Restaurant Review #138: Nook, West LA

The bar

When you're used to dining at low-end restaurants where almost all of the focus is on the food, it's a real treat to spend a few extra bucks and actually get service. Service at LA restaurants is often snooty or indifferent, but at Nook, the service is so good from the very moment you walk in that you know you're in for a great meal.

At 7:00 on a Tuesday, we had already failed to beat the crowds to Nook. Fortuantely, we were the only ones waiting, there were chairs to sit in, and we were given menus to look at in the meantime. We also could have sat down at the small bar for a drink, had we been so inclined.

The communal table

Given a choice between immediate seating at the communal table and waiting for an individual table, I'll choose to wait every time. With the way tables are crammed together at almost every restaurant in the city (Nook being no exception), you might think it wouldn't really matter, but the word communal implies that maybe I should be talking to the other people at the table, and I really don't want to.

That being said, I think the idea of creating an environment that is conducive to chatting up strangers is really great for people who are more extroverted than I am. After all, one of the reasons LA can seem so hostile at times is because we don't know each other. It's easy to anonymously be rude and assume the worst about people from behind the wheels of our cars. A communal table allows us the possibility to get to know each other better and like each other more. The communal table would also be a great place to seat a birthday party or other group of around 12 people.

Nook dinner salad

Nook's menu is divided into small plates and large plates, rather than appetizers and entrees. With a simple label change, you can order an appetizer as a meal and not feel like a cheapskate. Even the lightest eater will need to order more than a salad to get full, though. I tried the Nook dinner salad: mixed greens with rosemary beet vinaigrette, dried cranberries, brandy pecans and goat cheese.

The dressing really makes this salad noteworthy. Tangy and sweet, it's a great way to convince people that they might actually like beets. How did beets become a high-end vegetable, anyway? They're just root vegetables, like carrots or turnips, and they aren't too expensive. Aside from the dressing, there was nothing innovative about the salad--the ingredients are a tried and true combination. I would have liked more goat cheese, but then, I really can't ever get enough cheese. The cut greens were crisp and high-quality.

Crispy Fried Calamari

The calamari, tossed with citrus-soy vinaigrette and wasabi dipping sauce, had a very flavorful batter, but it was much too salty. I couldn't taste the citrus-soy sauce at all, and I had to be careful with the wasabi dipping sauce, which was heavily concentrated and an invitation to nose burn. The calamari were very tender, the batter was well-seasoned, and the flavor of the wasabi mayo was a nice match. Take the salt factor down a notch, and this dish would be perfect.

Nook Burger

The large plate section of the dinner menu is very meaty, with only two vegetarian options. While a vegetarian could get by here, she wouldn't have a lot of options. I ordered the burger, a sterling silver beef burger with gruyere cheese, red wine-braised onion and baby arugula on grilled rustic bread, served with fries and a homemade pickle. I finally took the plunge and ordered my burger cooked medium (I could do better, I know, but meat kind of scares me). The burger was good, especially the surprisingly flavorful bun, though with so much bread, I had to eat my burger with a fork and knife. This is not one of the top burgers in the city, and I think it would have been more flavorful with carmelized onions and a stronger cheese, but not everyone likes their food as intense as I do.

Banana bread pudding in a chocolate brandy sauce

Dessert sounded very promising, but was a disappointment for me. Of course, desserts have to overcome the full factor--by the time I get there, my marginal propensity to consume more food has declined so far that something has to be really special to wow me. Also, I have decided that I'm really not a fan of the banana/chocolate combination, and I was disappointed that I couldn't taste the brandy. The vanilla bean gelato sounded tempting, so we got a cup on the side. The texture was dense and smooth, but the flavor was nothing to get excited about.

What to look for

Nook can be hard to find. The strip mall has an orange sign announcing Nook, but the restaurant itself is really tucked away and has only a neon blue sign with a white arrow to point the way. Parking is free and easy enough in the lot or on the surrounding streets.

The service was very good throughout the meal. It got slow at times, but we never felt forgotten. Our server was professional and full of smiles.

In West LA, there is virtually no such thing as an upscale restaurant. In this category, Nook only has to complete with places like Il Grano, La Bottega, and Il Moro. By filling a niche, Nook is really able to shine. It provides a warm atmosphere, real service, very reasonable prices, and consistently good food. While it might not be able to complete in more upscale neighborhoods, I'm thrilled to see it in West LA, and I'll definitely be back. I'd love to go for lunch, as the lunch menu is quite different from the dinner menu, and I'm intrigued by the catfish burrito.

If you've been to Nook, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Salads and appetizers, $7-12
Lunch entrees, $9-12
Dinner entrees, $10-22
Desserts, $6

11628 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Mon-Fri 11:30 AM to 3 PM;
5 PM to 10 PM
Sat 5 PM to 10 PM
Closed Sundays
Nook website with menu


Anonymous said...

That burger sounds a bit like the Father's Office burger. For bar food it's pretty good, but the burger trend at "restaurants" is getting stale. I expect more. If I want a burger I go to Ketchy's. There are many upscale restaurants in West LA, such as the Hotel Bel-Air Restaurant, Il Moro, Melisse, Orris, Josie, Matteo's, Literati, Valentino, Chinois, Buffaio Club, Bandera and the Getty Center Restaurant. Opps some of these are in Santa Monica.

joanh said...

I definitely would have never found this place if my friend didn't suggest it for a lunch meeting. I think I had the chicken sandwich, but I remember eyeing the mac and cheese..

joanh said...

upscale- Bandera is good.. also, there's Houstons and Gulfstream at Century City mall.. the hot fudge sundae at Gulfstream is so good with the candied pecans.