If you were going to make a list of all the things a “cool” restaurant in LA should have, Melisse would satisfy exactly zero criteria. There are no shared plates, it’s not in a converted warehouse, and the cocktails don’t have vegetables in them. But if you’re asking someone to marry you or celebrating that you got the patio furniture in the divorce, you might not want cool. You might want an unforgettable meal in a restaurant where they’ll make elaborate shapes with your napkin when you get up to pee. That’s when you need Melisse.
This tasting-menu-only French restaurant has been on the corner of 11th and Wilshire for almost 20 years. Instead of bare tables and a celebrity in a baseball cap in the corner, there are white tablecloths, people in suit jackets, and dishes plated to look like abstract paintings. This is a place that makes you feel like you’re in a very comfortable version of 2006 - when no one knew what a subprime mortgage was and a lot more people cared very deeply about Michelin stars. It’s a surprisingly nice feeling.
To be clear, Melisse isn’t a stuffy time capsule. The room is formal, but people eating here talk at normal levels and get noticeably excited when they see the champagne cart being wheeled out. While the staff wears suits and has clearly practiced some choreography so they all put plates on the table at the exact same time, they’re also so relaxed that you’ll feel the same pretty quickly. For all its special-occasion-ness, Melisse is still a restaurant where you can ask for help finding a bottle of wine you can actually afford.
In a similar way, the food here is old-school without being old-fashioned. You can choose from four, seven, or ten courses, but unless you just inherited a lot of money from a great-aunt you didn’t know you had, the $165 “7” menu is the best option. All the things you’d expect to find on a French tasting menu are present - truffles, foie gras, caviar - and all of those things probably needed tweezers to get onto your plate. But more importantly, they’re all delicious. The pea soup amuse is so good and light you’ll immediately want a bigger bowl, the egg caviar is the fanciest soft boiled egg you’ll ever have, and the tray of bread they bring over halfway through is one of the best parts of the night.
Over the years, Melisse hasn’t tried to keep up with whatever LA’s cool restaurants are doing. It’s just busy being one of LA’s very best - and only - fine dining restaurants. This is a meal you’ll remember long after we’ve stopped eating in warehouses and decided we don’t want to share anymore. And not just because of the elaborate napkin shapes.
One of the best things we’ve eaten at Melisse was a tiny bowl of pea soup with truffle mousse on top. The soup tasted like spring, the truffle didn’t overpower anything, and we would happily have had 17 more tiny bowls.
The signature dish, and one that’s always on the menu. It involves a soft poached egg, whipped smoked fish, and caviar on top, and it tastes like the fanciest custard you could ever have. The pastry you get on the side is great, but also very unnecessary.
A couple of courses in, your new best friend will arrive with a tray of bread. There are generally four or so to choose from, and they strongly encourage you to take at least two types. We strongly encourage you to make both of them the basil brioche.
A few different small pieces of meat, cooked a few different ways, with porcini and ramps. At this point, you’ll already be quite full, so it’s a rich thing to have as a last savory course. That probably won’t stop you eating it.
The fanciest, and possibly best, chocolate bar in a ten-mile radius.