Monday, May 16, 2011

L'Epicerie: Sébastien Archambault Comes to Culver City

If I told you that a celebrated chef known for cooking French food had gone to work in a small French cafe in Culver City you might either be surprised or respond that you had already heard about Walter Manzke consulting at Le Saint Amour.  That the chef I am referring to was the executive chef at a restaurant in Corsica when it earned a Michelin star should intrigue you.  The acclaimed chef is Sébastien Archambault, who garnered acclaim at RH at the Andaz for his cooking of the cuisine of southwestern France, and his new home is L'Epicerie, the cafe, market and wine shop owned by Thierry Perez.

Chef Archambault
L'Epicerie has one of the most attractive happy hours in town with half a dozen small plates, four wines by the glass and three beers all for $3 each.  At those prices you can't afford not to try these dishes and drinks.  The happy hour menu changes frequently but this week the food offerings included Tortilla de Patatas, Marinated Anchovies, Farmers' Market Vegetables, Chicken Wings Confit, Field Mushrooms and a Bread Basket.

The Farmer's Market Vegetables are an array of vegetables pickled in champagne vinegar and served in a jar.  Yes, those jars are everywhere right now.  Carrots were a highlight, nice and crunchy with the acidic kiss of the vinegar.

Chicken Wings Confit is a fun idea but it just didn't work in that the bones in the tiny pieces did not make it easy to eat.

Tortilla de Patatas tastes good but is perhaps too refined.  Tortilla is a rustic dish and this version appears overly dainty.  I'd still recommend it, but it doesn't remind one of a serving of tortilla in a tapas bar in Spain.

At the bar, there is also a tapas menu.  The Beef Tongue ($5) was quite good, though not as good as the version at FIG. The tongue is served sliced. The Duck Foie Gras Terrine ($8) is three country bread crostini with plum chutney and duck foie gras on top of each.  These are rich and a tasty way to begin a meal or to accompany a glass of wine.  The Pere Anselme, Vin de Pays d'Oc Syrah from the Languedoc ($3) is a pleasant accompaniment to these dishes.

Beef Tongue
Duck Foie Gras Terrine
There are three Perigord specialties on the menu, including Traditional Tourain ($8), a garlic and chicken soup, Escargot a la Perigourdine ($14), snails with Serrano ham in a white wine sauce and Perigord Cassoulet ($22),  a healthy portion of pork belly confit, Toulousse sausage and white beans.

Perigord Cassoulet
The Duck Confit ($21) from the Poultry section of the menu comes with sautéed potatoes sarladaise (potatoes cooked in duck fat).  The confit is excellent and is one of Chef Archambault's signature dishes that he gained notice for at RH at the Andaz.  He said that it is a dish that his grandmother made and dishes like that are passed down as his heritage.  The duck is crispy on the exterior and on the inside has the yielding texture of short ribs.  The potatoes absorb the rich fat of the duck and are a decadent companion to the meat.  This dish calls out for a glass of red wine.  No diet food here, this is a refined vision of the rustic fare of the French countryside.

Duck Confit
L'Epicerie is certainly worth exploring.  The price point is quite attractive; you can graze on happy hour offerings or dive into the full menu.  The flexibility is unusual.  The overall experience is good cooking and good value.

My visit was hosted.

L'Epicerie: 9900 Culver Boulevard, Culver City. Phone: (310) 815-1600 Website:

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