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My mother and older sister are two special ladies in my life and they deserve to be treated to a night out every night. Unfortunately, I do not have the capital to accompany them to the best, all the time. At least one time a year I can summon the funds to take the pair out for a special evening. There is always a little planning on my part, finding a beautiful environment, an interesting menu—nothing too intricate (no Bazaar)—and a more discerning wine list (I have to flex my knowledge too). This time I hit a homerun.

I booked my reservation through opentable—man, I am thankful for that app—at Tavern earlier in the day and we were on our way to Brentwood, traveling north on the 405 while listening to the mood-mellowing tones of Sea Wolf’s Winter’s Heir. We made it with little traffic but I was on autopilot while exiting. I took the Wilshire exit east heading toward UCLA instead of Tavern. We tried our damndest to turn the car around swiftly but traffic can be persnickety. My little detour through my college cost us valuable dining time.

We were late for the reservation but were treated amicably when we arrived; escorted to our seats promptly where we were presented the menus while the wine list was placed awkwardly far from us like a reticent love note on a one-piece elementary school desk. I looked over the items, similarly listed, as they are in Brentwood Tavern’s sister eatery, Lucques. I told my sister that they had great drinks in addition to a nice wine list and when she was ready with her entrée she gave the drink menu a measured glance and decided on Alex’s Lemon Drop. I ordered a glass of the Warrior (#229)—a Washington state red wine—and my mom was in the mood for bubbles and I selected a glass of Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Traditional Brut. Between the three of us we ordered: crispy pork belly, braised beef daube and grilled lamb and to begin we had Serrano Jamon over grilled aspargus.

We discussed the other times I had taken my mom and sister out, and surprisingly it had made a lasting impression on my sister; she was able to recount with great detail each meal prior and where we went. We compared the setting of Tavern to the other places—I was trying to do reconnaissance for next year’s outing as well, by drawing her out—where we had been. Noticing the traces of nature (Ficus trees?) weaved into the borderline formal dining space, with soft green loveseats, mirrors and solid tables to round out a chic restaurant—Tavern compared well, if not better, to the other restaurants of years’ past in style even without receiving our orders.

The jamon was brought to the table moments after ordering, lightly dressed with crème fraiche and a seeded mustard combination all atop the grilled asparagus. The smokey profile of the asparagus lent itself to the fuller profile in the Serrano ham. It was one of my favorite experiences with cured meats. The sharpness from the mustard just added another sensation in the mouth that married the lively flavors.

Shortly after it was time for dinner, the three plates touched down, each showing a fanciful presentation. My mother had the braised beef daube with confit tomatoes, carrot puree and tapenade. I had the crispy pork belly with kumquat peanut salsa and Asian greens that was sticky and tender. Again all the parts of my tongue had been satisfied simultaneously, enjoying the riveting sensations and textures of the meal. My sister was timidly eating the grilled lamb, which my mother emphatically stated was the best of our three courses. The saffron cous cous was soaked with the rich meaty runoff; the apricots and turnips lent a sweet and savory combo to complete the meal’s tour de force.

I was happy with my meal but my glass of Warrior seemed to lose its mojo with the critus from the kumquat salsa. I had wanted to go with a Riesling but was told to go with a bigger red—it was a gamble—and I deferred to house-knowledge (as is my accommodating nature). The Warrior offered a moderate bouquet of darker berries, spice and cigar box—it was not really too complex. A Bordeaux blend from Washington State that was full-bodied, spicy and easy to drink; it probably would have paired marvelously with a beef dish rather than my zesty pork belly.

On to dessert and the customary dry cappuccino for my mother while my sister refused any more beverage. She was comfortable and did not want to press it. As well as being unassertive (those who know me might argue that?) I am also Pickwickian and wanted to end with some hot chocolate. We had ordered warm churritos and marcona almond nougat. They were not quite the same as the ones we fell in love with at Lucques but they were good.

My sister told me of her evolutionary cycle since I’d started this custom of taking out the two most important ladies in my life three years ago, and that was that she’d begun really nervous about the whole process. The second year she harbored mixed emotions, feeling intimidated by formal dining but enjoying the past year’s food immensely. The most current trip she revealed that she looked forward to it, completely overcoming any worries about eating out in the swanky LA environs and just enjoying family and great food. Her revelations made me so happy to hear how she has grown to really love the experiences because food, wine and family are what I live for.  No need to top this, just keep it going.

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