My father always said that you can judge the quality of a restaurant by the bread and butter that precede the meal. And up until a recent dinner at Manhattan Beach newcomer Chez Soi, I believed him.
While Chez Soi aims for upscale, it feels more like a fancy chain, outfitted with generic, sand-hued furniture within a sleek, modern strip mall. The modern California menu showcases chef Mark Gold's care in selecting seasonal ingredients, but dishes fail more than they succeed. A disastrous $18 kampachi starter included oversized cubes of fishy amberjack surrounded by lonely pieces of raw avocado and summer squash and no sauce or dressing. At $12, the poached egg, which is supposedly plated in a frothed broth of “mustard sabayon” and “toasted cauliflower,” tasted of nothing more than rich cream. The Alaskan halibut ($27) was in a word: overcooked. The saving grace was the oversized, housemade ravioli ($19), served with an addictive, velvety smooth, sweet corn filling and great bang-for-your-buck at $19. And of course, there’s the bread—a welcome surprise of warm, yeasty rolls. With a swipe of sea salt-topped butter, it may be the best thing in the house.
What to eat: Make sure to try the dinner rolls: piping hot and wonderfully yeasty, pronounced with a bit of sea salted butter. Large, round ravioli are handmade and filled with a silky, sweet corn puree—a true taste of summer. The reasonably priced $19 duck confit poutine layers duck leg atop a bed of fries topped with duck jus and brown butter—as good as fries, duck and brown butter could ever be.
Where to sit: During warmer weather, opt for a patio table. Otherwise, snag a seat by the large windows overlooking the mall's courtyard in the main dining room, which is usually filled with families and young couples on first dates. On weekend nights, a DJ occupies the front lounge playing pop tunes as singles sip Chardonnay and Negronis along by the sunset red and orange back-lit bar.
What to drink: The wine list here isn’t very exciting, mostly filled with familiar grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by the bottle and by the glass ($10-$15). Opt for craft beer served on tap and in bottle or go for a classic cocktail—we like the Pink Lady ($11), mixed with gin, Applejack, lemon, grenadine and egg white, which gives a frothy finish.
Conversation piece: The team behind Chez Soi has quite the pedigree. Chef Marc Gold hails from the now defunct Eva and front-of-house partner Thierry Perez, from the popular (and also deceased) Fraiche in Culver City.