A surprising cross-section of Springs residents is popularizing Sunday evenings at The Blue Star. Gourmands and grape nuts, CC kids, hipsters, chefs and girl's-night-outers all crowd into Joseph Coleman's chic South Tejon space for cocktails, Chef James Davis' fantastic food and a genuinely singular dining experience.
Coleman has found a gem in Chef Davis, who manages to marry gorgeous product with an exacting eye for detail. We stuck to the bar menu, which changes biweekly. (The dining room menu changes seasonally and is also available in the bar area.) We started with the Thai chili orange calamari ($7.95), which is piquant, sweet and outright fantastic; and the "mojo" pork skewers ($6.95), a Caribbean-influenced dish with yams, sugar cane, and a mango and black bean relish.
I followed with the highly recommended pork schnitzel ($12.95) in mushroom gravy with haricots verts and leek mashed potatoes. Dining pals sampled butternut squash pot stickers ($10.95) with a bright shiitake, snap pea and red pepper stir-fry and dark mushroom consomm. The cheddar crab cakes ($15.95) are sinfully cheesy and nicely textured, served with to-die-for roasted golden beets. I later mauled an utterly beautiful and sweet Asian-infused flatiron steak, served over soba noodles with spicy Japanese mayonnaise ($16.95).
Bottles from the restaurant's long and lovingly constructed wine list are half-price on Sundays, which is a considerable thrill to a burgeoning yet impoverished oenophile like myself. Beginning each trip with a sparkler to celebrate the fact that we'd remembered to tape Arrested Development, we started with a classically rendered non-vintage Veuve Clicquot ($80). This brut champagne is driven by an oddball grape selection, like Montagne Pinot and Bouzy, which produces a full, yeasty and perfectly structured sparkler with notes of wheat and pomme fruit. The 1997 Pacific Echo Brut-Ros ($45) from Mendocino is fairly soft, dry and fizzy with strawberry and mushroom elements. Finally, we sampled a Prosecco by Nino Franco ($36). Opting for a drier, more champagne-like selection -- Proseccos can range in style from still to frizzante (slightly fizzy) to spumante (fizzier) with stops at sweet, demi-sec, brut and everywhere in between -- We weren't disappointed with our somewhat flinty, flirty choice. It wasn't transcendent, but shouldn't be -- it's Prosecco, after all.
Our foray into whites included New Zealand's most famous Sauvignon Blanc, Cloudy Bay. I won't often pay $60 for a bottle of white, but Cloudy Bay is deserving; packed with socked-in-the-gut acids, minerals and grass, it's got a touch of that elusive and wonderful litterbox element the French call pipi du chat. This is what non-French Sauvignons should aspire to.
The Blue Star's reds are comprehensive and sometimes esoteric -- classics rubbing New World weirdos. We started here with a recommended Oregon Pinot, the 2001 Domaine Serene Yanhill ($85), which doles out everything an Oregon wine should: fungus, dark fruit and quixotic Pinot charm. With less alcohol, this could have been a brilliant wine. Next we tried a tectonic red from Spain's Priorat region, the 2000 Fra Fulco ($120). This 100 percent Carignan is a brambly, spicy, hot-weather monster with loads of black pepper and eye-blackening tannins. Similarly blockbuster is the 2002 Turley Zinfandel "Juvenile" ($90). Produced by legendary winemakers Helen and Larry Turley, this is a rare, highly allotted Napa wine that entirely lives up to its cult status. Freshly uncorked, it's so tight as to be undrinkable, but 20 minutes or so allows a massive, gorgeously balanced wine to emerge. Imagine sipping a continent made from chocolate and leather and dirt, and you get the idea: huge, super-extracted fruit and tannin followed by a long, long finish. "Ohhhh, my God," is what I think I said.
For dessert, we went first for Sauternes. Although our waitress failed to be motivated by a hefty five-dollar bribe to "accidentally" bring us the $300 d'Yquem, we enjoyed a less-eminent treat. A botrytised Smillon and Sauvignon blend, the 2000 Chateau Grillon ($35) is crme brle in a glass, an almond- and caramel-redolent, viscous delight. The Royal Tokaji ($60), a rose-colored Hungarian aperitif of noble rot-affected Furmint and Hrslevel grapes, is also enjoyable.
Grape nerdiness aside, my mistake here is that I've allowed the wine at The Blue Star to overshadow the food.
Our last trip saw a change in the menu, which we eagerly attacked. Highlights from the sadly schnitzel-less new menu include the tuna carpaccio appetizer ($8.95), a lightly gingered, raw ahi plated with sesame crackers and wasabi crme frache. I chose a plum barbecued pork loin with sweet potato fries and a Napa cabbage coleslaw ($12.95) as my entree. Slightly sweet and surprisingly spicy, this was a favorite at our table.
Having undergone some ups and downs in recent years, The Blue Star has truly arrived. Their terrific servers are knowledgeable, hip and wonderfully competent, and they attest to Coleman's deserved reputation for fastidiousness. And the Sunday congregation of food and wine geeks makes The Blue Star among the best dining experiences the Springs has to offer.
-- Aaron Retka
The Blue Star
1645 S. Tejon St.
Call 632-1086 for info.
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