It feels different and special even before you walk in, as the old-timey boat mural (painted by Dunsmoor's lady, the super-talented Lacey Cowden) lets you know that it's also going to be creative and fun once you step inside.
We were greeted by our friend, Jonathan Strader, the charming and friendly man in charge of the front of the house (and with Dunsmoor through both previous eateries), who set us up with the beer or wine of our choice in the candle-lit bar before we were sat down at our cozy patio table.
The dining room is gorgeous and homey at the same time, but very dark, so none of those pictures really turned out, so you'll have to trust me or see for yourself. We liked the patio, watching the action go by on Sawtelle, which we now have much more of a reason to leave Venice to head for. As soon as we sat down, the free for all began. We wanted to try everything ... and pretty much did, aside from things not available until the official opening tomorrow.
We were so busy eating that I didn't really pause much to photograph things, and/or they were devoured too quickly to capture. These are all brand new dishes to The Gunboat (which in my head I've shortened their name too). You won't find the famous biscuits from the first two places, but you will find the excellent Southern flavors and flair that Dunsmoor is known for.
Like the country ham appetizer from the "Pantry" section of the menu, served with lemon ricotta, spring peas, mint salsa verde and grilled bread. Or the Anson Mills Johnny cakes, with squaw candy, clabbered cream and topped with jewel looking salmon caviar. I've never really given a second thought to boring radishes, but this night, served with Santa Barbara sea urchin butter and sea salt ... I fiended for them. Who knew? Dunsmoor has done a lot to mature my palate throughout our friendship, and I'm sure my Mom wishes he was around when we were little. YUM.
"Field" brought us one fresh and tasty salad after another, all sourced locally and up to the minute seasonal. The Spring vegetable salad was truly Spring itself, with all its bounty, topped off with a goat cheese dressing that created the urge for plate licking ... though we refrained. It was not as civil with the Ricotte polenta with peas and asparagus and snails that was so much a favorite that it nearly stirred up a fork riot, as we all tried to scoop up as much as possible into our own mouths. Sublime.
We had beautiful fish, a pan-fried brook trout, the entire thing, that was just delicate bones on the plate two seconds after it was set down. Served with fiddlehead ferns and a bacon mustard vinaigrette, we couldn't get enough. Same with the blue prawns, doused in chili butter ... we all wanted more for sure. Scottish salmon collars were good too (I love just about everything from the sea), but a little oily for me, which salmon just is.
Speaking of those plates, Miss Lacey drew the design for the custom pieces created at Venice's own Luna Garcia pottery. Delicate flowers set the country table and go beautifully with the other mismatched antique dishes that this wonderful food is set upon. She also did the art for the menu and pieces hanging around the place, so it's a real friends and family endeavor, from top to bottom.
Every restaurant seems to have a signature dish that people tell people to NOT MISS. At The Ladies' Gunboat Society, I'm here to tell you DO NOT MISS the country fried rabbit. Rabbit! A day after Easter, we ate that bunny with no regrets and every one of us wanted a second order instead of dessert. I'm still salivating about that rabbit right now. Seasoned and cooked perfectly, and simply accompanied with spiced local honey and flowering coriander ... it was a total standout. Exceptionally delicious on a whole new rabbit level. The foodiest among us said it was the best he'd ever had, and I believed him. It's never even occurred to me to order it, and now I wouldn't miss it. Reserve your rabbit now.
We also shared the most giant steak I've ever seen, a 28 oz. rib eye, with its roasted marrow, grilled bread, and a warm mushroom and asparagus herb salad. We ate it like cave people, laughing at how good it all was. I mean, Wow.
There was only one dessert on offer this night, a Sweet Anson Mills cornbread with buttermilk ice cream and strawberries romanoff. Certainly Southern, but a bit dry for my/our taste, and again, we all thought about trading it for more rabbit. After all that gorgeous food, you didn't really need dessert anyway.
I peeked into the vastly larger kitchen that Dusnmoor has been set loose within, to find my friend cooking up a storm, while smiling from ear to ear.
It's so great when you get to see people really doing what they love to do, under optimal conditions. That's when you get food like this, both incredibly creative and stimulating (educational, even), but also so comforting that you could be dining in Dunsmoor's home (which you basically are, these days).
His cooks and staff have his back, and if the first night was any indication of how things are going to go, you should probably get on the old opentable.com and get your reservation set in stone now.
I'm now a proud member of The Ladies' Gunboat Society at Flores ... where everyone is welcome.
The Ladies' Gunboat Society at Flores
2024 Sawtelle Blvd.