Côté Est Bistro & Bar – Highland Park, CA
Visited: July & August 2018
Being the consummate hipsters that we are, Tracy and I headed toward yet another Los Angeles “hipster heaven” a couple of times in recent months. For better or worse (certainly better if you like to eat), the gentrification of Highland Park has been taking place over the past decade, and we wanted to scope out a French bistro receiving a great deal of attention. So, on a sweltering July evening (the temp that day had logged in at a whopping 112), we (along with friend Susan) hopped in the car for the short ride to Côté Est.
From what I’ve read, Côté Est is operated by restaurateurs Claudio Blotta and his wife Adria. Their other area restaurants include Barbrix (a restaurant I visited years ago and gave a rave review) in Silver Lake; Market Provisions in Los Angeles; and All’Acqua in Atwater Village (a really good Italian restaurant where we’ve dined twice recently). I hope to visit all by the end of the year (I better start exercising more).
Côté Est is situated on very busy York Blvd., so parking can be a bit of a challenge. If you’re lucky, you can snag some free street parking, and there is a paid lot ($5) on the street behind the restaurant with limited spaces. Located a couple of blocks away in the Post Office lot, you can find valet parking.
We walked inside to the spacious interior with exposed brick walls, a large bar, shelves full of wine and an open kitchen. The space exuded cool, but the temperature outside could still fry an egg, and sadly on this evening it seemed the restaurant’s air conditioning was on the fritz.
That would be our only disappointment (and just a minor one), and truthfully the weather had been so stifling hot that week even air conditioning couldn’t keep up with the oppressive heat outside.
They do have an outdoor patio, but outside was not good for any living being during this particular week in Southern California. One brave party of four braved the elements and were hopefully not French fried.
We were seated near the back of the beautiful dining area, and it was time to go to work on their not overly extensive, but very inviting, menu.
Although it sounds like a Netflix program, the Fall Of The Poppies actually is a cocktail that includes Elijah Craig Bourbon (who could be the star of the aforementioned flick), Becherovka, Greenbar Grand Poppy Bitter Amaro and Lime ($14). (Since Google is my best friend, when I returned home I learned from seldom right, but never in doubt, Wikipedia that Becherovka is an herbal bitter often drunk as a digestive aid that is produced in Karlovy Cary, Czech Republic.) Use that at your next dinner party to impress friends. Tracy ordered a glass of vin rouge.
To start off the food portion of our evening, we shared the baguette provided by Clark Street Bakery with Bordier butter and fleur de sel ($5). I don’t know much about Bordier butter (Ok, I know nothing about it except it’s French butter), but it was so good I could have eaten baguettes with Bordier until the cows come home, preferably to supply more butter.
Somehow, we left enough room for appetizers, entrées and even a dessert to share. Susan started off with the special salad of melon, prosciutto and burrata. Since I am a prosciutto e melone (aka jambon et melon) freak, Susan let me try her dish. Fantastique!
She and I each ordered the Pork Chop; herbes de provence, potato aligot topped with mustard greens and bacon vinaigrette ($24). We gave it four thumbs up.
Another favorite dish of mine is escargot. I very much enjoyed my Burgundy escargot; herb garlic butter, parmesan and breadcrumbs ($16). I scooped up some of that garlic butter concoction with the rest of my baguette.
When Tracy sees beets on the menu, they beat anything else. For her appetizer, she ordered the Beets & Bleu salad; roasted baby beets, almonds, frisée salad, balsamic vinegar and St. Agur blue cheese ($14).
Her Chicken paillard; corn summer squash, apricots, oven dried tomato and tarragon vinaigrette ($20), main dish was awarded the coveted “Wow!”
It was a tough call, but we decided on the Braeburn apple galette with vanilla ice cream ($11) for dessert. Susan and I liked it better than Tracy, but that just meant I got more. Actually, I think I called it “the apple of my eye.”
The service was fantastic, the food very good and the restaurant very enjoyable, even with the heat outside melting people as they walked down York Blvd. We vowed to return soon.
In August, we kept that promise when friends Jeff and Cecilia visited from Phoenix. Since they are from Phoenix, which is hotter than anywhere except the face of the Sun, we dined al fresco (even though the air conditioning was working perfectly) on the charming Côté Est patio on a very pleasant Friday evening. As usual, the service was terrific.
Because it seems we are always famished when we arrive at a restaurant, we started with out-of-this-world pommes frites ($7) for the table. I also ordered my new favorite … Fall Of The Poppies.
Tracy immersed herself in a Summer Crab salad; cucumber, avocado, sugar snap peas, mustard seed, garlic aioli, tarragon, radish and grilled country bread ($18) for her appetizer and finished with the pork chop.
Cecilia opted for the Butter lettuce salad; soft herbs and Dijon vinaigrette ($10) to start. Then she got her tentacles on the delicious Octopus; eggplant “caviar” and French cucumber salad ($19). As we sat among the plants, Jeff and I started humming Octopus’s Garden. Our 48-year friendship can make for odd moments like that (and could be the reason we seem to dress alike now).
Susan started with the Summer Watermelon Salad; Sun Gold tomatoes, shaved red onion, French feta, basil and mint ($13). Her (and Jeff’s) main course was the Loup de mer; lemon beurre blanc, brussels sprouts, tatsoi and toblko ($27). I had always been under the impression that Loup de mer was a Claude Debussy composition, but I often confuse fish with classical music (must be the bass), which is why I tend to flounder at times.
I had read some mixed reviews of the Côté Est Steak frites; NY strip steak, au poivre sauce, fries and Espelette aioli ($32). I ordered it medium rare and it was cooked to perfection and had a nice taste to it. It also meant I got the pommes frites all to myself this time.
Yes, dessert raised its caloric head once again. We all shared some great Profiteroles with salted caramel ice cream, warm chocolate sauce and toasted almonds ($12). Tracy and I are not the biggest Profiterole fans, but these were quite tasty. You can never go wrong with Chocolate pot de crème with cinnamon shortbread cookie ($11), and it quickly disappeared.
We had brought a couple of bottles of wine, and the corkage at Côté Est is $25.
Côté Est offers some good specials throughout the week. On Monday nights, they have an “All-Night Happy Hour” (well, until they close). On Tuesday nights you can try the prix fix $18 dinner menu and selected $18 bottles of wine. Their brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday includes $5 bottles of selected red, white or rosé.
Our hipster excursions to Highland Park were definitely worth the effort. In addition to visiting the other restaurants I mentioned earlier, I have a pretty good feeling we’ll return in the not-so-distant future to try out the Prix-fixe dinner at Côté Est. Très bon!
Mai Tai Tom Rating – 4.5 mai tais (out of 5)
Côté Est Bistro & Bar
5022 York Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90042
Sunday – Thursday: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. (Friday/Saturday to 11 p.m.)
Saturday/Sunday: 10 a.m. 3 p.m.
Parking (see story)