Richard Foss

Tin Roof Bistro [RESTAURANT REVIEW]

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Manny Garcia takes the Tin Roof Bistro lunch hour rush in stride. Photo by Kevin Cody

Strictly speaking, the Tin Roof Bistro doesn’t have a tin roof. A tin ceiling, yes – decorative plates of stamped tin were a popular material in the American West, and many a saloon took pride in ornate geometric tiles. The Tin Roof Bistro does boast a nice tin ceiling; it’s just that you can’t actually see it from outside the building.

I mention this fact since some people looking for this place drive right by because they’re looking for something resembling a corrugated iron shack on steroids. This would be impractical for a number of reasons, starting with the din that would occur any time it rained. Corrugated buildings also get quite hot in full sun, as I discovered when I leaned against a wall at a sheep station in Australia. The burn healed fairly quickly, but the lesson stayed with me.

The location at the edge of  the Manhattan Village Shopping Center is quite a bit more upscale than a sheep station but a bit anonymous – from outside it looks like an office building that has been redesigned, which it is. The interior has much more character, that tin ceiling and a bright color of hanging lamps creating an atmosphere part old west, part Napa style spot. The design is polarizing – I like it a lot, but I have heard complaints that it’s visually hectic.

The menu is contemporary but not uber-trendy – you can get a wood-fired pizza or a good steak, make a meal of appetizers, or go a bit edgy with an Asian-Caribbean fusion dish. In several visits I’ve done all three, and found that a kitchen that started out interesting has only gotten more so.

We began a recent dinner with fried calamari over green beans tossed in spicy Asian sweet and sour sauce, a combination I thought sounded just a bit bizarre. From the menu description we had thought the green beans had been fried along with the calamari, but they had been lightly steamed and tossed with the sauce with the calamari on top. It was actually a good idea – I’ve had calamari served over salad before, and this was like a hot salad, vegetable flavors and spice alternating with crisp mild seafood. It was an eccentric idea that worked, a starter that made us respect the kitchen.

We continued with a duck confit, shallot, and fresh fig pizza, another very unusual combination of flavors that played well together. Figs aren’t in season for long, but if you like them you should head to Tin Roof while this is still on the menu – the light sweetness was perfect as a foil to the rich duck, with the subtle sharpness of shallot and a breath of thyme and rosemary as a background. The crust was thin but still had the chewiness of a good, handmade bread dough, and the flavors remained interesting enough that we could have easily had this for a main course. Since we had entrees coming we stopped when it was half finished, and I devoured it happily the next day. I have had other good pizzas here too, including the “Plain Jane” that is a traditional pizza with a hint of chili kick to accompany the tomato and basil, and I can only admire the skill of the people who are working that oven.

We had started out determined to try the nightly special of beer and apple braised pork belly, which sounded like a fine set of fall flavors, but we were informed that they were already out. We settled instead on halibut with braised baby artichokes, olives, and sundried tomatoes, a classic Provencal combination, and short ribs braised in wine with polenta. Both were classic comfort food served with style, and both portions were impressively large. The fish was served over mashed potatoes with a lemon butter sauce, and was rich with the slight pickled flavor of olives to counterpoint the tartness of lemon. The artichokes were a bit chewy – this can happen late in the season – but the flavors were spot-on.

The braised short ribs had a deep flavor that I think of as dark, a bit smoky with a hint of sweetness and layers of meat stock. They were as fork-tender as the best pot roast, representative of the kind of slow cooking that people used to do at home but now lack the patience for. It’s good to have slow-braise cooking in a stir-fry world sometimes to be reminded of what we’re missing, and we were happy we had ordered it.

Tin Roof Bistro has a very good wine and beer list, and I asked our server to bring me a glass of whatever would go wonderfully with the short ribs. She responded with a glass of the T. Solomon Pinot Noir, which was priced on the high side at $13 a glass but was indeed a fantastic counterpart to the food. My companion had requested a beer to match, and was served a North Coast Old Stock ale, which he found every bit as delightful.

For dessert I had a strawberry cheesecake that was delicious and not over-sweet, layers of graham cracker and apricot jelly creating a subtle and interesting dish. My companion selected a chocolate mousse with whipped cream and peanut brittle topping, which sounded like it would be heavy but wasn’t. The desserts here have been excellent, so if you go there, save room; the blueberry-ginger pie is particularly luscious.

A lavish dinner for two, with two glasses of premium wine and two beers, ran $128 – a bit above average for the area, but this food was worth it. Tin Roof Bistro is something a bit special in a mall location, a place that is worthy of respect for both their ideas and execution.

Tin Roof Bistro is at 3500 North Sepulveda, at the northwest end of the Manhattan Village Shopping Center. Open daily for lunch and dinner, parking lot, corkage fee $10. Wheelchair access good, children welcome, some vegetarian/vegan items. Reservations accepted – call (310) 939-0900. ER

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