a luscious quince puree, green beans and slippery shiitake mushrooms strewn with pistachios. For those who always have to order steak, the dish to order is the prime flat-iron steak, which at under $30 is quite the bargain. Right now it comes with butternut squash puree and sauteed chanterelles and Brussels sprouts.
Three desserts will do
Next up is either an artisan cheese plate or dessert. Bashan doesn't have a pastry chef yet, so the chef does the desserts too. There are just three, with the occasional special. But three's OK if one of them is his tender chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Order coffee panna cotta for the alfajor (Argentine shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche); the panna cotta has too much gelatin. For something lighter, try the braised Gala apples with mascarpone and a tart cranberry puree.
Service is relaxed and pleasant, if sometimes a bit green. And a two-page wine list offers enough interesting bottles from new and old worlds to please most diners.
Bashan the restaurant is still very young and finding its way. It's also improving on each visit. The menu hardly budges, though, from week to week, a problem only if you go back too often. I'm looking forward to watching the menu evolve as the chef and his team develop more of a repertoire and find their sweet spot.
Location: 3459 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale; (818) 541-1532; www.bashanrestaurant.com.
Ambience: Small (40-seat) restaurant with spare modern decor and contemporary American cooking from chef Nadav Bashan.
Service: Friendly, if somewhat inexperienced.
Price: Appetizers, $10 to $16; main courses, $21 to $28; cheese plate, $11; desserts, $7.
Best dishes: Oysters on the half shell with apple mignonette, kabocha squash soup, New Bedford scallops, crispy veal sweetbreads, seared barramundi, steelhead trout, seared chicken breast with confit of leg salad, duck breast with quince puree, chocolate bread pudding.
Wine list: Small savvy list. Corkage fee, $10; increasing to $15 on Jan.1.
Best table: One in the front window.
Details: Open for dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Beer and wine. Street parking.
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.