Sometimes you don’t get to pick your restaurant; sometimes, it picks you.
I hadn’t intended on a Sunday supper in Venice, but late in the week I was happy to receive an invitation to a birthday dinner for one of my dearest friends. Wonderful as it was to have a bit of a getaway from the LBC to look forward to, the chance to try out a new restaurant was the real thrill. Right away, I googled the name, familiar to me for some reason – Willie Jane. Quickly I learned that it was another restaurant of Post & Beam‘s Govind Armstrong (I’m quite the fan), a freshly touted location serving what my birthday pal referred to as hipster soul food. Just before heading out that evening, I flipped through my restaurant notebook to add this spot when I noticed it was already in my book – starred!; and I couldn’t help but wonder how I could have forgotten about it. Perhaps Willie Jane knew I was coming. Maybe Willie Jane picked me.
If I didn’t think I’d maim some flip-flopped pedestrian as I drove, I would’ve spent more time taking in in the bustle that is Venice’s Abbot Kinney Blvd. It’s a happening piece of street busy with beach goers, boutique shoppers, pressed juice drinkers, and satiated diners. It has presence. When Willie Jane finds me again, I’ll arrive early to check out its neighbors and to people watch; to purchase a plant from the garden next door, a place that adds life and delight to WJ’s lovely patio. The entire area is primed for savoring.
Once there, I caught up with both old friends and new acquaintances, then settled in behind my plate, studying the menu in distress, stuck between a few choices. Thankfully, someone ordered a couple plates of sumptuous appetizers, including a crusty sourdough bread that I lathered with pimento cheese – why haven’t I been eating pimento cheese all my life? And it was here and then that I enjoyed likely the moistest, tastiest, most excellent cornbread ever whipped together. Really, it couldn’t help but be great with all the butter I painted on the first, then another slice. There would have been a third piece eaten but I was too slow. I might have cried about this but then the birthday girl arrived!
With the merriment of the night, I was a little off my game, not taking a quick pic of the drink menu so I don’t recall the name of the cocktail I ordered once, then ordered again after sucking down the first one so easily. But you could taste the freshness of it; its sweet and herby simplicity, which made sense with Willie Jane harvesting produce from its own garden, the scratch-made culture of the place evident with even a cocktail. You can imagine how psyched I was becoming about my dinner plate.
The catfish ended up being my choice, a popular one among the table. Same with the macaroni and cheese side, but how could I go to a “hipster soul” Govind Armstrong place and not get the mac & cheese? And so glad am I that I did – rich, gooey, and breadcrumb topped, just how I like it. After finishing mine, I had to stop myself from taking a spoon to the plate of a dinner mate who stopped short on her macaroni, saying she was full, had to save room for dessert. If I knew her a little better, I would’ve gone for it.
The fish was pretty amazing too – breaded and softly fried, the fish buttery and moist. I’m only 80% sure that what rested underneath the fish was a polenta, but 0% remained once I got through. Yes, this was a no doggy-bag required night.
The night ended sweetly with a few bites of a brownie sundae with caramel and peanut butter-filled chocolate balls, both elegant and decadent. Those at the table who’d gone with the prix fixe meal were lucky enough to be served WJ’s peach cobbler. I’m no cobbler girl, but I couldn’t help but sample someone’s crust, and just that made me want to get up a clap. So glad that everyone was in a sharing mood.
Birthdays come and go, and as long as we keep living, all of us get to spend one every so often. But how wonderful is it to celebrate those we care about, tell them we love them, remember good times, and laugh about the silly gifts we decide to give them. And even more wonderful, to break bread with them, especially when that (crusty sourdough) bread comes from one of Govind Armstrong’s kitchens.
Happy birthday, A!
1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, CA