Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
California Canteen
Cahuenga Blvd., Universal City, CA
(323) 876-1702
Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo

There is something about a ramshackle café with a sort of bohemian gastronôme air. Some of us are long enough in the tooth to remember when places like that existed to cater to the beatnik poetry, intellectual, and quasi-sophisticate crowds; this would have been way before punk rock, and way before the likes of Charlie McKenzie of So I Married an Axe Murderer. Anyway, with the advent of French cuisine and its teaching to those who would become known as foodies, that sort of place is less appreciated than one with a superstar chef with TV shows and cookbooks, and bright smiles and fit bods. (What ever happened to "Don't trust a skinny chef?")

It's ramshackle and dowdy, a bit on the wrong side of the tracks, and maybe even a little bit dangerous. It would have a not-so-well stocked bar, but stocked with the stuff you drank because you knew better or cared what people thought about and was unashamedly "French" — Lillet and Dubonnet instead of Italian or harder spirited names.

In other words, it's so unfashionable that it's coming back in fashion! But thankfully, the food is a way lot better than the smokey, illicit days of our imaginary pasts. Because none of us is that type ... (was anyone, really?)

We were looking for a decent meal in Los Angeles, Land of Burgers. The burgers can be good or awful, but anyway, we were looking for a decent breakfast or brunch, and as we drove along Ventura Blvd till we found ourselves in Universal City on the junction of Cahuenga Blvd. We saw one eatery after another that made us wonder how one place could have so much "discount sushi" and "club-like" places. Do people really eat at such dens? Then we came upon this downright dowdy place and we worried, but decided that we were far afield enough and hungry enough to try it. Hey, at the very worse, we could run out into the cleansing, antiseptic sunlight again, right?

Walking in, we saw all the clocks were stopped at a few minutes past 8pm. The man we asked told us that that was the time the very first customer stepped into the place, twelves years ago. Knowing it's been here for a dozen years did make us feel better. And the interior was very "DIY," if you know what we mean! It matched the impromptu exterior with its almost caged-in patio and odd potted tree-like things and doorways in odd places and at odd angles. Still, it was charming, and the menu seemed ambitious but not ridiculous. So we ordered omelets, wondering how they'd come out.

They came out a sort of merger between Spanish, French, and American styles, open-faced, puffy and stuffed with cheese and vegetables. And they were very appropriately accompanied by a lot of sliced fresh fruit, this being California, after all. The potatoes were in some sort of red goop; it wasn't bad, a sort of red pepper soubise, maybe ... but it was unexpected. And it was actually very good, as was the baguette and butter instead of toast. Nice surprise when in a dowdy place!

The walls were covered with ornately framed mirrors and bullfighting posters, and you could be forgiven for thinking this is a Spanish-inspired place ... till you realize the language of the posters is French, with venues like Nice and Marseilles! So this place is actually French, but in the south, on the border of Spain ... makes this place a bit like Holly Golightly's apartment, after she met the Brazilian ambassador guy ... Anyway, it explains the many "Basquaise" items, as well as Charcuterie, etc. and the liberal use of non-French ingredients and preparations. Pricing seemed reasonable, with appetizers in the $9 range and dinner mains about $15 to $20, and lunches about $14. Sandwiches are about $6, and there are prix fixe specials, too. The food was obviously better than any discount sushi or diner place, and less overdone than those gaudy places further along the strip of road.

It was too early for cocktails and lingering, but anyway, we were full and so we did decide to take a bit of a walk around, and saw that this really was a residential neighborhood. Houses built in the 1920s to the 1940s sat behind big trees. This was the vision of California our parents and grandparents had when they escaped their cold, dirty, crowded homes in older parts of the US and ran away to the west for their health or to be able to raise orange trees. It's a sort of nostalgia we personally never knew, but it seemed right.

Thank goodness that even in the shallowness of Lost Angeles (sic!), you can still find what you were looking for ... even if it does have a sort of movie-ish name in a town named for a movie studio!

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