Cynically, perhaps, I don't hold with the notion that there are undiscovered written works of genius out there, not with so many publishers and producers beating the bushes for saleable product. Similarly, with so many restaurant reviewers on the prowl and every little development a matter of note, I had pretty much given up on the idea of "discovering" a restaurant. The prospect seemed especially remote in the outreaches of North Hollywood.
And so it was both as act of faith and exercise in futility that, on the recommendation of a friend of a friend who had happened on the place by accident, I undertook the drive out on Lankershim Boulevard, past car lots and used-furniture stores, past the Palomino and into a region where the best wine in the liquor stores is Soave Bolla.
Destination: the Beaux Tie Grill, where chef/owner Jardin Kazaar, described by the friend's friend as a "cultured American black with roots in the Sudan of Africa," cooked up Cajun/Jamaican food "pleasing to the extreme."
What this leads up to, of course, is that this 5-month-old restaurant is terrific. Probably there's food just as good on Melrose, places as much fun to be in--but not at these prices. Dinner for two--two appetizers, a shared, elaborate salad, two entrees, two homemade desserts and two coffees--came to $43.82, including tax. And it was a fine meal.
It started with things deep-fried--crunchy catfish strips in a batter that had a nice, hot bite, the fish itself so fresh it melted on the tongue; crisp chicken wings served with a tangy Jamaican sauce, nicely tart, sweetened only by a reduction of fruit juices left simmering overnight and a generous grating of coconut.
Then came a refreshing salad--the Chef's Surprise, the menu calls it--tonight, besides the usual vegetables, tender strips of calamari (the most un-rubber-band-like calamari I've come across) and (strange but wonderful) little pockets of extremely garlicky sauteed mushrooms. A cool sour cream dressing with a nice edge to it was served on the side.
Now for the entrees--rich fish dishes, one a filet of that fresh, tender catfish served in a great pili sauce. It had all the flavor and heat of the three kinds of chili peppers it contained, but was cut with just the right amount of cream, so that you felt a good fire, but no need to put it out.
The other fish was halibut in a garlicky, buttery, crayfish sauce. The halibut itself was, to my taste, overcooked into toughness. True, I could have sent it back, but I didn't want to part with the tender little morsels of crayfish in the sauce, the crisp, buttery, Frenched string beans, the herbed rice, the hot, onion-filled onion roll that came with it. People at other tables were exclaiming over such dishes as charbroiled lamb chops basted in that tangy Jamaican sauce, baked salmon with jalapeno cream sauce, barbecue ribs, grilled shrimp, hot seafood salad, steak Diane and more.
But that's just the food, and food (and low prices) is only part of what makes this restaurant good. The rest is place and people--both warm. Waiting tables, dressed in an outfit at once funky and chic (black Reeboks, pink ankle socks, long pink skirt, white shirt, black bow tie) is the chef's significant other, a woman as saucy and spirited as the food she serves.
"Hi, I'm Michelle," she says, sticking out her hand to be shaken. "What's your name?"
And there is Jardin Kazaar himself, who comes bounding out of the kitchen from time to time, rubbing his hands together, saying, "Let's see who we've got here tonight," with an energy that resembles no one so much as a young Richard Dreyfuss. He greets each table, talks food with real enthusiasm and, once he's gauged your taste, may offer to concoct something not on the menu--like that catfish dish.
They want you to feel at home, and you do.
Kazaar himself designed the place with the same good taste he puts into his cooking, artfully transforming two potentially funky storefronts into a well-proportioned, pleasing space. The room you enter is completely bare--nothing but a spotless black-and-white tile floor and an easel and blackboard with that day's specials. A glimpse into the kitchen seems an intentionally homey tableau--chair drawn up to a kitchen table full of dishes left from a family meal.
The dining room itself is spare--gray walls, pink tablecloths, a single flower in each vase--and somehow restful and comfortable.
Word about the restaurant has already gotten around. The week before, says Michelle, as she serves a rich, thick peach cobbler with a cookielike crust (she makes the desserts), Smokey Robinson had been in--twice. She clutches her heart and rolls her eyes in imitation of a swoon. "I almost died," she says.
Now that the Beaux Tie Grill is officially "discovered," let's hope that it won't be ruined--that too many people will descend and diners who now feel that their tables are theirs for the night will feel rushed by the waiting hordes; that Michelle will feel rushed, or that Kazaar will feel rushed. He now takes his time preparing dinner, sometimes surprising customers with his quirky touches, like a red chili stuck jauntily into an orange-slice garnish, its stem seeming to be waving hello.
So don't everybody go there at once, OK? After all, it really is a long and tedious drive.
The Beaux Tie Grill, 7458 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 765-5965. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday; for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Beer and wine only . Visa, MasterCard, Diner's Club. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$45.