Dudley Market was just about the last place on my list of new places to check out and I finally made it down there over the weekend. The parking situation is so bad that the restaurant warns you about how bad it is on their website, but I managed to luck out and park about a block away in a neighborhood.
Dudley Market itself is tucked into a back alley along the Venice beach walk, and it feels like the type of place you are meant to stumble in upon after a long day of revelry and relaxation, not really somewhere that you would specifically seek out. That sums up the place: one would not be unhappy to find themselves drinking a clever rose with minimally grilled asparagus, flowering broccolini and marinated chantrelle mushrooms adorned only minimally with whole grain mustard and sheeps cheese, but one might feel like there is more creativity elsewhere if they drove to the restaurant just eat there.
The restaurant is small (42 seats), rustic, and charming to be sure. Service is warm and friendly, in particular, the bartender Ray is a service industry veteran that understands as much about good service as any GM at any 3 Michelin star restaurant. And why not? Everything is very comfortable at Dudley Market, it’s like that old cardigan you slip into whenever you’re feeling a little below the weather on a chilly night, it just fits (but it is also decidedly not something you put on after an hour or two of primping to go out on the town).
Bone marrow is minimally adorned with herbs, and a bit of great feta, soaked in campari that imparts a touch of bitterness. You smear it on thick, roasty lodge bread with really good butter melted all over it and you feel quite happy; this may be one of the few bread pairings that I felt properly stood up to the bone marrow accompaniment, and the feta really does cut it well. You feel comforted.
You order more Lodge Bread because it is the only thing the woman you’re with isn’t grossed out by, and it comes out in about a 1/4th loaf, hot and cut into thick slices with more of that great butter and a lovely marmalade on the side.
The famous black risotto comes, and it isn’t served in an uni shell or anything exotic like J Gold had it, but it’s viscous and earthy, almost like eating a forest floor thick with mushrooms after a heavy rain; the thin curls of cheese are sort of like high-end string cheese creating eerie notes of a childhood you remember more fondly than you ought. It is a good dish, if not great, and you sink back into your seat and have them box up half of it because you want to eat rabbit, and the woman you’re with can’t stomach mushrooms apparently.
After 30 minutes the kitchen manages to serve two rabbit dishes you have ordered; you are worried, because it seems that kitchen hadn’t planned on anyone actually ordering rabbit (the crowd doesn’t look like a rabbit-eating one after all, with their board shorts and bangles; the fanciest thing anyone is wearing is a Vince henley). Indeed, you were right to be worried because a “confit” rabbit leg is the driest rabbit you have ever eaten and makes you choke. Thankfully Ray has already refilled the smart cab franc pairing for you and he takes away the offensive dish, and even removes it from the bill. You take a breath and sigh with relief that are least you are being watched over by someone that seems genuinely concerned for your well-being.
The other rabbit dish is loin and rack. This looks like they haven’t cooked it much, and you’ve been told the rabbits are carefully sourced and only a few works old, as well as being deleriously cute. You eat, and immediately wish the skin was crispy, but the pink flesh is beautiful in how little the kitchen has done to it, showing off everything wonderful about young rabbit meat. The rack is savory and addictive, grilled with just a bit of the rabbit’s own juices. The fresh radishes convince you to rethink your distaste for radishes, and the thick smear of housemade romesco on the plate sends bursts of perfumed spice against your palate with the delicate rabbit flesh and the fresh, sweet radishes. You are not blown away, but you are happy; you finish off the romanesco by wiping it off the plate with the rest of the Lodge Bread.
You order strawberry shortcake, hoping it will come with the promised spoom, but they only have vanilla ice cream; you are sad. You are more sad that they didn’t soak the cake in anything or put more of the thick cream on the plate. But the ice cream shows off vanilla well and the strawberries are perfect, so you feel comforted again despite the flaws.
You order an espresso milkshake to go and it is smooth, not too thin, but not overly thick, and still displays much of a very well pulled espresso shot. You prepare to leave with your box of risotto; you go to use the restroom and find yourself confronted with two doors, one of which says WC and the other which has a wheelchair on it. You hopelessly wait for someone to exit until a waiter informs you that WC is short for Water Closet…you feel like you are living in some alternate fantasy world; you forget that you drove to this place, maybe you just stumbled into a parallel universe for a moment… you smile at Ray as you step back out into the world, the brisk Venice night air is bracing, but you don’t feel cold; you are comforted.
If there is any downfall to Dudley Market it is simply that the ingredients speak louder than the cooking, but if you stumble in upon it, you probably won’t care.