By Jill Weinlein, 7/26/2012
French Mediterranean fare revealed behind the rustic wooden door
Walking down W. Third St. between Crescent Heights and La Cienega, many times I’ve noticed a little rustic wooden door. During the day, the door is closed. Once evening rolls around, the entry reveals a hidden, romantic sanctuary filled with candles and twinkling lights.
It’s The Little Door, right next to The Little Next Door Brasserie, a French Bistro with a bustling patio.
Regulars, and the owners I presume, enjoy keeping the mystique of the restaurant hidden behind the rustic door. While anxiously awaiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I noticed the cat theme throughout the restaurant. Many of the walls have paintings of cats, and candlesticks look like cats.
The first dish presented to our table was a light, almond crusted goat cheese pillow resting on top of vibrant yellow and crimson beets. Moroccan greens were dressed in Argan oil with a ginger and honey vinaigrette. The flavors of the lightly sautéed goat cheese with the beets, greens and dressing was heavenly.
Executive Chef T. Nicolas Peter’s signature dish, prime rib-eye steak topped with herbs, cracked black pepper and sea salt is grilled to perfection and served with a twice baked red potato with black truffles and skinny French green beans.
The roasted chicken breast with spicy roasted red peppers and prosciutto is served with crispy polenta.
Chef Nicolas stopped by our table and I asked how he got his start. He was born in Zurich, Switzerland where his father loved to cook and taught him and his American mother some terrific culinary skills.
As a teenager, he wanted to become a veterinarian. Later in his 20s, while living in Paris, Belgium and the South of France, he developed a heightened appreciation for food and cooking. In 1979, Chef Nicolas flew to the United States and landed in Minnesota. “Minnesota is a great place to live. The people are warm and friendly,” he said. While working in the kitchens of some fine hotels in Minnesota, he met his wife. Eventually, they moved to San Diego and Chef Nicolas worked in a few restaurants and as a personal chef.
The famed Café de Artists in Hollywood lured him to be their Executive Chef. He moved to Los Angeles and created an innovative bistro menu that became the talk of the town. Then, 11 years ago, he left to open The Little Door where he has achieved much acclaimed success. The French Mediterranean menu showcases Chef Nicholas’ talent for combining color, flavor and the freshest ingredients, like produce.
Chef Nicolas along with Michael McCarty and Suzanne Goin helped establish the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. “I first brought a pull cart, then a flat bed truck, and now a large truck,” he said. “Farmers have leased additional land to grow more crops for the chefs in Los Angeles. Santa Monica is one of the finest Farmers’ markets around,” he said. His menu always reflects the fresh produce of the season.
Celebrating its 16th year, they created some new summer cocktails. I tried the dreamy bourbon bellini, festive pink rhubarb martini and salted around the rim basil margarita. All were refreshing and not too sweet.
Chef Nicolas used his fresh Farmers’ Market ingredients to make his chopped Dungeness crab, avocado and peach salad. A thin slice of nectarous peach adorned the dish. Another salad that he expertly created is the luscious red and yellow watermelon chunks with blooming watercress and French feta cheese. It was lightly dressed with tarragon, mustard and honey.
I devoured the sesame crusted sea scallop sprinkled with preserved lemon sauce. It rested on a dollop of an exquisite baba ganoush and roasted red peppers.
The spiciest dish was the black olive tapenade rack of lamb smoked in garlic. It rested on a bed of Romano bean risotto.
For dessert, we gobbled up a slice of rhubarb tart and a creamy coconut cheesecake. The camomile crème brulée was lightly brown on top and went nicely with the hot Moroccan mint tea. Our server placed a small Moroccan decorative glass next to me and began pouring the hot and slightly sweet minty liquid. Then he raised the silver pot higher and higher as a steady stream filled the glass to the rim.
The Little Door offers a late-night menu for those who would like lighter fare after the theatre. It’s served Sun. through Thurs. at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fri. and Sat. evenings. Some of the enticing items on the menu include a cheese plate with toasted walnut bread, chilled peach gazpacho, and poached lobster with Valencia orange and avocado.
Next time you want to get a creative cocktail with friends or a loved one, walk through the Little Door for a drink and stay for the tantalizing dishes. The Little Door is unlocked at 6 p.m. daily. $$-$$$ – 8164 W. Third St. (323)951-1210.