Triangular pierogi stuffed with Yukon gold potatoes, leeks and goat cheese are curiously appealing and paired with a tangle of sautéed cabbage dosed with mustard oil. Lauren gets playful with Jidori chicken, which sports a pretzel stuffing. The boned bird is cut in medallions, the better to show off that bread stuffing. Pan-seared whitefish with brown butter is a good bet too, served with Brussels sprouts dressed up in a hazelnut vinaigrette.
There are occasional misses. Sonoma duck confit tacos with dried cherry mole sounds wonderful but comes off dull on the night I try them. And the grilled-cheese sandwich made with inch-thick slices of brioche is no improvement on the classic.
Come dessert, follow the crowd and have a Ding Dong. "House-made" makes all the difference. It's rich, dark and dense with a snowy heart of cream and a coating of high-quality bittersweet chocolate. There's a lovely blood-orange meringue pie to enjoy too. A flight of mini-cupcakes is pretty good, but the frosting is as tall as the cupcake. And while whoopie pie may be a fad, if the special pumpkin version sandwiching a thick wedge of cream cheese is any example, it's not going to be around long.
The service is much more professional as well. Servers with hair pulled back like ballerinas remain unflappable in the noise and the crowd, remembering extra wineglasses, more spoons, all the details. You won't see customers waving their arms frantically hoping a waiter will notice, which is a big change from the past.
The story here may be "Top Chef" makes real food — and stays in the kitchen to do it. No Fabio Viviani theatrics going on here. Instead, it's the slow but steady transformation of a restaurant into one custom-tailored to the crowd that has made it theirs.
Rating: one-and-a-half stars
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.
Location: 822 Washington Blvd., Venice; (310) 448-8884; http://www.beechwoodrestaurant.com.
Price: Dinner appetizers, $4 to $14; main courses, $12 to $20; dessert, $5 to $6. Corkage fee, $15.
Details: Open for dinner 6 to 11 p.m. daily (patio and lounge close later); happy hour Monday to Friday 4 to 6 p.m.