It's All About The Benjamin Bailly

Cliff's Edge Silver Lake Feb '12
eat: Chickpea Fritters, Green Beans, Burrata, Skate Wing, Taleggio Risotto, Ricotta

Looks get you far in this town. Restaurants, like actresses, sometimes rely on sheer beauty alone, hoping that a pretty place will detract from a mediocre plate. Such was the case at Cliff's Edge, a Silver Lake haunt known for it's gorgeous, outdoor patio, instead of the menu. Under the canopy of twinkling lights and an ancient tree (whose bountiful, sweeping branches remind me of The Swiss Family Robinson), diners escaped busy Sunset Blvd. for a hidden, romantic garden. Since opening in 2004, the patio continued to defy its age--like many Angelenos--yet the food had lost its luster. That is, until Chef Benjamin Bailly arrived.

Thanks to Chef Bailly, a young Frenchman with James-Beard-nominated skills, the menu is abloom with local produce and seasonal goodness. Using a bounty of Mediterranean ingredients--pine nuts, capers, cumin --he creates fresh takes on classic dishes. In an unappealing space, the food would still be good. In Cliff's Edge's magical garden, it's phenomenal. At a recent celebration for my vegetarian friend, Bianca's, birthday, it was the perfect menu for our non-meat feast (as shown in our smiling faces).

Chickpea Fritters add some fried naughty to the nutrition of garbanzo beans. Dunked in a delectable lemon aioli, these golden-brown sticks render French fries irrelevant.

Burrata is brightened by grilled persimmon, sprigs of watercress, and a ruby-red Pomegranate vinaigrette, seeds included. While I'm normally not a fan of persimmons, here, they are more caramelized than sweet, the same way yams are yummier when roasted, not whipped with marshmallows.

In the risotto, the Taleggio gives good funk to the creamy dish made hearty by sautéed mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, and earthy Tuscan Kale

A crowd favorite, the charred green beans are tossed with pine nuts, raisins, curry, and feta, creating a warm salad of international flavor.

Bailly wouldn't be French without foam. Beneath these brown-butter bubbles lies a succulent skate wing, toasted pine nuts, capers, and sunchokes. Yum!

The whipped ricotta with honey, lavender, and olive oil is luscious and dainty, but I'd prefer this sweetness as dessert rather than mid-meal. Due to the aromatic lavender, our group was split. Some raved about the fragrant herb, while others felt it belonged in our bubble baths.

Chef Benjamin was at the host stand as we left, so we got to sing our praises to him in person. He's a handsome fellow, but it's not his looks that cooked up such delectable fare. It's the whole package--from the setting to the sharing amongst friends--that made our meal memorable.