3 Week Old Ratata Transports You From Westwood to France for Under $10
Growing pains and early mistakes aside, when a new restaurant opens it’s pretty easy to tell if the owners know what they’re doing. From the fanciest of the expensive restaurants, to the independently owned spot, to a new franchise of a giant chain, there are little things that let you know- ok, problems aside, these guys have their shit together. They’ve done this before. It’s going to work out. It is pretty clear that the duo who started Ratata, a brand new French Cafe in Westwood, have absolutely no idea what they are doing. You know how I know? Because their authentically Parisian menu of sandwiches, salads, pates and pastries is way too amazing to be so cheap.
Everything you need to know about Ratata is printed on the back of the menu:
Zaia Lebtahi and Jeremie Cibert leave [sic] France in 2007 to pursue their “American Dream”. She is an actress, producer, screenwriter, and director. He is a screenwriter and director. They like the small bistros of Montmartre where they could read, write, dream, eat, and drink at low prices. With Ratata, Buffet Froid et Petits Plats they want to recreate that warm and friendly old authentic Parisian bistro atmosphere. One will find tasty traditional French dishes and artists will sing, perform, expose, etc… Ratata, Buffet Froid et Petits Plats is a place where appointment is made with all those seeking the pleasure of the sense in all simplicity.
It’s not a schtick either. The two are not just pretty faces on the sign outside the restaurant (and on the front of the menu) they’re running the place too, acting as host, waiter, chef, and barista. The two switch off in a dance of barely controlled mayhem. Sometimes he takes the orders, while she’s in the back cooking… sometimes he’s making a coffee, while she’s chatting up a table in the corner. Some would call it disorganized, or bad service. I call it European. And everybody will agree it’s amazingly cheap for what you get.
The menu is no frills French bistro food. They have radishes w/ butter ($3), soups ($4), and $4 and $5 starters like country pate, and eggs with mayo. Plus a list of 14 simple sandwiches, like brie ($5), rillettes ($5), pate ($6), and a croque moniseur ($6). 9 salads ($7) and 4 plates ($9) featuring assorted meats, cheeses, pickles, and other stuff round out the savory side, while crepes and pastries are available for $2-3 to go with your coffee.
There is also a daily special available for $7, or as a combo with a starter or dessert for $9.
As cheap as those prices are, the real deal is the lunch specials. Choose any salad or $5 sandwich, plus a drink (coke, perrier, water, orange juice), and any $3 dessert for $8. You only save a $1, but it’s a great excuse to order dessert. (“I had to get the chocolate croissant! It was part of the combo.)
French cafe sandwiches are usually really small affairs, and for $5 I wasn’t expecting much. But what you end up getting is pretty enormous. The bread, which is from La Brea Bakery (nice!) was doughier than your typical French baguette (and didn’t have a thick browned crust) but I love bread like that… and it was warm. The thin slices of dry sausage, topped with cornichons, was delicious and simple… and who doesn’t like butter smeared on their sandwich!? Are the meat and veggies piled high? No… but I’d take this over a $5 footlong any day.
The “ham & cheese” is more of the same. Slices of beautiful ham, with big chunks of brie. French sandwich simplicity at its finest.
We didn’t try any of the salads (sorry, this isn’t really a salad kind of a site) but we had to try the “daily special” which yesterday was a de-boned chicken thigh, roasted with peas and potatoes. Flavored with thyme, and swimming in butter and oil, it made you feel like you were eating at Zaia and Jeremie’s house, rather than their place of business. Food critics could probably find certain things to complain about, but for $7 ($9 with a starter or dessert) I can’t bring myself to say a single bad thing about the lunch.
Oh, almost forget about the starter… a massive hunk of deliciously rich, country style pate. Studded with black peppercorns, and served with cornichons it was rustic and perfect. My only complaint (and I never say this about anything) is that it was almost too much. Seriously. This *and* the chicken for $9? There is no way this place is staying in business.
If you prefer dessert with your combo they have different options every day. Yesterday was cake or a macaron. Neither were mind blowing, but they were good enough… and you have to love any place that “forces” you to eat a dessert with your lunch special. Along that same line of thinking, there don’t have diet sodas. According to Jeremie it’s because “the French believe that everything should be fattening!” If that’s truly the reason, Ratata is my new favorite place of all time.
The only real complaint you can have about Ratata is the service. I very rarely complain about service (and hate the blogs that do) because more than likely it’s a one time issue, and restaurants shouldn’t pay the price for having one off day. Plus it’s just the two of them (with a single bus girl) doing everything. Clearly they didn’t realize lunchtime would be so hurried, and one would guess that they’ll adapt (either by streamlining things, or hiring more help.) On the other hand, for Ratata I think there is something intrinsic about the slow service that goes beyond just growing pains. They want the place to be slow and laid back… ideal for relaxing with a friend over pate and perrier. Not so much for the office worker trying to get back to work within an hour.
In their defense though, Ratata is not close to being a completed as an ideal in their minds- and as good as the food is it might eventually be secondary. Their actual goal is to create a place for like-minded people to gather, hang out, exhibit artwork, watch movies, and listen to live music. They eventually plan to have performances (a mime was mentioned!), concerts, and movie screenings. And if people want to have a little something to eat and drink while they hang, they can. In fact Ratata, the way Zaia describes it, sounds like more of a social club than a restaurant. A way for her and her husband to meet other people here in L.A. (a fact that is obvious when you see how much they enjoy talking with their customers.)
In the end, though, we’re all about lunch… so I hope that they try to streamline things enough to make it a legit weekday lunch destination (without losing the soul that makes the place so cool.) After all, the food is so good for the price… it’s just too bad our bosses aren’t European.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I love simple French sandwiches (meat + butter = joy)
- The bread on the sandwiches is warm… oh, and La Brea Bakery FTW!
- Huge hunk of pate and a warm “home cooked” meal for $9? You’ve got to be kidding me.
- I love a place that forces me to get dessert with my lunch special
- Independently run places are so refreshing (if even they’re poorly run.) So much better than the antiseptic chains that are taking over the city
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Where’s the beef! (I need more filling in my sandwiches)
- French cafe sandwiches are too simple. I need something a little more interesting.
- The bread they use is very doughy
- No diet soda!? You know this is L.A. right?
- Sorry to ruin your dream of an authentic French cafe… lunch needs to be fast!
Ratata (Buffet Froid et Petits Plats), 1884 Westwood Blvd (btw. Olympic & Santa Monica), 310-475-5900
There is parking behind the building