I love the way my neighborhood is developing. Most weekends, The Better Half and I don’t go much farther than a block or two. We have so many choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner– and more every day– that it’s very tempting to not venture out past the immediate neighborhood. Don’t worry, I know I should, but on evenings like a recent one– tickets to the symphony– it’s so nice to not go very far for a bite after.
Senate, the third restaurant to open in that block of Vine (Venice on Vine has been there for a while; Lavomatic opened in 2008), owned by Dan and Lana Wright, set the bar for the block, even though it wasn’t “first in”. It has to be good, one; it has to be innovative; it has to be interesting. Other restaurants opening recently: A Tavola, Taste of Belgium, and most recently Bakersfield are all following the lead of Senate, so I knew that when Abigail Street opened, it would meet those standards.
I don’t want to spend a review talking about how Abigail is or isn’t like its big brother, Senate, but it’s a natural comparison. Senate is masculine, with hearty foods and hearty portions. Abigail (though larger, space-wise) is more delicate, with smaller portions and almost ladylike ingredients. No hot dogs, no burgers: instead, light, Mediterranean-style bites and wine on tap.
Speaking of the wine on tap– it’s good. They have six or seven varieties on tap. I’m no wine expert, but I like the tap concept– and it’s economical. I like the Pinot Gris that they tend to carry, but I’m on a white wine kick. You can also order flights and they have bottled wine, as well as bottled beer.
I’ve been to Abigail several times now, and have tried a good portion of the menu. It’s hard not to when it’s so close by. I’d say two dishes per person is a good number to order, with the assumption that everyone at the table will try bites of everyone else’s’ dish. Think tapas: small portions, suitable for sharing. Each dish is marked with an anchor (seafood), a carrot (vegetarian) or a cleaver (meat). Vegetarians can see at a glance what they can eat (and so can those who may not be into seafood or red meat)– smart.
I love the little bites that combine both the expected and unexpected. My favorite dish by far is the octopus ($15), cooked with crumbled merguez sausage and deep fried chick peas. It’s an unexpected dish: first, you have tender, grilled octopus (which is delicious if you’ve never tried it; I’ll admit that I did have an odd dream the next day about being attacked by a giant squid, Jules Verne style) and spicy crumbled merguez. Then, you get these little pops of fluffy, crispy fried chickpeas– it took me a second or two to realize what they were the first time I had the dish. They’re unexpected and fun, but also a play on the hummus that serves as the dish’s base. I always seem to want a few more of those chickpeas.
I also like the duck ragout and gnocchi ($15)– the duck is not overseasoned or oversauced, so the rich flavor of duck comes through, but it rests on light, flavorful pillows of gnocchi. The bouillabaisse’s ($12) broth reminds me a lot of the broth from the mussels next door (a favorite dish of mine), but with an array of seafood: shrimp, mussels, and halibut. It’s served with grilled bread to sop up that delicious broth. Vegetarians have some great options as well– the beet salad ($8) with toasted hazelnuts (again, unexpected) and a swath of lebna (a cross between cream cheese and yogurt) provides a filling dish of earthy, sweet, crunchy, tangy and creamy; the carrot salad ($10) is packed with flavor, as the carrots aren’t raw, but roasted to bring out their sweetness and topped with a dollop of goat cheese. If you’re a vegan, simply ask them to omit the cheese from these last two dishes, or check out some of the others marked with a carrot. My least favorite dish is the batata– the potatoes are good, but the toppings can make them a bit soggy, though the bright lemon, coriander and garlic flavors are fantastic.
If Abigail Street offered pans of the baklava to take home, I’d buy them (though my waistline would regret it later): this is easily the best baklava I’ve had. It’s not too sweet, not too syrupy, a little warm (so many places serve it straight out of the refrigerator) and the serving is two slices– perfect to split. We order it every time we visit.
Most evenings, there’s a wait– the longest we’ve had: an hour and a half; shortest was nearly immediate seating after the Symphony. They’ll take your number and call you, so feel free to wander over to Sloane or Mica to shop, or grab a drink at Lackman or one of the other nearby restaurants that may have more bar space. The bar space in Abigail is reserved for diners.