Despite some terrific French restaurants in the Los Angeles area (the superb and trés cher Melisse on Wilshire comes to mind, as does the wonderful upscale bistro, Marché Moderne in Costa Mesa) finding a classic preparation of sole meunière (with actual Dover sole) is no easy feat. But first let’s review what a classic version of sole meunière actually is: European Dover sole (described by Julia Child as a “dream fish” because of its natural flavor and perfect size for sautéing), seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in flour, fried in butter, and topped with more melted butter, lemon juice, sometimes capers (which may or may not be sautéed as well) and parsley. This simple yet tricky to master preparation, famously the first lunch served to Julia Child upon her arrival to Paris in 1948, she described as “the most exciting meal of my life.”
A delightful recreation of this moment can be found in Nora Ephron’s 2009 film, Julie & Julia, that interweaves the story of Julia Child’s beginnings in the food world with the challenge undertaken by blogger Julie Powell to cook every recipe in Child’s first book. The genesis of that book — its raison d’etre — was the spark of inspiration Child felt when she ate her first classic sole meunière. For that reason, the dish is portrayed lovingly in the film: afforded its own sumptuous close-up, the fish glistens in rich, nutty browned butter, moments before a waiter expertly debones it tableside.
So, short of Paris, where can a devoted cinefoodie go to recreate this indelible moment from the storied life of America’s most beloved chef, author and TV personality? Somewhat unexpectedly, the answer is the South Beverly Grill, a sleek, modestly upscale bastion of American comfort food from the Hillstone Restaurant Group, owners of the Houston’s chain. The restaurant, located on a busy stretch of Beverly Boulevard just south of Wilshire, is warm and woodsy, and a popular lunch spot for agents who work nearby. More importantly, Thursday through Saturday, it’s the home of one of the few classic sole meunière’s in Los Angeles: North Atlantic Dover sole, fried until crisp in browned butter, and topped with parsley and lemon.
To savor this dish in the sanctified manner in which it’s enjoyed in the film, we think the best approach is an intimate one: either a date or a close friend, or perhaps dining solo, going at lunch (as in the movie, although a bit more clamorous) or for a quiet dinner, and afterwards stopping at the outstanding new patisserie, Chaumont (just across the street), to pick up a pistachio or raspberry la religieuse (“nun”), to enjoy while watching the movie. Perhaps there’s no better way to honor the first stop on Julia Child’s pilgrimage to culinary sainthood, then with a sophisticated yet whimsical pastry (two choux puffs filled with flavored pastry cream and joined with piped buttercream) designed to resemble a nun in a habit. Amen!
SOUTH BEVERLY GRILL
Upscale American comfort food popular with the industry crowd and well-heeled locals.
Dover sole meunière (Thu-Sat only), Cheeseburger.
Sleek, spacious and clubby.
Warm and unpretentious.
Loud during lunch hour, moderate at dinner.
122 S Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 (310) 550-0242, www.hillstone.com/#/restaurants/southBeverlyGrill.
Open Mon-Thu 11:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30pm-12am. Valet and street parking. Reservations accepted. Credit cards accepted.
143 S Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 (310) 550-5510 chaumontbakery.com
Mon-Sat 6:30am-6:30pm. Credits cards accepted.
Recommended: La religieuse, le Chaumont, tarte aux chocolat, tarte aux fraises.
JULIE & JULIA – (2009) Directed by Nora Ephron. Written by Nora Ephron, Julie Powell (book: Julie & Julia) Julia Child (book “My Life in France”) and Alex Prudhomme (book: “My Life in France”). Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina.