I have been to The Tasting Kitchen in Venice twice before, but my most recent visit was the first time I had the chance to document the meal. Third time's a charm!
The restaurant is located on Abbot Kinney, the bustling shopping / dining street in the neighborhood.
When you enter, the very first thing you notice is the two olive trees growing right in the center of the dining room.
We had a reservation, and the hostess walked us right over to a table bathed in natural light from the colossal front windows.
As we began to peruse the menu, our server came over to introduce herself and share a bit about the chef's specialties. Both of the previous times I had been, I was there with co-workers and we ordered a la carte. On this particular evening, our server was encouraging us to try the tasting menu (it is called The Tasting Kitchen, after all).
We hesitated, because between the two of us we have quite a few food restrictions. She could sense our anxiety and quipped, "This is LA. I am sure whatever you think is 'difficult' is nothing compared to some of the things I've been asked." Her comment put us both at ease. We let her know I am a vegetarian, and my bestie is a pescatarian, but also gluten-free. She scribbled down the details, looked up, and said with confidence, "I am positive the chef can do this!"
While we waited for the mystery menu to be revealed, we ordered drinks. A cucumber-mint soda for my dinner date and a glass of rosé for me.
She described the house made soda as "super refreshing," and I found the rosé from Provence to be an ideal balance of crisp and fruity.
Much to our surprise (and delight!) we were delivered an amuse-bouche from the chef. They were teeny tiny cups of tomato gazpacho with fennel and sesame seeds.
After the first sip, my friend declared, "I could eat an entire full-size mug of that!"
Moments later, the dishes for our first course arrived. We had selected the three course option (there's a five course option as well). We weren't quite sure how many plates came in each round, but were excited to discover we'd be sampling three appetizers to start.
The first dish was a piping hot bowl of mussels in a tomato broth. There were so many plates on the table, we almost didn't have room for the discard bowl for all the shells!
As she plucked the mussels from their signature blue shells, she raved, "These are delicious and so fresh!"
I benefited from the two enormous pieces of garlic bread that came on the side (meant for soaking up the tomato broth).
The second dish was an unexpected combination of blistered shisito peppers (in the most brilliant, bright colors), peaches, avocado and finely chopped nuts.
We both couldn't stop eating this, and for me, it was my favorite dish of the entire night.
The third starter was lentils with broccolini. I'm not usually a huge lentil person, but I decided to give these a whirl. I took one bite and was struck by how sweet they were. The tasted like they'd been cooked in either maple syrup or brown sugar. My dinner date commented, "I really wasn't expecting to like these, but the sweetness is wonderful."
For our second course, we were each delivered a bowl of pasta. Gluten-free pasta with crab and corn for her, and spaghetti pomodoro with fresh basil for me.
As she took her first forkful, my friend clarified, "So, this isn't actually gluten-free pasta, it's rice. I wish it had been prepared more like a risotto, so it was creamier. That said, every single element was fresh and the crab was excellent."
My spaghetti was simple, but perfect. I twirled each strand with pleasure and cleaned that plate in record time.
Now, we were both positive the pasta was the second course, but it turned out those were only two of our four dishes! We both looked at each like, "Are our clothes too tight to keep going?"
The next dishes were fluke with capers and a mustard sauce, and a potpourri of vegetable sides.
My bestie described the fluke dish as, "Salty and briny in every bite." I sampled all three veggie sides, and my favorite was the lima beans (file that under "things I never thought I'd say").
The third and final course was dessert. I was praying for something chocolate, but what arrived was a peanut butter panna cotta topped with blueberries, raspberries and walnuts.
My friend dipped a spoon in and said, "You know, after having so much food, this is really light and refreshing. The flavor combination tastes like peanut butter and jelly!"
Since I wasn't into the dessert, I asked if she would mind if we stopped at Salt & Straw on the walk home for ice cream, and she happily obliged.
When our table had been cleared and the check arrived, we couldn't believe our good fortune. The chef had been so accommodating, and prepared a true feast for us. When we agreed to do the tasting menu, we had no idea how many dishes were included. We wrongfully assumed we'd have one dish per round (either to share, or one dish each) and we could not believe how generous they were with each and every course.
I cannot recommend The Tasting Kitchen enough. It's on the most fun street, dining beneath the olive trees is so special, and the food and service is exceptional.