Twenty minutes after collapsing into the booth, all jangled nerves and exhaustion after an overloaded day, our dinner companion surveys the scene with a beatific smile. He's a poster boy for the transformative power of a good meal — and this one's just beginning. He fingers the thin stem of the glass holding a fine Pinot Grigio, takes another nibble of the delicate panko-crusted Dungeness crab cakes we've ordered to share, considers the very reasonable prices on the menu before him, thinks of how short his drive home will be — and smiles again.
"I feel so much better," he says. Out Take Bistro has once again worked a midweek miracle.
This prettiness is the final stitch in a cocoon of comfort that wraps itself around diners at Out Take. It's a great place for frequent eaters-out who don't have the patience for inappropriately high prices or obsequious waiters but who expect certain hallmarks of civilization — and a bit of élan — in their restaurants.
It's a place to come on a Thursday and order the same vermouth aperitif and potato vareniki appetizer that you ordered the last two times. Why not? Out Take's version of the mildly flavorful Ukrainian dumplings is exemplary, buttery whispers of pasta tucked around a light but satisfying potato filling, dressed with a marmalade of caramelized onions, a dollop of crème fraîche and long, pungent blades of chives.
But Out Take's not just about everyday renewal dining.
If you want to show friends a pleasant evening but don't want to make anyone uncomfortable with the too-muchness you sometimes have to put up with to get quality, bring them to Out Take. The tender $20 New York steak has a nice char and a piquant green peppercorn sauce, a halibut special entrée one night features a deliciously sweet piece of fish, and the produce is excellent and skillfully selected for color, seasonality and flavor. Though all entrées come with the same side of steamed vegetables, they're each also accompanied by another more imaginative side, roasted Savoy cabbage, for example, or celery purée or porcini mushroom risotto. A house salad is just $1 with an entrée. Gotta have your Caesar? It's here, and it's classic.
Stars of the show
Certain dishes are standouts. Won ton soup isn't the expected bowl of chicken broth and bland pasta. Here it's an amazing palate-awakener, with a complex lemon grass-ginger broth, vegetable dumplings, cabbage, mushrooms and crunchy fresh bean sprouts.
Spinach salad and mushroom dumpling is a layered creation that incorporates tender spinach, crisp Belgian endive, smoothly herbaceous eggplant-tomato relish and delicious warm mushroom ravioli-like pot stickers. It's like getting three of your favorite dishes in one bowl. Buckwheat noodles with sea scallops and a tangle of wild mushrooms are delicious in a soy-based reduction.
Pastas are generally good. The pumpkin ravioli aren't too sweet; a fettuccine special with asparagus and Atlantic salmon, though rich and unctuous, allows the flavor of the asparagus to really shine through.
Sandwiches made with grilled ciabatta are savory, not soggy, even when taken out. The combinations are happy ones: olive tapenade and arugula sharpen up the roasted veggie sandwich; watercress and lemon-caper mayonnaise likewise bring a welcome herb and citrus note to roasted chicken. The rib-eye steak sandwich with roasted mushrooms is dressed with lettuce and tomato and feta-garlic mayonnaise and comes with sides of jicama-cucumber and mixed greens.
Regulars are plentiful and, to keep them entertained, so are the specials, which are sometimes the envy of the table (as was the above-mentioned fettuccine one night) and sometimes just so-so (as was a misguided "scampi" salad that was too heavy on the nicely dressed cranberry beans and too light on the seafood). There's also a full complement of comfort food, including roasted chicken and simple fish dishes.
Desserts are serviceable — the respectable crème brûlée, a straight-ahead flourless chocolate cake, a changing array of sorbets — but they don't seem to command the kitchen's attention. The coffee's mellow, though, and the wine list includes a few Ports and dessert wines.
Service from the highly professional waiters and runners is generally so good that it's frustratingly apparent when, once in a while, you're dissed — ignored for too long in favor of a story-fest with a regular customer or discouraged from ordering decaf after dinner when it's close to closing time (the crew wants to go home rather than make a fresh pot). When the staff is on, which is most of the time, you are in genuinely competent hands.
Out Take Bistro is comfortable, it's true, and it's great for regulars, but it's not a place that trades on nostalgia or lets itself settle into an old-shoe mentality. Instead, like the many studio workers who patronize the place, it prides itself on hitting the mark creatively, time and time again.
Out Take Bistro
Location: 11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 769-0822.
Price: Appetizers and salads, $6 to $16; pastas, $7 to $16; entrées, $16 to $20.
Best dishes: Potato vareniki, won ton soup, spinach salad and mushroom dumpling, buckwheat pasta and sea scallops, pumpkin ravioli.
Details: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Street parking and parking in rear. All major credit cards. Beer and wine. Corkage, $7.50.
An old friend in new digs
Out Take Bistro, a polished favorite in Studio City, keeps the faith even as it changes its address.
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