Entering Dominique’s Kitchen on a cool winter night, you are immediately surrounded by warmth. Not just the heat from the oven, but the smell of butter and garlic, the inviting banquettes filled with cozy throw pillows and most of all, the welcoming smile of hostess and co-owner, Liza.
Dominique’s location will be recognized by longtime residents as the former site of Le Beaujolais, which was started by Andre Martin and Andre Moreau of Rive Gauche in Palos Verdes. Since that dark and elegant bastion of French cuisine closed down, a number of restaurants have come and gone.
The South Bay was once the domain of surfers and tourists. The only restaurants to be found were early morning breakfast spots, Mexican restaurants and “surf and turf” on the pier. The one exception was a host of venerable French restaurants that dotted South Redondo and Palos Verdes. In addition to Le Beaujolais, there was Chalet du France, Le Monaco (known for complimentary limo service) and the surviving Rive Gauche, now owned by the former sommelier. When local favorite Aimee’s recently closed on PCH, it left a hole in our hearts. Dominique’s has stepped in to fill that void, even bringing back Robert (Roh-bare), our favorite classic French waiter.
The service is spot-on. If you are lucky, you will be seated at one of Robert’s tables, and if you are a flirtatious and likeable female you may even be treated to “French service” (I’ll let you be surprised). The younger staff have various levels of experience, and any awkwardness is harmless enough to be adorable.
Chef Dominique Theval was trained in France and went on to cook in such exotic locales as Bermuda and Cambodia, ending with a short stint at our very own Taix. In spite of his world traveling, you won’t find fusion cuisine at Dominique’s. It is pure French, from the onion soup to the escargot. Well, there is a spicy lamb sausage with quinoa and mint, and something resembling Spanish baccala, but let’s not split hairs.
The menu is a cheese lover’s dream, with starters including a cheese plate, goat cheese with honey & toasted almonds, a rich caramelized onion soup with two cheeses, and
buttery baked brie with arugula, pecans, cranberries and a champagne vinaigrette that is practically a salad. We also enjoyed a two-cheese macaroni gratin, a perfect choice for kids in your party. If you want to go all-out there is also a fondue.
Between the pan-seared sole filet and the scallops in a lobster reduction, I would recommend the sole. The crispy edges and flaky meat dipped in an intense lemon butter sauce that lingers in my memory. The skin on the roasted chicken shattered between the teeth while the meat stayed plump and juicy. The seasoning of herbes de Provence and sea salt hit exactly the right note.
If you are looking for a hearty plate of red meat and lots of it, you will not be disappointed. The generous serving of lamb chops accompanied by a creamy polenta, and farmers market vegetables was cooked just to the correct doneness, and managed to retain lamb’s unmistakable flavor while avoiding any hint of gaminess. Dominiques’ signature dish is probably the “Slow braised beef short ribs with pinot noir, tomato, onion, garlic, vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes.” It is perfectly obvious why this dish comes flying out of the kitchen. The fork-tender beef rests in a dark, rich broth that transports you right to your mother’s kitchen.
If the short ribs transport you back home, the desserts transport you in to the days of Wallis Simpson, or perhaps Jackie Kennedy. As a neighboring diner asked, “Who makes Baked Alaska anymore? Although the truly anachronistic delight had to be the Floating Islands, featherlight meringue in a pool of creme anglaise. The favorite dessert of the table though, was the chocolate mousse, which we were unable to pry away from a certain someone (you know who you are).
I have yet to sample the escargot, smoked trout rilletes or ribeye steak, but I know that I will. I expect to return to Dominique’s Kitchen again and again.
Dominique’s also hosts special prix fixe dinners, like their recent winemaker’s dinner and cassoulet dinner. They are cooking up something special for Valentine’s day, so make your reservations before it’s too late.
Greg Thompson contributed to this article